Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Brazil Media Publishing New Lies
Long after every sensible person in Brazil has come to realize that the defamation lawsuit filed against me there is an astonishing collection of outright lies and transparent inventions, elements of the Brazilian media are still flogging the dishonesty.
Brazilian media are famously xenophobic, perhaps as a legacy of all of those years they spent on their knees as faithful servants of the thuggish military dictatorship that oppressed Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Old habits die hard.
Three years ago, a Brazilian plaintiff whom I had never heard of filed a defamation lawsuit against me that every American lawyer who has seen it shakes his or her head over. That's not only because of its obvious fabrications, but also because it makes the amazingly brazen legal claim that a person writing in the United States is somehow accountable legally for accurate reporting or comments that someone in a foreign country finds objectionable.
Last year, the so-called Speech Act became a federal law, specifically addressing the increasing instances where foreign defamation judgments (in some cases called "libel tourism") are obtained against American writers, bloggers, medical researchers and a wide range of social-network users for perceived offenses to foreign sensibilities from speech that is published in the United States.
The Speech Act law forbids any U.S. court from enforcing judgment from a foreign libel or defamation suit in which the judgment is an insult to the U.S. First Amendment and free-speech protections in the United States.
Among the remarkable passages in the lawsuit against me is one that cites a "rumor" that I was on board the ill-fated flight over the Amazon on September 29, 2006, with the intent to "show that the aerial space [over the Amazon] is a no-man's land" and that I consequently "asked the pilots to turn off the equipment that would enable their detection."
In other words, as part of some unspecified imperialist plot to lay claim to the vast Amazon, the assertion is floated that I caused the American pilots of the business jet that collided with a Brazilian Boeing 737 airliner at 37,000 feet to turn off the avionics equipment in order to hide the plane's location -- thus being responsible for the horrible accident that killed 154 people when the 737 crashed into the jungle.
The suit also makes obviously incorrect charges that, in my utterly accurate reporting of the aftermath of the disaster, of the Brazilian-media-led anti-American hysteria, and of the actual causes of the crash, I called the nation of Brazil "most idiot of idiots." This, incidentally, was cited in the complaint as proof of defamation of each and every one of the 190 million Brazilian citizens.
I was discussing all of this yesterday with a class of bright-eyed journalism students, all of whom had read the lawsuit in astonishment.
The kids asked, how could anyone buy this obvious fabricating? You'd have to ask the lawyers working for the plaintiffs, I replied.
My overriding intent, from day one, has been to argue that Brazil's mishandling of this horrible disaster was a case study for aviation safety, a tenet of which is that you do not rush to criminalize an aviation accident before the facts are in. The atmosphere of anti-Americanism was intense after the Amazon crash (I was one of seven survivors).
The crash was followed by a massive job action by Brazil's military-employed air traffic controllers, making the point that they would not accept any blame for the crash -- even though air traffic control errors were obvious from day one. That job action caused chaos in Brazil's commercial aviation system for months. Then, seven months later, another horrific airline crash occurred in Sao Paulo, killing 199.
Alas, aviation safety somehow got lost in all the fury.
Anyway, the lawsuit against was eventually dismissed a year or so ago, but my tenacious antagonists in Brazil are working to have it reinstated, along with an additional criminal charge added on for good measure. The crime, it seems, is dishonoring the country of Brazil by accurate reporting.
Remember, none of the alleged insults in the lawsuit are true. And even if they were true, even if I did in fact trample on my native tongue and write that Brazil was "most idiot of all idiots," that would not even remotely constitute libel or defamation under U.S. law (or under the laws of most countries that profess free speech).
Most importantly, the issue here is: can a foreign government, or a foreign citizen, enforce against an American citizen a foreign judgment claiming injury, because of something, written in the United States, that would never be actionable under American law?
More to the point, if you were to say on a blog in the U.S. that Osama bin Laden was a dirty rat who deserved to die, can someone in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia claim that they're offended, and that you should be legally accountable?
Less harshly, if I were to make on this blog the demonstrably true statement that the term "full English breakfast" on a menu at any hotel in England is a cause for high anxiety in any foreign visitor with a palette that's more sophisticated than an average dachshund's, can some lady in Somerset expect to successfully sue me for defamation in an English court, and obtain judgment against me enforceable in the U.S., because I have insulted a tradition of Old Blighty?
Obviously, if this were the case, the result is that free speech protections in America would be finished. That's because literally everything you publish in the United States appears in some form on the Internet, which is of course accessible globally. Hell, some poor blogger in Toledo wouldn't even be able to review a road-show revival of "The Sound of Music" for fear that a choir of Swiss yodelers might take offense at a perceived cultural slight.
Anyway, my antagonists in Brazil are now seeking to reinstate the dismissed and thoroughly discredited lawsuit. No serious journalist would ever consider touching this story with anything but scorn, but that didn't stop the Brazilian media empire Imprensa from wading right in today -- while inventing even newer fabrications.
With emphasis and notes by me, here's the Imprensa story -- which, I might remind the "journalists" of Imprensa constitutes additional evidence of a campaign of libel and defamation of me. Don't say you were not warned. (Translation thanks to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo):
U.S. journalist on the Gol accident will be judged in Curitiba (PR)
Newsroom Portal IMPRENSA | 11/16/2011 11:47
American journalist Joe Sharkey, present in the collision involving the Legacy jet and the Gol plane in which 154 people died in 2006, will be judged on Thursday (17), in the 9th Civil Chamber of the Court of Justice in Curitiba.
Sharkey answers a civil suit brought by Rosane Gutjahr, who lost her husband in the accident, because of texts and articles published on his blog, deemed offensive and disrespectful to the people and institutions in Brazil. [The lawsuit also cites my reporting in the New York Times, but subsequent coverage has usually left the Times out of it.]
After the tragedy, Sharkey wrote that Brazilian journalists were "bobos" [My note: That's a new one, still another word, like "tupinikim," that is not even in my vocabulary, still another fabrication] and that Brazil was blamed for the collision of the aircraft. [As I said, the U.S. National transportation Safety Board found that operational and systemic faults of Brazilian air traffic control were the probable main cause of the accident].
"It's absurd for him to try to blame Brazilian authorities and media for errors that U.S. pilots committed and that led to the deaths of 154 people, including my husband. Family members expect the judge to condemn him for all the lies wrote," said the widow. [This would be the main plaintiff, one Roseane Gutjhar, a person I had never heard of, and certainly never said or wrote a word about.] ...
"Brazil is an unstable place where the authorities struggle to escape the blame," said the journalist. He allowed on his page commentaries against the Brazilians in the accident case [this seemingly casual assertion means refers to the typical rat's nest of Web sites, links and comments from who-knows-whom appended to various media links, ad infinitum] and wrote articles for The New York Times, considered untrue. [No one has ever shown that anything I reported was inaccurate.]
He has been convicted in previous (criminal) cases by the authorities [utterly untrue, another fabrication], but according to the lawyer for the Association of Relatives and Friends of Victims of Flight 1907, Dante D'Aquino, the culprit presented no defense. [On legal advice, I did not go to Brazil to defend myself against this patently spurious lawsuit]
About the Brazilian courts, the journalist posted ironic comments questioning their "degree of accuracy and honesty." [Untrue, a total fabrication]
The National Federation of Journalists (FENAJ) expressed support for the lawsuit against Sharkey. [True: The main Brazilian journalists association has, astonishingly, come out in support of this travesty. Which tells you all you need to know about the state of journalism in Brazil].
My antagonists in Brazil always claim that I, along with the American pilots who were subsequently convicted in absentia, was disrespectful and callous toward those who died in this terrifying crash. Another lie. I have always expressed the deepest sorrow and sympathy, starting on the morning when I got out of Brazil in October 2006, and was greeted on arrival at Kennedy airport by a hostile Brazilian television crew. That was the start of my realization that xenophobia and reflexive anti-Americanism are the easy answers for those who don't have the courage to ask the tough questions.