Buenos Aires Times

opinion and analysis FROM WHERE I STAND

Oficialitis, reprisals and ‘useful idiots’

The grieta struck again. The journalists who signed the statement were attacked ... they were merely defending the freedom of the press, journalists from persecution and the people’s right to be informed.

Saturday 28 October, 2017
Héctor Timerman.
Héctor Timerman. Foto:Cedoc.

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Seven years ago, when I was able to return to Argentina for extended periods, after retiring at the age of 75 as assistant editor of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, I had an early insight into what has come to be called ‘la grieta’ – the divide that seemingly separates the pro- and anti-Kirchnerites. While back in Buenos Aires I was attacked verbally by then-foreign minister Héctor Timerman for trying to explain what I saw as the truth about Grupo Clarín’s role during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983) and the controversy surrounding Papel Prensa, the newsprint manufacturer that was seized by the military and is today owned today by the owners of both Clarín and La Nación, in partnership with the state. Timerman made the outrageous charge that Papel Prensa was acquired “on the torture table” and that I was allowing myself to be used by Grupo Clarín. A reporter from Clarín became frustrated with me too because I declined to take part – to use her words – in “la polemica.” I remember thinking then that ‘the polemic’ had taken over from journalism, to the detriment of facts and information. Of course, la polemica eventually became la grieta and now, we are all the worse for it. I think that journalists – because they nowadays seem to be divided into two camps – are largely to blame.

The other day I found myself peripherally involved in unnecessarily aggressive polemics once again, after signing a carefully worded statement expressing concern about reports that suggested that the government was considering unspecified reprisals against Pagina/12 columnist Horacio Verbitsky. He had reported details of foreign accounts and amounts ‘whitewashed’ under the Mauricio Macri administration’s blanqueo, data that is supposed to be kept secret by AFIP, the tax bureau.

I know of two background stories related to the reports claiming that the government was considering reprisals against Verbitsky. One, which I referred to in last week’s issue, is that President Macri has a list of 562 troublesome people he jokingly says he would like to send in a rocket to the moon. Verbitsky, a Super Kirchnerite, facetiously responded by saying that he was buckling his seatbelt, adding that he would prefer not to be ‘honoured’ in such a way.

The other explanation given for these apparent reprisals against Verbitsky is closer to home. The Pagina/12 journalist has reported that family members and others close to the president have whitewashed more than US$132 million that they had been holding in undeclared accounts abroad. The grieta struck again. The 50 journalists who signed the statement were attacked. The list of signatories included some of the most respected journalists in Argentina, both male and female, who were not favouring either side of the divide when they signed. They were merely defending the freedom of the press, journalists from persecution and the people’s right to be informed. They were called “useful idiots” by Pablo Sirvén of La Nación, a gutsy guy whom I often enjoy reading – including the piece in which he attacked the 50 people who had signed the statement.

I think that editor of Noticias magazine, Edi Zunino, may have got it right when he said that the critics of those who signed the statements were suffering from dose of ‘oficialitis,’ the disease that he says afflicts some journalists whenever a new government takes office. I think that anti-Kirchnerite anger may explain it too, as well as the fact that many of the Kirchnerite journalists who signed were shamefully silent when journalists who were not fervently pro-Néstor or Cristina were slandered in the past. I think that Nelson Castro, who has probably put up with more threats and abuse than most other non-militant journalists, has shown once again that he embodies the values that all journalists cherish. To call him a “useful idiot,” well, is simply idiotic.

I think the names of the journalists who did the right thing this time around deserve to be published here in this column. I am proud to stand among them: Nelson Castro, Víctor Hugo Morales, Jorge Fontevecchia, Mónica González, Mario Wainfeld, Chiche Gelblung, María O’Donnell, Adrián Paenza, Cecilia González, Rolando Graña, Nora Veiras, Edi Zunino, Claudio Martínez, Sebastián Lacunza, Miriam Lewin, Luis Bruschtein, Luciana Geuna, Alejandro Bercovich, Reynaldo Sietecase, Jorge Asís, Eduardo Aliverti, Iván Schargrodsky, Isidoro Gilbert, Cynthia García, Alejandra Dandan, Martín Granovsky, Washington Uranga, Sergio Santesteban, Ezequiel Fernández Moore, Mempo Giardinelli, Ángela Lerena, Juan Forn, Patrick de Saint-Exupery, Gustavo Sylvestre, Verena Schoenfeldt, Horacio Lutzky, Ingrid Beck, Matías Martin and Bernarda Llorente.

For once, journalists on both sides of the grieta had a common cause and there is really no better cause than the defence of freedom of expression, regardless of political differences.

If there are any idiots about , those who might prove useful to those opposed to democratic ideas, they are not to be found in the list above. It is worth noting, by the way, that the phrase “useful idiots” is attributed to Lenin, who coined it when describing people known as “fellow travellers,” those who visited the Soviet Union, believed the propaganda and were blind to reality. Not the case here.  It’s good to look beyond the great divide.


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