The Circumstantial Hero

The press did little to question Mandetta's plans

One reader said that Folha failed to cover the Ministry of Health's performance in fighting coronavirus.

According to this reader, the press behaved irresponsibly by not demanding more from former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, and by essentially turning him into a hero.
In addition to the necessary social isolation, the reader says, the minister should have built a consistent program of testing the population, as South Korea did.

In my opinion, Folha and the other major newspapers have covered the pandemic well. There are certainly slips, especially in the moments when Folha addresses the politicization of health.
In general, however, the newspaper has reported the progress of the disease, explained the mechanisms of transmissibility, and demonstrated the working conditions of health professionals and the situation of hospitals.

The newspaper has also followed the path of the pandemic in different countries, showing that those who applied less restrictive measures had more difficulty to face the disease, in the face of the collapse of health services.

As for Mandetta, nobody really knew who he was until recently. Valor Econômico produced an excellent profile of the minister, and it described him as someone who "moves to meet government interests and satisfy corporate demands."

A month later, also in a profile, Folha classified Mandetta as "a new hero of centrist and progressives."

In internal criticism, I pointed out that the responsibility for building his character was not only for the reader but also for the newspaper, which had taken time to provide more information about the politician.

I don't think Folha failed you. The newspaper showed the figure who negotiated with the President's electoral and ideological interests and adapted responses to please him.

Mandetta was perceived as an island of rationality amid the mistakes made by the President of the Republic. So he became a hero forged by circumstances and accommodated on the pages of newspapers.

The news coverage ended up focusing on defusing the smoke bombs launched daily by the President instead of asking Mandetta what, after all, was his plan to fight the disease.

"So you are saying that you can't call a demonstration, go to the bakery or shake hands with old ladies," asked reporters at press conferences with a charismatic and good-communicating Mandetta.

In terms of action, the former minister followed international guidelines when recommending social isolation, which, as he explained several times, would serve to prevent the depletion of the health system by decreasing the number of infected and, therefore, seriously ill who need hospital care.
But then what? Important issues ended up being eclipsed by the political game and the daily attempts - by both Mandetta and the press - to clarify the President's crazy speeches and gestures, expending much of the energy that could have been used to seek clarification.

However, I do not see the irresponsibility of the press. There are questions that even experts have doubts about: when should the government have prepared for mass testing? It is a fact that today, due to the lack of testing and the immense slowness (and which has not yet been explained) in the processing of tests already carried out, there are many cases of underreporting and, in this sense, we are walking in the dark.

The President chose a new Minister of Health, and the press must question his strategy for coping with the disease and explain it to the reader.

Given the emphasis that Nelson Teich put on testing, it is necessary to understand how this policy will be conducted, what has to be done to produce and buy more tests, and with what material and personnel resources this will occur.

There are, however, other relevant issues. In addition to tests, the country needs more ICUs, respirators, health personnel with proper personal protective equipment. Several countries in South America have daily statistics on the number of ICUs, respirators, tests, types of cases, and even masks. Will we have that?

In the coverage of the Ministry of Health, the goal is not to erode trust in health authority, which, during a pandemic, can be harmful to the public interest and put lives at risk.

But newspapers need, while avoiding the most insignificant policy, to evaluate a public health strategy (or lack thereof) without condescension.

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