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On May 2004, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva set off a diplomat spat with the U.S. when he threatened to expel New York Times correspondent Larry Rohter. The grievance: an article by Rohter alleging that the president’s taste for cachaça—a popular Brazilian sugar-cane liquor—was affecting his job performance. Four years later, Brazilians continue to be absorbed by Rohter’s hard-nosed reporting on their country, at least judging by the attention paid to his journalistic memoir Deu No New York Times, or The New York Times Had It. The collection of original essays and articles, published in Portuguese, will form the basis for an English-language book on Brazil due out in 2011.
Few journalists can match Rohter’s track record for fairness, versatility or prolificacy. Until he returned to New York in 2007, he was considered by his peers the dean of foreign correspondents in Latin America. Sadly, as print journalism struggles and infotainment overtakes hard news, he’s also one of the last such experts. Rohter’s deep knowledge of the region earned him Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize for outstanding reporting of Latin America in 1998. In his memoir, Rohter draws on four decades covering Brazil for Newsweek, the Washington Post and, from 1999 to 2007, as Rio de Janeiro bureau chief for the Times. Nevertheless, in Brazil, Rohter remains so closely identified with the cachaça incident that after his book was featured in November on the cover of the influential Veja magazine, it soared to best-seller status.
That reflects the extraordinary attention paid to the original New York Times article, the discussion of which dominated the book’s mixed reviews in Brazil. Even though local media had long alluded to Lula’s love of drink, when a story about the President’s drinking habits appeared in the world’s most influential newspaper, it triggered the equivalent of a public lynching…
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