The Infostorm of Impeachment and the Lava-Jato scandal – Media Leaks and Corruption in Brazil

For the PhD project “Corruption Narratives in the Brazilian Mediascape”, PhD fellow Mads Bjelke Damgaard collected an extraordinary amount of data on the national newspapers’ coverage (in printed and web editions) about corruption scandals.

In total, more than 1,300 headlines from frontpages were registered, and over 8,000 news items were archived and collected in a database, including parameters of content analysis and a range of meta-data for each news item.

The data material of the book is publicly available for further study and can be explored below.

The possibilities of detecting patterns and gaining insights are not limited to the content analyses of the book, and scholars and students are invited to interrogate and expand the data, as well as to introduce new questions and approaches that can expand the scope of the present inquiry.

Explore the data of six months of corruption scandals in the daily coverage of Brazil’s national newspapers

Dataset 1 (in.xls-format) contains the headlines found on the frontpages of the three national quality newspapers in Brazil – Estado de São Paulo, Folha de São Paulo, and O Globo. The headlines are written out and the worksheet includes a count of the headlines dealing with the main themes relating to corruption. The sampling period includes six months of frontpages until the impeachment vote on April 17, 2016, which preceded the ousting of President Dilma Rousseff. 

JPG files of the sampled front pages are not available here for public use due to copyright, but can be accessed by researchers. These have been collected from the newspapers’ public Twitter accounts.

Frontpage dataset (excel) https://www.dropbox.com/s/hw9uwkmnxsul070/Frontpages.xls?dl=0

Dataset 2 (also in.xls-format) contains data on more than 8,000 news items from two of the three national quality newspapers in Brazil – Estado de São Paulo and Folha de São Paulo, all relating to various corruption cases and the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. These news items were sampled in the period from October 14, 2015, till May 12, 2016, when Rousseff was ousted.

A third dataset, containing the full texts of the sampled news items, are not available for public use due to copyright, but can be accessed by researchers on request.

Article dataset (excel) https://www.dropbox.com/s/6x32x0z60dq9o7f/EF9Mar.xls?dl=0

Declaration of the datasets

Two datasets of the project are currently available for further exploration.

No personal data is contained in either dataset.

Both sets were collected in the period 2015-2016 by Mads Damgaard (http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9723-3059).

Errors and gaps in the sets can be reported to scb617@alumni.ku.dk.

Academic use and other non-commercial use of this data is permitted under the license type CC BY-NC-SA which means that the original author must be credited, changes must be indicated, and sharing of the data should remain non-commercial under the same license type.

Existing analyses of the datasets

The book “Media Leaks and Corruption in Brazil” works with these datasets in order to investigate the informational cascades of scandalous news on corruption and political transgression, triggered by leaks from the judiciary and police probes into political corruption. Akin to financial bubbles, cascades of news are feedback-loops flowing through the media and political system, once information is disclosed (legally or through leaks). This creates what has been termed an infostorm. In the Brazilian case, the leaks from the investigations commanded most of the media attention, resulting in a strongly biased mediascape. The cascades of news on corruption dominated the general attention to political news, driving the general valency of political news (compare with the data sampled at http://www.manchetometro.com.br).

The mechanisms of the informational cascades may thus provide one explanation for the bias of Brazilian mainstream media (discussed in the article Cascading Corruption News: Explaining the Bias of Media Attention to Brazil’s Political Scandals, published in the journal Opinião Pública

The coverage and aggregate configuration of leaks, denunciations, and trials in the media are the focus of the book “Media Leaks and Corruption in Brazil”, along with the consequent effects upon coalition formation and judicialization of politics. The book answers two central questions concerning the unprecedented and surprising situation in Brazil: First, how could political actors in a seemingly well-functioning democracy quickly override checks-and-balances, ousting the president Rousseff and putting a corrupt vice-president in her stead? Secondly, how could the nation’s very active media, while ostensibly performing the role of the watchdog, still fail to deliver media accountability to the public?

The book presents research in media studies and political science on the recent transformation of Brazilian politics - catalysed by leaks and mediatized disclosure of information about corruption of all major political actors. Since 2014, a corruption probe has revealed systematic graft in the largest public companies of Brazil, including the oil giant Petrobras. The corruption probe, known as Operation Lava-Jato, had profound impacts - impacts that went well beyond the individuals investigated in the case. Spinning off from the Lava-Jato case, the elected President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, much-needed political and economic reform was obstructed for years, scores of federal representatives, senators and governors became targets in an avalanche of new investigations, and a new President stepped up and picked a cabinet from the ranks of his party which at that point had every key figure under scrutiny in the very same, initial corruption probe. Subsequently, the new President’s base within the Brazilian conservative political elite successfully used the ousting of President Rousseff to obtain sufficient institutional power to evade persecution on corruption charges in both the Supreme Court and the Electoral Court. With no elections held, and despite the absence of criminal charges against the impeached President, the political program of the Brazilian government could change completely overnight, disrupting social conquests made in Brazil in the last decade and manifesting the prevalent Latin-American trend towards (or back to) neo-liberal economic politics.

The book demonstrates that the media attention to leaks and investigations of corruption paved the way for the impeachment. The news on corruption emphasized the role of the Worker’s Party (PT) while eclipsing information concerning corruption in the parties that stood to gain from ousting the president. In a mixed-method design, the book utilizes a quantitative agenda-setting research design guided by the concept of infostorms, coupled with shorter analyses of media discourse and institutional interactions. Based on this, the book argues that the political accountability produced by the mainstream media was seriously flawed, especially in the case of the impeachment, which lacked legitimacy in several key aspects. Furthermore, the book contributes to studies of political corruption and scandals by initiating a discussion about the perverse effects on political systems of mediatized corruption disclosure.