December 22, 2013
POLITICS and the PRESS - Rial, Brienza, ClarínSaturday, October 5, 2013
CFK’s exit strategy
The journalistic Nation is so much engaged in navel-gazing that the star of an odd series of presidential interviews launched by the government after faring badly in the midterm election primaries in August were the questions rather than the answers. Yet the political forest behind the press gossiping tree is showing that the president may have started to work on an exit strategy which might be more civilized, at least in communication terms, than many had expected.
The Desde otro lugar series of interviews faced the president with famed showbiz television and radio host Jorge Rial last Sunday, in what felt a bit more like a real news-worthy interview compared to the one conducted a week earlier by the pro-government journalist Hernán Brienza. Rial did chip in a few questions on issues that matter to some Argentines outside the hyper-informed political circles, including lines on inflation, foreign exchange restrictions and corruption. The second half of the interview is to be broadcast tomorrow.
But the real novelty in the president’s communications policy is that she now seems to be talking to the history books rather than the next election or even the next morning’s papers. Unlike Brienza, Rial managed to extract a couple of headlines from the President, but nothing that would seem imperative for the immediate future of the country or her own political life.
For a president that has used her public speech as internal communication in her government, the interviews have so far given little indication of where the political movement she (still) leads is heading to, especially as it marches toward a new electoral slap in this month’s midterm vote to officially enter her lame duck era.
Or have they?
The shift from an omnipresent president in the first leg of the campaign to the ruling Victory Front candidates mostly standing on their own in the run-up to October seems to be telling the Kirchner planet and the rest of the Peronist universe that Cristina Fernández is not willing to sacrifice her personal legacy as the first woman to be elected and re-elected president of Argentina for the sake of an irrational radicalization à la Venezuela of her administration. The ghost of the Bolivarian Republic has been thrown on the Kirchner era a lot (too much?) over the last few years. Now even one of the president’s most diehard opponents, Deputy Elisa Carrió, has said that she saw Fernández de Kirchner ‘better, showing some rationality.‘
The government’s new campaign strategy is channeling most of its energy toward Martín Insaurralde, the head of the ruling party’s slate in the populous province of Buenos Aires. The neat campaign design put together by renowned political marketing spin doctors — which toys with his initials (MI, or ‘my‘) — could serve him to get himself known to the big public even if he - as expected - loses the province of Buenos Aires to dissident Peronist Sergio Massa, but especially if he manages to keep around the same number of votes he got in the primary, when his face was literally just an accessory to the presidential communication.
The government’s war with Argentina’s largest media conglomerate, Grupo Clarín, has entered an uncertain territory in which nobody seems to be gaining ground and both are instead waiting anxiously for a much-expected Supreme Court ruling set to reshuffle the game. In the meantime, the government and Grupo Clarín take symbolical swipes at each other, as if trying to show they are still strong to fight an extra day.
President Fernández de Kirchner seemed fixed this week on contradicting whatever scoop the newspaper Clarín decided to carry on its front page. On speculation that the blanqueo capital whitewash would end following comments by AFIP tax bureau boss Ricardo Echegaray, the president immediately published a decree extending it for an extra three months. And soon after Clarín said on its front page that Argentina would quietly accept Uruguay’s decision to authorize an output increase in a conflictive pulp mill on the bordering Uruguay river, the government escalated the conflict to the point of announcing a new presentation before the International Court of Justice.
The presidential exit strategy, no matter how moderate, might not include an armistice with the oppositionist media she has for over five years accused of almost every single negative piece of news that reaches the public in Argentina. The President has not send — so far — a single line hinting at truce with the media during her relaxed television interviews. On the very contrary, she said in the latest episode that she had disagreed with her late husband and former president Nestor Kirchner’s attempts to be in good terms with Grupo Clarín, a plan that at one point included granting the Group a cable distribution oligopoly the government now wishes to end.
The government — but most especially the president — will continue to look for media escape goats as it tries to consolidate its narrative about the 12 years it will have overall run the country come 2015. But it has not reached — and is not likely to — the point of Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela in finding a conspiratorial evil behind every bush on its way out. The president seems more concerned about finding her right place in history instead.