Lula's Mistakes According to Folha

Fact-Checking should follow a clear methodology

Folha published on Saturday (1st) a long article that listed all the false and distorted statements that Lula has made since his release from prison in November.

The article seeks to do what is normal in journalism - fact-checking information. It uses a method that has gained strength in Brazil in recent years: the verification of each statement made by a public personality and its confrontation with facts and data.

The article explains that Lula was wrong to say that TV Globo did not denounce the prosecution against the journalist Glenn Greenwald (accomplished in a lengthy TV report that gave a voice to those involved), or when he said that the broadcaster did two stories about Vazo Jato.

Globo produced more than one report on the topic. So Lula would have avoided falling into the check if he had chosen to analyze how Globo completed the coverage.

The result of the fact-checking, however, caused some dismay among readers who sought the ombudsman.
"The article imposes case-by-case definitions, such as what is solitary confinement, who is a  flat-earther or what it means to end misery and hunger," a reader said.

There are some problems with the article.

In the name of alleged objectivity, the text stacks statements with varying levels of importance and, at times, disrespects basic rules of the fact-checking process.

Fact-checking is a journalistic technique born in the 1990s. It has gained relevance and became popular with social media because it is easier to reproduce disinformation that looks like news.

Some basic rules, however, are often followed in the exercise of labeling what is false in the speech of others.

Fact-checking takes into not only account who speaks, but also the statement's relevance and impact.

Opinions are not verifiable: verification should be limited to historical and statistical data.

Lupa - one of the leading independent checking agencies alongside Aos Fatos - says it does not check opinions, unless contradictory, and seeks to verify the degree of veracity of sentences with historical, statistical, comparisons and involving legal issues.

Based on these points, it is difficult to understand the criteria used by the article to put some of Lula's speeches under scrutiny.

For example, Lula said that the government has as its "cultural guide" a "man who believes that the Earth is flat.

Folha says the statement was distorted because although Olavo de Carvalho has already said that although he found nothing that refutes experiments that show the flatness of aquatic surfaces, he does not define himself as a flat-earther.

Lula has an opinion on Carvalho. Carvalho has an opinion on a scientific data (which is worrying). And Folha used ink to say that Lula's opinion is distorted.

The former president also said he spent his prison time in solitary confinement. The newspaper then went on to discuss the technical concept of solitary confinement (prison cell where the prisoner is isolated, says Aurélio) to deny that, literally, Lula stayed in a place with these characteristics.

He also declared that when Lula's judgement was appealed, a Judge pushed the Atibaia country house case in front of other cases. In this case, Folha preferred to make considerations.

Technically, the statement is correct (the newspaper article showed that the website process had an initial period of processing in the appeal faster than that of 76% of cases judged by the same Panel), but the text points out nuances (in practice, processing would involve other factors).

The fact-checking rules also do not recommend putting several sentences together in the same package, which the article does. There are other moments of the fact-checking that could be analyzed.
When consulted, Eduardo Scolese, Folha's Poder section editor, stated that Lula said that Olavo is a flat-earther, but the ideologist never said neither yes nor no. Therefore, distorted statement. Lula said that Globo only gave devoted two news segments about Intercept. Wrong. Thus, false declaration." 

Finally, the right of a subject to respond to the accusations - a pillar of journalism - cannot be neglected. Within fact-checking methodology, contact must be made with the subject before the article is published, and the deadline to be given for the answer must be reasonable - which, according to advisers to the ex-president, did not happen.

Fact-checking impacts the subject's credibility. It must also follow a precise methodology so that it does not feed into people's distrust, or at worst, become a laughing stock.

Including in the discussion whether Olavo de Carvalho is a flat-earther or not seems to bring the technique closer to trivialization. Everything the press does not need a scenario in which it is attacked every day, too.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

Flavia Lima

Flavia is a  reporter specializing in economics, and graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.