Source: Observatório da Imprensa
Author: Cristiano de Sales
English Excerpt: C. Brayton
Brazilian media activists, provided by the Ford Foundation with a marvelous forum for debate, the Observatório da Imprensa — sometimes abuse the “abuse of the subjunctive” argument and find themselves lost in a hermeneutics of suspicion instead — commonly, the fallacy of the missing subjunctive, also known as “hairsplitting.”
Would have. Should have. Might have. Could have. These arguments fall short unless there is some additional evidence to the contrary.
- “The war against drugs has failed.”
- Unknown: the state of the drug problem if there had been no war.
- (The drug war is in fact a monumental blunder, nevertheless the statement above is invariably based on the subjunctive fallacy and loses its effectiveness for that reason.)
Now, apply that same reasoning to both sides of the question, “Who won the Caribbean Cold War?”
That was my reaction to the headline observatory entry of Cristiano de Sales, writing in the Observatório da Imprensa today. I translate, in haste.
There is nothing new about the fact that the United States has made excellent use of political propaganda strategies, supported by the media in general – that is, not confined to the traditional news media — to paint itself as the global hero of the 20th Century.
The character of Marvel‘s Captain America, for example, emerged during the 1940s and gained fame for defining the U.S. as a decisive enemy of the Nazi regime (the cover of the first edition shows Captain America punching the Führer). It is also no secret that the effect that Hollywood created, and continues to create, in the imagination of the American people makes it clear who the heroes of the story are.
Chomsky has showed us how this effect, among other things, is designed to garner public support for American foreign policy both at home and abroad.
This media strategy has worked well until now and continues to function, because as we know, many countries, including our own, have invested rivers of money in propaganda, and have for some time now (Nazi propaganda also promoted veritable media spectacles.)
Personally, I wonder whether the avalanche of recruiting propaganda — Army: Be All You Can Be — back in the homeland is not a massive misuse of public funds.
Our military seems to be making up for its recruiting deficit among the 17-24 age group by luring more mature and grounded Americans into National Guard units where no one in their right minds ever expected them to engage in intense combat for prolonged periods.
It should be clear, however, that we are not here to call into question the American contribution to the events in which it is so proud to have played a part, for it plays an active role in the process we call democratization, even if it fails to respect the sovereignty of other nations at times.
My point is this: We should try to understand how a certain type of discourse creates meanings in the margins of our esteemed national media establishment, given that this method of political propaganda is supported by newspapers all over the world, working together.
I suppose the author is referring to subliminal meanings. And not without reason. It is possible to perceive how some of the big metrosexual dailies seem to be coordinating coverage at times — an editorial homogeneity possibly attributable to membership in local, regional, and global industry associations and freedom of expression NGOs (some of them not so non-). We should study the new Brazilian edition of El País, flagship of the Prisa group, from this angle.
Parsing the Adjectives
Let us return to the December 19 editorials of the three largest Brazilian newspapers: Folha de S.Paulo, Estado de S. Paulo and O Globo (one day after the announcement of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba).
In a somewhat measured tone, the Folha chooses to focus, albeit superficially, on historic moments from the past 53 years of discord, ending, as you would suspect, with the conclusion that Cuban leadership will never again be able to justify inhumane treatment of persons again by invoking [its usual] anti-American rhetoric.
The Estadão and O Globo used the same linguistic strategy to extol American goodwill, to the detriment of the Cuban «gerontocracy» (the term was coined by the Estadão and refers to government by the elderly).
According to my Merriam-Webster dictionary, the coinage of the term is French and its first use dates to 1830.
Both dailies used a curious turn of phrase to assert that the criminals there are worse than the criminals here.
O Globo: “They [the U.S. and Cuba] have confirmed, during this conversation, the release of contractor Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in prison for alleged espionage and having served five of them, as well as suffering from deteriorating health. Havana also released a U.S. spy imprisoned for 20 years. In exchange, Washington released three Cuban spies, part of an original group of five.
These were the Havana Five that received so much coverage ahead of the prisoner exchange. They claimed to have confined their activities to sussing out the anti-Castro underground in Miami.
Characters and Personae
Why is an American guy imprisoned on Cuban soil an «alleged» spy while the Cuban guys are «spies», pure and simple? Also, why is the state of the American’s health alluded to, insinuating that he received ill treatment, without any mention of the health of the Cubans?
The Estado de S. Paulo expressed itself in a similar manner in its editorial. On the American side of the equation: “… besides freeing three Cubans arrested for espionage …”
On the Cuban side: “It agreed to hand over two American prisoners, also accused of espionage.”
I ask you again, why are the Cubans arrested for espionage while the Americans were arrested on suspicion of espionage?
Could it be that no one has yet been able to confirm or deny the charges against any of the spies, independently of government sources with propagandist intentions who often seem to want to hide things from their respective publics, judging from their track records?
We may have to wait for the HBO miniseries of the episode to find out.
As an investment for my golden years, I am eyeing the future rate of penetration for cable TV and broadband Internet in a future Cuba, what with the major operators skirmishing in the Sierra Maestra on the road to La Habana.
This is a strategy that cannot be ignored. After all, language is power. The words “alleged” and “accused” mitigate the degree of criminality confirmed by the American citizens held in Cuban jails. And it is in this way, among others, that Brazilian editorials, and editorial writers around the world, perpetuate this version of the U.S. as a planetary hero of democracy.
Note also that the conclusion of the Globo editorial cannot help but take the opportunity to mention, without naming names (another way of perpetrating a mythology), the Bolivarian tendency, with supposed ties to the current President of Brazil, as a dark force that must be fought by Captain America.
Reading between the lines of these editorials with a closer attention does not mean the papers are belittling the accord. Of course not, because this event represents one more important step in the search for ways for governments and persons to exist together, an idea that should be praised as legitimate.
But watching out for forms of discourse that are overly apologetic [biased?] is vital to understanding that democracy is created by a variety of personalities and representations, and not with the mere mask of a superhero.
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