Sunday, August 21

Devil's Advocate

Waiting for the Brazilian wife to get back from the land of pizza, I find myself following the Folha de S. Paulo's ombudsman more regularly as the powers that be down there start trying to bring down the guys running the central bank and treasury in the Lula government. This week he is mad as hell that the last issue saw the letters to the editor section get cut yet again:

Os leitores perderam hoje, novamente, o Painel que deveria ser deles.

This seems to be the only guy trying to stem the tide of factoids and innuendo staining the pages of the press yellow these days:

Os leitores j� n�o ag�entam tantas den�ncias, tantas acusa��es, tantos depoimentos contradit�rios. � papel do jornal organizar o notici�rio, saber filtrar as informa��es relevantes, hierarquiz�-las, apontar a sua import�ncia, desprezar as suposi��es, ter foco. E isso n�o � tarefa para se tentar fazer apenas nas edi��es de domingo.

Readers are fed up with all these charges, accusations and contradictory testimony. The role of the newspaper is to organize the news, to know how to filter the relevant information, put it in order of importance, explain why it is important, eschew speculation, bring focus to events. And this is a task we should be trying to fulfill every day, not just in the Sunday edition.

This is role that I am always trying to fill on my job, with post-mortems and discussions over the selection and placement of stories. I won't tell tales out of school, but I can say that I have really learned to appreciate the efforts of guys like this.

For example, he points out that a huge headline screams that a party has committed an electoral crime by accepting a solicitation from an allied party for campaign finance support in exchange for supporting the first party's legislative agenda. The accompanying story does not explain what laws apply to such situations or what the legal process is. And in fact, it quotes a public prosecutor opining that it is difficult to see any criminal infraction here given the current state of campaign finance laws. So much the worse for the state of campaign finance law, of course.

Unlike the Times public editor, he is much less prone to retreat into defensive mode, and he constantly has the competition in view, as well as his own paper, which he does not spare when the competition scoops it or gets it right when his employer does not. His mission is to point out faults in logic and sins against the holy gospel of the 5W's. He wants the paper's coverage to be complete, focused, and intellectually honest, and he combs the archive to point out lapses in continuity of coverage.

In the land of the content managers who don't actually read what they produce, the one-eyed, thoroughgoing critical reader receives no honor in his own country. Hang in there, Seu Marcelo. The devil's advocate sometimes gets tarred with the same brush as his client, but the fact is that the devil licks his chops over the fall from grace of people blinded by spiritual pride and self-righteousness, who have no one to blame but themselves.

And the sea will become sert�o and the sert�o, sea. Speaking of which, I am watching Meet the Press and just heard a senator from the government party say that he's confident that Iraq is going well because he has "faith" in the "magic of democracy." Call me a liberal elitist if you will--I'm really more of a libertarian--but I cringe to think my country is being run by magical thinkers.

I rant. When I'm blogging, I reserve that right!


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