The Intercept Brasil’s innovative strategy for covering the Car Wash leaks

. Jun 25, 2019
operation car wash leaks

From the outset, the Brazilian version of The Intercept has dedicated itself to covering our country’s politics from the viewpoint of investigative journalism. Its mission has been very clear from the start: to hold the powerful accountable through extensive reporting. It was no surprise, therefore, when Glenn Greenwald announced that he and his team had received an archive related to Operation Car Wash, the most important and controversial corruption probe in Brazilian history. The Intercept Brasil began its series of articles on June 9, a Sunday night, revealing that the most notorious judge connected to the probe, Sergio Moro, had been giving advice to task force prosecutors.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The news came as political and legal dynamite. It is illegal under the Brazilian constitution for judges to communicate or exchange any kind of information with the accusation or the defense. The case takes on another dimension as Mr. Moro is now the country&#8217;s Justice Minister, having been appointed to the post by President Jair Bolsonaro. There is a real possibility that the cases Mr. Moro presided over will be annulled. More specifically, the judge&#8217;s conviction of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has been in prison for over a year.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Essays can be written about all the legal and political implications this case has but I will limit myself to commenting on the ingenious strategy devised by </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in publishing the stories. So far, at least nine articles have been published, and it is all the political media in Brazil is talking about.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">(If you want more details on the case and its </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">possible implications</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, click </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">here</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Or </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">here</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, if you want to listen to </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">chat with </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s managing editor</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, Andrew Fishman.)</span></p> <p><script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2>The first blow to the judge and prosecutors</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">When the first revelation was published, those involved didn’t deny the veracity of the material obtained by </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Deltan Dallagnol (Car Wash’s most prominent prosecutor) and Sergio Moro condemned what they saw as an invasion of their privacy. It was only after a couple of other articles that exposed their conversation on the Telegram messaging app that they began using the strategy of suggesting that the content might have been tampered with. At the same time, they started using the word “hacker” to describe the source that provided the material to Mr. Greenwald and his team.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For those who have followed Brazilian politics in the last few years, it was hardly a surprise when the people exposed (and their supporters online) reacted to the revelations, often in ugly ways. In the week after the first article in the series, some social media users started suggesting that Glenn Greenwald should be deported from the country—despite him living here since 2002, having a Brazilian husband, and two Brazilian-born children.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">More recently, a Twitter profile spread hoaxes about David Miranda—Mr. Greenwald&#8217;s husband—accusing him of buying his seat as a member of Congress. Mr. Miranda stepped in for Jean Wyllys, who was re-elected last year but decided to leave the country after receiving death threats.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Overall, those who are fierce supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, Operation Car Wash, and Sergio Moro have completely rejected the revelations and dismissed them as either fake or the work of “criminals” (namely hackers).</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">All that being said, I want to get into the detail of the strategy that </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> team has devised to not only address criticism but also respond to it with more facts and revelations.</span></p> <h2>The strategy devised by <i>The Intercept Brasil</i></h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Car Wash leaks are not only about exposing the misdeeds of former judge Sergio Moro and the prosecution. They also use Mr. Moro &amp; co.&#8217;s Car Wash tactics against them, as well as using their own reactions to highlight contradictions. Allow me to explain.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Without getting into all the details and the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">timeline of Operation Car Wash</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, I will instead use one emblematic case to illustrate how the prosecution task force acted during the operation&#8217;s height. On March 16, 2016, then-President Dilma Rousseff appointed former president Lula as her Chief of Staff. Ms. Rousseff was facing the threat of impeachment and Lula had been the leading target of the Car Wash operation for several months. The task force provided documents, excerpts of plea deals, and other materials to the press on a weekly basis, in the hopes of gaining support from the public opinion and weakening Lula’s political capital. Successfully, I might add.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A ceremony in Brasilia made it official: Lula was now part of Ms. Rousseff’s government. It was an attempt to save her government and perhaps stop the political crisis Brazil had been under since 2014. A few hours later, during primetime, the country&#8217;s leading news show aired a recording of an intercepted telephone call between Lula and Dilma Rousseff. The conversation seemed to suggest that the purpose of appointing him as Chief of Staff was to shield the former president from the Car Wash investigations.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The recording landed as a bomb in the political world. Everyone debated whether the tapped phone call showed an attempt at obstructing justice. Two days later, the Supreme Court suspended Lula from the position, so that investigations into potential obstruction of Justice could be conducted.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This example showed that the Car Wash team coordinated its own investigation with moves on the political chessboard. This was not the only time this happened. Later, we learned that the recording was illegally obtained. Sergio Moro didn’t have the Supreme Court’s authorization to tap Dilma Rousseff (which is required by law when investigating a president). Also, Mr. Moro had taken advantage of a legal request he had made to wiretap phones to extend the action beyond the time limit he had permission to do so.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Beyond providing the leaked audio to the press, the Car Wash task force also released several other private conversations Lula and his family had that were completely unrelated to the investigations. Mr. Moro defended the release of this material as a way of exposing powerful politicians and putting them under public scrutiny.</span></p> <h2>A taste of their own medicine</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In an ironic twist, these strategies are exactly those now being used by </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Each new article does not only bring a new revelation. The journalists analyze the reactions and responses of Mr. Moro and Deltan Dallagnol, and answer each of them in turn with each new installment. A prime example happened last week, after Sergio Moro was invited to a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Senate hearing</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, where he denied he was advising the prosecutors in any way. In one conversation, he complains to Mr. Dallagnol about the capabilities of a certain prosecutor and suggests something should be done about her. During the hearing in the Senate, Mr. Moro said that there was nothing wrong with that and the proof was that the prosecutor in question kept her place in the task force.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">A few days later, in a partnership with political commentator Reinaldo Azevedo, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> revealed that the prosecutors removed the colleague that had displeased Mr. Moro from all hearings involving Lula’s case. And that the move was taken based on the former judge&#8217;s advice. The argument here is that Mr. Moro’s “suggestions” were promptly accepted, which is illegal.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another aspect of </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">’s strategy is something Glenn Greenwald had already done with the Edward Snowden NSA revelations in 2013. He partnered up with other outlets to not only publish the stories but also share the leaked material. This has been a crucial element of the Car Wash leaks, as the veracity of the material has been brought into question by Sergio Moro&#8217;s supporters on social media and in the press. They argued that as </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> alone had access to the leaks, it could be false or have been doctored.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By partnering with other journalists and giving them access to the leaks, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> ensures that the reliability of the material is verified outside of their own organization. The aforementioned Reinaldo Azevedo was the first one to publish an article based on the Car Wash messages. Today, national newspaper </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Folha de S.Paulo</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> was the second. The brilliance of this strategy is that it legitimizes their investigation, serves other journalists interested in reporting on the case, and strengthens the journalism ecosystem.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Also, Mr. Greenwald, Leandro Demori and other </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Intercept</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> staff members have been giving interviews to explain the case and bring awareness to their coverage. I personally don’t remember other journalists doing that in the past or recent present. Glenn Greenwald even went on comedy radio show Pânico, something normally unthinkable for Brazilian journalists.</span></p> <h2>Adapting to the new ways information is consumed and distributed</h2> <p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> is innovating in the way it publishes and “markets” its important revelations. Instead of releasing a bundle of articles and materials, the team understands that the public forum of opinions (as political theorist Nadia Urbinati would say) is very different today. Now more than ever, we need to work with these dynamics and adopt strategies that take what happens in real time into consideration.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In my opinion, the Car Wash task force is receiving a taste of their own medicine. That is not a value judgment of their strategy as a whole (though I am critical of their mistakes and illegalities), but they are now facing unpredictable public scrutiny. Their every step is being watched by </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Intercept Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and anything can and will be used against them. So far, Glenn Greenwald has used this with maximum journalistic rigor, which is something we have to applaud.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Car Wash leaks may be a new beginning for journalism in Brazil and all over the world. There are many lessons that can already be learned and many more to come.

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Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.

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