Leading Brazilian newspaper O Globo calls support for 1964 military coup "a mistake"

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  • September 5, 2013

By Travis Knoll

O Globo, one of Brazil's leading newspapers, penned a historic editorial last Saturday Aug. 31 calling its support for the April 1, 1964 coup that deposed then President João Goulart "a mistake." O Globo, in reference to the June protests across the country that often brought up the newspaper's past relationship to the authoritarian regime, admitted “the hard truth” of its support and billed its change of heart as a response to the “clamor from the street.”

However, the editorial also attempted to contextualize its support of the coup within the almost unanimous backing it received from the country's other media outlets. O Globo added that the paper's initial support of the coup stemmed from a rejection of a “radicalized” Goulart and fear of a union-led “leftist coup” by his supporters in the event that the 1964 move to depose him were to fail.

O Globo also argued that the paper played the role of a moderating force during the years of the regime and added that its owner fought for a quick transition into democracy -- even though it never occurred, leaving the dictatorship in power until 1985.

O Globo went on to ask its readers for understanding, saying that “the men who acted are history” and that the newspaper's actions should be understood in the context of the time period, even as it noted that democracy is an “absolute value” to be defended not by military rule, but by better democratic governance.

The newspaper's call for historical nuance did not sit well with current-day coup supporters who saw the editorial as an attempt to rewrite history. According to weekly magazine Carta Capital, the right-wing group Clube Militar -- which still holds annual celebrations of the coup -- said they were nonplussed with what they saw as a two-faced retraction. The organization concluded that the “last great carioca paper” had given in to political pressures despite the “firm position” of support its former editor had taken.

Other journalists were also skeptical of O Globo’s turnaround. Writing in Observatorio da Imprensa, journalism professor Sylvia Debossan Moretzsohn called O Globo's editorial “verbal gymnastics” and contended that while O Globo was the first media outlet to apologize for its support, it was also the last one to give in to popular pressure to cover the “Diretas Já” protests that ushered in the democratic transition.

Other journalists saw a self-interested O Globo looking toward the past to avoid the present. Ivo Luchessi, also of the Observatorio da Imprensa, wrote that the mea culpa did not come from “the voice of conscience” but was rather a “cowardly” reaction to protests outside O Globo’s Sao Paulo bureau last Friday.

Luchessi questioned O Globo's sincerity, calling on the news organization to prove its newfound democratic convictions by writing about about the structural decay that launched the protests in the first place. “If the media wishes to fulfill the noble function to which it is called, it should lead a social transformation that will not come from established political actors,” he said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.