BOB GARFIELD: Last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dropped his threat to give New York Times Bureau Chief in Brazil, Larry Rohter, the boot. Lula had ordered Rohter's expulsion after the veteran correspondent wrote an article suggesting that there was a national concern in Brazil over Lula's drinking. The Brazilian leader reversed his decision days later, under an avalanche of protest from the Brazilian media and elsewhere on press freedom grounds. Key words: on press freedom grounds. While fighting for Rohter's right to write, the Brazilian media were uniformly critical about the article in question. In fact, according to Brazilian journalist Antonio Brasil, many saw the episode as evidence of the decline and even corruption of American journalism.
ANTONIO BRASIL: One thing is to say anything about a president, you know, and his possible drinking habits. It's another thing when he says that the, the Brazilians were concerned, that -where there was a national concern. Most people say that was not, you know, true. His sources and evaluation in terms of putting together the story would represent some kind of a sloppy journalism or maybe for those who were more into conspiracy somehow that there was something behind. You know, you cannot forget that this is a completely new government. In Brazil this is a Socialist kind of a government for the very, very first time. Lula is from the Worker's Party, and they are very sensitive of any comment, especially coming from America. And you have to think that right now in Latin America -- it's not just in Brazil, but in many parts of the world, the sort of idea of a very strong anti-American feeling.
BOB GARFIELD:I can see how an uninformed public might confuse suspicion with the United States government and its behavior with a newspaper that comes from the United States, but how would journalists in Brazil conflate the United States government's actions with that of the, the New York Times?
ANTONIO BRASIL: Bob, you have to think that when you start to show things that are wrong with recent American journalism, the whole situation of embedded journalists -- for Brazilians, you know, when they watch and they are sort of very well informed about situations like Fox TV, you know, supporting and being very much engaged in American politics, and some of the problems that happened in the New York Times -- you know, the frauds committed by Jayson Blair, maybe the standards are not as high, so for the people to make this connection of political interest, of a conspiracy behind, you know, it's natural. If you're going to do a profile on the president, and if you're going to accuse him, you have to do a much better journalism. You have to have better sources, different sources, and that was one of the main criticisms of the story, is that he listened to very few sources. Those sources were clear enemies of the government somehow. They are from opposition. And that would represent not the standards of American journalism that we expect.
BOB GARFIELD:I understand that this story on the face of it could be used as a weapon by President Lula's political enemies. However, journalism is not supposed to pay a whole lot of attention as to what will happen once a story is reported. Journalists are just supposed to find the news and report it, come what may. Is it normal practice in Brazil to suppress stories for fear that they will be giving aid and comfort to some political party or another?
ANTONIO BRASIL: You have to see, Bob, this is a, a young democracy, you know. We are coming from years of dictatorship, you know, so journalists in Brazil, they are still learning their limits -- to what extent, you know, can you criticize the president in power or the government in power. We don't have the same kind of independence or hundreds of years of democracy somehow that would make journalists bolder.
BOB GARFIELD:Well, I was going to ask you if a Brazilian journalist had written the article that Rohter wrote, would there have been such an uproar, but I guess the question I want to ask you now is: would a Brazilian journalist at this moment in Brazilian history ever have written the article that Larry Rohter published in the New York Times?
ANTONIO BRASIL: Bob, there were a number of articles. What Larry did was just collect here and there little bits and pieces of stories that were in the Brazilian press, but again, it's one thing for the Brazilian press to comment and for one columnist to make an opinion. That would be very clear in Brazilian minds as being part of a political agenda, you know, because it's difficult to prove. But when the New York Times, which is a reference for Brazilian journalists and for international journalism in terms of standards, if it decides to write a story - if you read the story, it's not something that's just giving, you know, he drank three glasses or four glasses -- it's very opinionated, and reveals, for the Brazilians, you know, some kind of a prejudice against, you know, someone who has a completely different background. You know, Brazilian journalists, they will never say -- and that's a main difference in the New York Times -- that was a national concern -- because Brazilians would take that, you know, like we have a completely different culture, we have to understand carnival, you know -- your culture has a relationship with Prohibition and you know, you cannot drink in the streets -- which is completely alien for us. And that's again the problems of foreign journalism -- you report from your own eyes and from your own culture things that are different that maybe you just don't understand.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Antonio, thank you very much.
ANTONIO BRASIL: Oh, thank you so much.
BOB GARFIELD: Brazilian journalist Antonio Brasil is a visiting scholar at Rutgers University.