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Plea Bargains in the Closet

06/18/2018 - 11h24

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DE SÃO PAULO

A Folha reader of more than twenty years, César G. Fricks, wrote to the Ombudsman with an incisive criticism: "Some investigative reports result in accusations that are afterwards denied by those involved in such a way the readers seem to be convinced by them. However, there is [never] a rejoinder from the journalist or an admission of error." The reader's concern is pertinent.

On the 20th of May a headline on the cover page of Folha proclaimed: "Prosecutor investigates off-the-records financing from CCR Corporation for Alckmin". According to a highlighted story in the "Power & Politics" section, representatives from the company revealed to the São Paulo Ministry of Justice that around R$ 5 million (USD$ 1.34 million) had been transferred to off-the-books campaign accounts of the former Governor and PSDB Party leader in 2010.

On the 3rd of June, Marcelo Martins de Oliveira, Alckmin's attorney wrote an article in Folha in which he declared that he had obtained complete copies of this supposed investigation. "In it there simply is no reference whatsoever, even less an accusation, regarding Geraldo Alckmin. This 'fact', reported as the truth, doesn't exist. There isn't even any indirect mention of the former Governor", he declared.

What did Folha do at that point in response? The reader declares: "Nothing more was published about it."

Geraldo Alckmin, pre-Presidential hopeful Candidate from the PSDB Party and former governor of São Paulo - Aanone Fraissat - 17.may.2018/Folhapress

The Editor of the Power & Politics Section, Fabio Zanini, said that the report referred to negotiations regarding a leniency agreement between CCR and the Ministry of Justice. "In these preliminary testimonies, the existence of off-the-books accounts for Alckmin's sister-in-law were revealed. We didn't consider any data to be factual proof, we only described the fact and identified its author. We provided space for the other side."

According to Zanini, Folha based its report on sources with access to the plea-bargain negotiation, which hadn't yet been formalized.

Journalists like make joking references to skeletons hidden in the closets of others. Sometimes the image comes back against them.

On the 14th of July 2016, after an initial revelation published by the Globo newspaper, Folha investigated, confirmed and published following the headline: "Marina wants to avoid connection to the construction company, says OAS partner". The article dealt with the plea-bargain negotiation of businessman Léo Pinheiro, the owner of OAS, and it highlighted that Marina Silva's campaign had received money from the construction company through off-the-books accounting. Marina peremptorily denied any such dealings.

Journalist Nilson de Oliveira, who was a member of Marina's Communication Coordination team during two Presidential campaigns (2010 and 2014) pointed out mistakes in the article. The Power & Politics editor declared that all of the information in the text had been checked in advance with two of Léo Pinheiro's representatives and two investigators from the so-called Car Wash Operation.

It has been two years since the headline and until today no plea-bargain has been homologated. Folha didn't published a single line that, based upon its own investigations, could have shed any light on the episode.

The case reappeared on the 7th of July, after the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced that it was defining it as "the first decision regarding a case of publishing fake news on the internet." The Tribunal ordered Facebook to take down five stories published in 2017 associating Marina with payments made by construction companies being investigated in the Car Wash Operation. The stories are based on news articles published by Folha and other elements of the press.

Oliveira wrote again, demand a correction of the article published in 2016. Zanini reaffirmed that the report was "attributed completely to Léo Pinheiro and offered space for his rebuttal". He admitted that the "agreement hadn't moved forward and until today nothing has been signed".

And what about the *Folha*'s readers? Without knowing who to believe, they end up in the version crossfire between the accusers and the accused.

As much as one recognizes that Folha seeks to bring to light information of public interest, I consider that it failed, by limiting itself to reproducing information without explaining its origin and by not striving to investigate or collaborate the narrative that it published.

The definition of fake news is broader than a simple erroneous and lying report. It includes incomplete, false, incorrect, and distorted information. All of this is considered fake news.

The passive posture of journalists, sometimes as mere regurgitators of information from sources that hide themselves in anonymity, without conducting rigorous and independent investigations, encourages and leads the reader to doubt these reports and affects his trust and faith in the press.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

Read the article in the original language

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* "[Military Intervention in Rio: Less Robberies, More Police Related Deaths
]":https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/internacional/en/brazil/2018/06/1971976-military-intervention-in-rio-less-robberies-more-police-related-deaths.shtml

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