On December3, 2007, Miriam Leitão of the O Globo newspaper (Brazil), analyzing the Venezuelan referendum, runs a column stating that Hugo Chávez won the referendum because he manipulated the system.
The problem being that Hugo Chávez did not win the referendum.
Reading the newspaper in Brazil can often be like that Star Trek episode in which the malfunctioning transporter zaps the crew into an alternative universe with an evil, bearded Spock.
Ricardo Kaufmann analzes this astonishing analysis for Terra magazine. Go to the article for a translation. His conclusions, boiled down to PowerPoint bullets:
The episode lays bare the following characteristics of current journalistic coverage:
1. International news agencies run information sourced anonymously to a single interested party who is not reliable.
2. International news agencies publish news passed along by third parties without checking them with the original source of the news, especially at heated moments such as elections. (But not all of them: The Folha says AFP received the same e-mails but decided not to publish their contents.)
3. The major Brazilian news media covers South America badly and outsource most of their actual fact-finding. When there is a correspondent on the scene (generally only in the case of elections and catastrophes, without having a chance to follow the entire process of events), that reports does not have any way of checking the information with firsthand sources.
If this were not the case, newspapers would not afford blind credit to what comes down the newswires. They would request, and await the results of, a check by the reporter on the scene.
4. The Brazilian news media gives a blank check to the international news agencies, with respect to credbility. If these agencies commit an error, their reporting collapses along with it. I have two questions: Why are Brazilian news organizations not capable of competing with a Spanish agency in covering a neighboring country? Will we soon be getting our news about Roraima (a border state near Venezuela) from European news agencies as well?
5. Brazilian political and economic commentators perform their analyses before the fact. Before they know that it actually happened, they have an explanation for it. They present opinion divorced from information.
6. Agents who are attentive to the fragility of the mechanisms of media coverage have an easy time of manipulating the news.