Friday, March 09, 2007

Bush in Brazil: A tale of two media

As has been making news both in the U.S. and here in Brazil, Bush's visit to Brazil has (not surprisingly) led to protests and public displays of disapproval. However, the news coverage between the two countries has been vastly different.

Most notable is the complete absence of Lula in any of the discussion in the American news media, which, as I've commented before, is nothing new, given American journalism's interest in telling the story of the visit in terms of Bush-vs.-Chavez. By contrast, here in Brazil, Lula is front and center, as some members of the PT criticize the visit of Bush (though must such criticisms are muted - after all, Lula is the president, and thus, as the leader of Brazil, has to meet with both popular and unpopular political leaders). The portrayals of popular "fears" of a US-Brazil alliance are highly overblown in the U.S. media, and some of Lula's proclamations in public are not making any news in the states, such as his accurate declaration that American subsidies are "nefarious," primarily because they try to undermine Brazilian private and state-run businesses for exploitation by foreign investors. Given the history of free-market economics and American "aid" since neoliberalism (and really since well before the Taft administration), such subsidies generally have screwed over Latin America. And that's putting it lightly.

Also, Bush's visit comes across in American journalism as a goodwill mission meant to bolster Brazil's and America's ethanol production, but this is actually quite misleading. As I mentioned, Brazil is doing just fine in its ethanol production (8 out of every 10 new cars runs on ethanol here). Brazil doesn't need Bush quite so much as Bush apparently needs Brazil (though you'd never hear ANY American politician or bureaucrat say as much). As the Times hints, this visit is meant not so much for goodwill as to undermine Chavez's petro-economic influence in the region, and the only way to directly hit at that influence is through alternative fuels. Fortunately, the Brazilian media has for the most part viewed this current spectacle for what it really is - a weak attempt at PR from the American president in an effort to look like he cares about the environment and to try to combat Chavez. Unfortunately for Bush, the media here, both rightist and leftist, wasn't born yesterday, and the country seems to almost uniformly recognize that this visit is too little, too late.

As for the logistics of the visit, once again, the media have taken two very different tacts. The American media (particularly the NY Times, CNN, the Washington Post, etc.) refer primarily to the protesters and the anti-bush graffiti (which isn't news for two reasons - first, it just isn't newsworth, and second, it isn't anything new - when I lived in Costa Rica at the beginning of 2002, there was graffiti calling Bush an "assassain", and this was before the Iraq war). However, on the Brazilian side, it has been more concerned with the logistics of getting the president around São Paulo. São Paulo's already experiencing a bit of a "traffic crisis" (last week, there were 100 miles of stopped and slowed traffic throughout the city, and when I was there, I spent an hour on a bus just to get to the subway). Naturally, then, the media here is using the visit more as a question/analysis of the infrastructural complications not just facing São Paulo from the point of view of logistics, but in terms of larger infrastructural issues facing the city.

Overall (and this should come as no surprise to me, yet it is disappointing), the media is really mishandling this story, treating Brazil simply as a generic stage for Bush to wage his anti-Chavez, pro-U.S. PR campaign. There is none of the mention, analysis, or reference to things actually going on here in Brazil beyond the rowdy protesters, which is the narrative that generally accompanies a Bush visit to anywhere - instead of focusing on the actual implications of deals that governments are trying to put into place and their possible consequences, we hear about more people in the international community angry at the U.S. government and/or population (they are often unfairly equated). I'd hope that maybe the media could actually include small things like, oh, the leaders of other countries, but I'm guessing I'd be wasting my time.