The Car Wash Operation and the Media

Messages reveal that some journalists were on the side of the Car Wash task force

An analysis of conversations between Car Wash prosecutors was published last week, and the picture that emerges of the relationship between journalists and the task of force is at least questionable.

An article published on Friday (20) on the Folha website and this Sunday (22) in Ilustríssima ("Leaked messages show favor of Allied journalists") exposes the operation's media strategy. Prosecutors made a distinction between journalists aligned with them and those less aligned.

There is no description of illegal leaks, but they portray the advantages that the task force offered to journalist professionals based on the task--such as early access to the material.

Readers pointed out that the text did not mention the names of the journalists involved.

Because confidentiality acts as a protection for journalists to gain access to sources and information that interest to the public, this decision seems correct.

If the names were exposed, then then the entire discussion would focus on this or that journalist, leaving aside their procedures.

An article focusing on the journalists' behavior - may be an excellent way to understand the role of the media, which appears to have been viewed itself in a crusade against corruption.

The behavior of reporters and editors range from merely objectionable to downright unethical.

There are moments in which journalists share the texts of their articles with the task force before publication or release prosecutors for the questions asked.

It is not common for the reporter to submit his or her text to the source, much less to make room for the source to ask questions that it answers itself. Otherwise, it may compromise the reporting and serve the reader poorly.

The assumption is that the professional is available for critical thinking and that it will control errors or inaccuracies.

In some circumstances, however, showing the article is the price to be paid for the source (or the journalist himself) to feel more secure about the coverage.

But it is not uncommon to compliment a source. Kindness breeds kindness, and a source can more easily remember a competent and sympathetic reporter.

But there were some serious differences between Operation Car Wash media coverage and other coverage.

In a role exchange, reporters provided prosecutors with information received from the communications of the firms investigated or even offered a transcript of interviews with the companies' lawyers.

Reporters always want to appear well-informed and thus earn the trust of their sources. But what we see here is that journalists, believing that they were doing something right, took a side.

Thus, the dialogues suggest that what differentiated Car Wash from other coverage that was that the media did not approach its coverage with a critical eye. It wasn't the fact that Judge Sergio Moro used the press was essential to securing society's support for anti-corruption operations.

Overall, the distinction between prosecutors and journalists seems to have faded. This is evidenced by the willingness of reporters to prevent investigated companies from trying to "manipulate the newspapers," as one said, or offer "because they had common goals," as another said.

A summary of this sticky spirit might be the case when journalists collect signatures in the newsroom for anti-corruption measures.

Of course, it is essential not to make generalizations. But the dialogues show that, at times, Car Wash coverage seems to have been overlooked by a task force that is banned by public authorities, which must be critically evaluated.

A reporter's role is not a common goal with operations - even if it's for a noble goal, such as fighting corruption - but try to understand the scenario and expose it to the reader.

The conversations suggest that some of the media saw the judiciary and prosecutors as devoid of any passion.

It is a cover that needs to be further investigated. Still, there are signs that, at more critical times, journalists ceded to Car Wash or the media's role - defending the citizen's right to information.

This is all the more worrying because these relationships only occurred after the leak. What if a Vaza Jato didn't exist?


Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

Flavia Lima
A reporter specializing in economics, she holds a degree in social science from USP and a law degree from Mackenzie. She has been an ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.