Brazilians refuse to swallow reports of Lula's alcoholism

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Brazilians are surprised and upset by a claim in an American newspaper that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has a drinking problem.

Brazilians are surprised and upset by a claim in an American newspaper that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has a drinking problem.

The report, which appeared in the Sunday edition of The New York Times , proclaimed: "Brazilian leader's tippling becomes national concern."

President Silva's spokesman André Singer said Brazil asked its ambassador to transmit to the publication in question its indignation and surprise over the gratuitous insults aimed at the president, whose social habits he described as moderate.

Brazil's vice president, José Alencar, said he was revolted by the story. Both friends and critics of President Silva were surprised over the report, which generated front-page headlines in Brazil.

Alberto Dines, editor of the media-watching website and TV show Observatorio da Imprensa, said: "In purely technical terms, the article had serious flaws. Lula's drinking is not a national concern. Most people don't even think about it. There's a group of journalists in Brasilia who joke about it and that's about it."

According to Mr Dines, The New York Times's story also suffered from weak sourcing and relied heavily on a former political ally who is now an enemy of the president and on two columnists known for their strong opinions.

In the daily newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo , columnist Vinicus Torres Freire said in an editorial that the New York newspaper's report was based on gossip. "Lula drinks and smokes... But [our] journalists don't know if the president is an alcoholic or if the alcohol he drinks affects his capacity to work. And if we had factual evidence we would have published it," he wrote.

President Silva, a former lathe operator who left school at the age of 14, has been given more latitude by most voters in Brazil, a country in which two-thirds of the population describes itself as working class. That tolerance extends to Silva's sometimes mangled use of the Portuguese language as well as his occasional drinking and smoking in public.

A spokeswoman for The New York Times , Catherine Mathis, said the newspaper stood by its story. "We believe our reporting was accurate," she said by telephone from New York.

Political analyst Alexandre Barros said that although much had been said about Silva's alleged drinking in Brasilia, the capital, it was not an issue until The New York Times story appeared.

"There's been a lot of talk about Lula's drinking here in Brasilia, but there's nothing concrete," he told The Associated Press. "This will without a doubt become a bigger issue, one more unnecessary irritation in the relations between Brazil and the United States."