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.
One of the lessons that politicians, businessmen and journalists drew from the election and the ousting of the President was the need to strengthen their influence over anything that might find an echo in the press and in public opinion. In the end, although he was a pioneer, Collor was an amateur who picked up fragments of marketing strategies from here and there as he saw fit. This explains the growth and strengthening of what he never had: full-time professionals and solid political-communications companies, where ideology is subordinated to technique. Most apparent in election campaigns, this is an international phenomenon of which Brazil is a part. Frequently, American advertising firms arrive here, called upon to help political parties with their propaganda. In the same way, Brazilian marketing experts work for candidates in other Latin American countries and in Africa.
Typical of this abandonment of journalism to take up a role in political publicity is the case of João Santana Filho. In his youth, he was linked to avant-garde and pop music, becoming a composer in Bahia, where he was born. He trained as a journalist, worked on magazines and newspapers, studied politics and international relations in the United States, and was head of IstoÉ magazine’s office in Brasilia during Collor’s government. There he played a vital role in the reports on the chauffeur Eriberto França. Besides being one of the authors behind the scoop that defined the president’s destiny, he was affable, organized, creative and a good writer. He had the qualities to become a leader in the world of journalism. But he left it for political propaganda. Santana joined up with Duda Mendonça, who headed the victorious publicity campaign for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for the 2002 presidency, although he later split from him. Some time later, Mendonça admitted to a parliamentary commission of enquiry that he had received close to $5 million in payment for services rendered to the pt in offshore accounts outside Brazil, which he had never declared to the tax authorities. Lula substituted him for Santana for his re-election campaign. There were 150 people in the communications team the ex-journalist worked with. He had at his disposal daily public-opinion polls, based on interviews with seven hundred people throughout Brazil and backed up by eight focus groups, each with twelve members, which were also held daily. In two and a half months, the Vox Populi institute—which had sounded out public opinion for Collor as well—carried out more than 60,000 interviews so that Santana could fine-tune Lula’s propaganda, and create the slogans ‘Lula again, with the strength of the people’ and ‘Don’t change the known for the uncertain’. Santana told Fernando Rodrigues of the Folha de São Paulo that he received almost $7 million for Lula’s 2006 re-election campaign.