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The Elian Gonzalez of Brazil

The US and Brazilian media have very different takes on a high-profile custody case.

People hold a protest in Rio de Janeiro March 15, 2009 against U.S. citizen David Goldman, who has been fighting for custody of his son Sean since his then-wife took the boy on vacation to her native Brazil. The banner reads: "Sean wants to stay". (Sergio Moraes/Reuters)

SAO PAULO — Here’s where the American and Brazilian media concur:

1) In 2004, four-year-old Sean Goldman, a Brazilian-American boy from New Jersey, was taken on vacation by his mother to her native Rio de Janeiro, and never came back.

2) A U.S. court ruled the case an abduction and ordered his immediate return to his American father, which the mother ignored. A Brazilian court granted the mother custody, which the father, David Goldman, found outrageous. She re-married and then, last year, died giving birth to her second child.

3) Sean, who will turn nine in May, now lives with his stepfather, Joao Paulo Lins e Silva, his baby half-sister, and his maternal grandparents. The Brazilian family is doing everything in its power to keep him there. Sean's American father, who recently saw his son for the first time in four years, is doing everything in his power to win him back.

Beyond that, the story is being covered like a military conflict, with some reporters on both sides treating those on the other side as incomprensible enemies.

In the U.S., the case is portrayed as a clear-cut case of kidnapping. “Son Abducted By Mom to Brazil,” read an on-screen graphic on CNN. Americans have watched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Goldman’s congressman, Chris Smith, essentially call it an open and shut case, a clear violation of the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution pressing Brazil to return Sean.

Prompted by the American coverage, the Brazilian press began covering the story and the Lins e Silva family — who had scored consecutive victories regarding custody of Sean in Brazilian courts — scrambled to come up with a media strategy to avoid “becoming a punching bag,” as Joao Paulo Lins e Silva would later tell O Globo. Starting this month, they granted interviews sparingly but strategically, to generally positive results for their side.

Mark DeAngelis, a representative of the Goldman family, thinks it’s clear why the American coverage and Brazilian coverage have been so different. “The American media looks at this story and says, ‘here’s a case of parental-child abduction, a black and white case of a mother illegally retaining the child in a foreign country,’” he said. “They do ask for the other side of the story, but it tends to backfire. There’s usually two sides, but in this case there isn’t another side.”

Brazilians, who like most Latin Americans are sensitive to any whiff of U.S. intervention into their affairs, have been less willing to automatically identify the American as hero and the Brazilian as victim. Many have expressed disgust that the American father is exposing his son's image so widely on the internet.