The "little flu" might not take out the President, but it has taken away his leading role in the news

Last week, the mainstream press did not, as expected, give much space to President Jair Bolsonaro's statements downplaying the novel Coronavirus.

Bolsonaro's aggressive behavior, often incomprehensible, has not changed.
The world, however, wants to understand the effects of the novel coronavirus better.

Amid the thirst for information, the anguish caused by the first deaths, and the fear of the imponderable, the President ended the week saying that, after the stab he received, it will not be a "little flu" that brings him down.

In fact, coronavirus hasn't taken him down, but it seems that Bolsonaro's role in the national news has been affected.

At the beginning of the week, the President appeared only in the second half of the leading Brazilian newscast, Jornal Nacional, which is unusual.

A quick search on the Folha website shows that the name Jair Bolsonaro appears 104 times in the newspaper between March 7 and 13 and 115 the following week. In the same period, the term coronavirus jumps from 164 to 371 mentions.

The President strives to attract attention, not quite in the way one expects of the most important authority in the Republic.

On Sunday (15), to the surprise of many people, he ignored medical advice. Amid the spread of a highly contagious virus, he attended the demonstrations in favor of his government and against Congress and the STF (Supreme Federal Court).

After that, ignoring criticism for having neglected the risks to his health and, above all, to the health of the population, he said that the country could not enter into a "neurosis," that there is a "hysteria," that the disease "is not what they say" and that you cannot drop everything for "a possible spread of the virus."

What the President says continues to be reported and accompanied by evaluations and criticisms, but he has ceased to rule (albeit momentarily) the mainstream press.

Pressed by reality, the news explained the pandemic and its consequences, the precautions to avoid it, the health system situation, and what the government is doing to overcome the approaching health, social and economic crisis.

With the centrality lost, the President seems to have felt the blow.
On Monday (16), when announcing a package to try to contain the effects of the virus on the economy, Minister Paulo Guedes insisted more than once on the responsibility of the President to unite the group to discuss the measures.

At the end of the week, it was Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta's turn to repeat the litany - as if it were necessary to emphasize that it is the President of the Republic, especially in situations of calamity, who leads his entire team and the nation.

The fact is that the crisis triggered by the coronavirus makes people pay more and more attention to everything that Bolsonaro has made a point of despising: science, the precarious situation of unemployed and informal workers, and the press itself—which is reaffirming itself as a piece of reliable public service information.

The tone of Folha's coverage of the coronavirus has been didactic. There is a care in presenting numbers and listening to experts, the graphics are attractive, and the reports meet the curiosity of the readers.

The contradiction between what the governments say ("Federal government foresees a police force to comply with isolation and quarantine orders") needs to be further explored by the newspaper and the working, housing and sanitation conditions that involve much of the country. Just as other debates need to be expanded, such as the one around the scope of testing the population.

Folha can also better explain what will be new money to help the most vulnerable in this situation.

On Friday (20), all the major newspapers pointed out that the government will "give," "compensate" or "pay" part of the salaries that may be reduced along with the workday. Still, the bulk of the resources appear to be an advance from unemployment insurance.

The answers to these questions have not been found in Bolsonaro's pronouncements. The reality, then, imposes itself on news coverage, resizing the President's speeches and bringing him closer to his stature.
This is one of the possible learnings for the newspaper left by the coronavirus. The spotlight has shifted from what the President says to what his government proposes. This fulfills a request that Folha readers have longed for: "Look at what the government does and what it does not do."

Flavia Lima

A Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. She has been the ombudsman for Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon