The young reporters who exposed Fernando Collor de Melo’s government in the early 1990s no longer cover news from the Planalto, Brazil’s presidential palace. They all have their reasons. A desire to do something different, the hope of earning more, growing older, family pressures; competition and the problems of the profession; career stagnation, disillusions and also illusions; political convictions or the lack of them; changes in power and in the country—all of these factors have been and still are important. But the common denominator among those who left journalism was that they went to work for companies—their own or belonging to others—that serve professional politicians, businessmen and institutions. They are now media consultants, public relations or advertising experts. They run media training courses. They write speeches. They polish the public image of their clients and praise their achievements. They manage crisis cabinets for eminent people who have been attacked in the press outlets they themselves once worked for. Those who once denounced the gap between marketing and reality have become marketing specialists.
The background to this migration of the journalists involved in the Collor affair to the public-relations sector was the start of a new cycle in the struggle over news. Dozens of companies sprang up, some of them tiny, others with more journalists than the mainstream press, to sell their services to anybody who wanted to appear in newspapers, magazines, radio and television. Professional journalists and proprietors remain under pressure from interested parties and advertisers, who do all they can to ensure that certain stories are published in a particular way—in most cases briefly, and supporting the version given by the person under attack in the news. Today there is also a plethora of agencies that aim to control journalistic facts right from the outset, or which respond to the news in order to reshape it.
This new cycle offered a market for the journalists who had investigated Collor. They were experienced in talking to power and communicating with the public. They had practical knowledge of how to produce political stories that made an impact. They knew about the internal workings of the big media companies. They also maintained links with those who stayed on in journalism: reporters, columnists, editors and newsroom bosses, with whom they could get in touch to convince them of the integrity of their clients. Thanks to their cvs, they began to work side-by-side with opinion pollsters, lawyers, sociologists, market analysts, voice-trainers, fashion designers, hairdressers, make-up artists and so on. Rich and powerful, the market has seen constant growth. Governments, ministries, secretariats, companies and parties of every political persuasion have funds to pay those who help them handle the news. Around them orbits a cluster of firms and consultancies offering their services, fighting over meaty contracts and accounts.
Luís Costa Pinto, who carried out the interview in which Pedro Collor accused Paulo César Farias of being his brother’s frontman, became a consultant.footnote1 He worked for the parliamentarian João Paulo Cunha, convicted by the Supreme Court for his role in the mensalão scandal, and for Agnelo Queiroz, the governor of Brasilia whose administration was accused of illicit dealings with the law-breaker Carlos Cachoeira.footnote2 Mino Pedrosa discovered the chauffeur Eriberto França who confirmed the economic connexion between Paulo César Farias and the president. Later, Pedrosa worked on Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s first campaign, created a blog, and was an adviser to Roseana Sarney and Joaquim Roriz, an ex-minister in the Collor administration who resigned from the Senate after being accused of corruption.footnote3 His communications agency worked for Carlos Cachoeira. Mario Rosa, who revealed the problems of the Legião Brasileira de Assistência presided over by Rosane Collor, became a crisis manager.footnote4 He took part in several election campaigns, was a consultant for Ricardo Teixeira when he was president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, and for Daniel Dantas, the owner of Opportunity Bank.footnote5 Like Luís Costa Pinto, he was hired by Fernando Cavendish, proprietor of Delta contractors, implicated in Cachoeira’s swindles.footnote6 Expedito Filho described the antics of the Collor entourage, and recorded Renan Calheiros’s accusations against the president.footnote7 He went on to work in public relations. Gustavo Krieger, who uncovered the money spent by Collor’s spokesman Cláudio Humberto Rosa e Silva on a credit card, was taken on to run the publicity campaign for Gabriel Chalita of the pmdb in his bid to become the mayor of São Paulo.
As the first presidential candidate to use marketing in a systematic way, Fernando Collor was a precursor of this new constellation. He posed for photographers and tv cameras in private jets and imported sports cars, doing exercise and carrying books under his arm. He wore karate and military uniforms, and T-shirts with self-help slogans on them. He adopted cosmopolitan manners and struck the carefully studied pose of a romantic lead. Collor applied the image-manipulation techniques used in the advanced capitalist world, rather than reproducing the backward features of the Alagoas hinterlands. In his downfall, his skills as a prestidigitator counted for little, and his proximity to the owners and support from the press, radio and tv was of no use to him. In the end, what mattered most were the popular demonstrations against the President, fuelled by news reports showing the gap between the reality of the Planalto and the sanitized image that Collor projected.