You Better Start Thinking about 2022

Trump attempts to discredit American election results. Should Brazilian journalists expect the same from Bolsonaro in 2022?

In the final stretch of the American elections, Folha did a good job explaining the peculiarities of a system full of minutiae. The paper also avoided embracing the favoritism pointed out by the polls of the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden.

The process of counting the votes was marked by a very slow progression in four decisive states and a generalized uncertainty that, in the news coverage, manifested itself in the three headlines followed by the print in which Folha put Biden "close to victory". The swing of the news agencies did not go unnoticed by the reader either.

"I would think there would be an explanation for the change in the number of Biden delegates. Why was it 264 and returned to 253?" asked a reader on Thursday (5) in the morning.

The justification on the Folha website came a little later: AFP, one of the news agencies that organizes the data and projects the winner in each state (the US does not have a central public agency that does this), decided to go back and withdraw Arizona from Biden before the fall of the candidate's margin during the night.

The most amazing event of the week also occurred on Thursday, when President Donald Trump said the elections were rigged, a narrative that he had been promoting for months.

It was a repetitive speech of almost 17 minutes, designed to ensure that, even without watching from beginning to end, the audience could get the main message: Democrats corrupted the voting process by using "illegal" ballots, sent "without control" by mail. Without them, victory would be his.

Folha called the lie a lie: "In an attack on democracy, Trump lies by citing fraud in the American election."

Even more surprisingly, at least three of the main American TV channels interrupted the broadcast in the middle of the speech, which again raised some questions: does it make sense to stop broadcasting the statement of someone important like the US president? What would be the implications for professional journalism?

The fact is that Trump, although a persistent liar, never hid the strategy he would follow if he felt threatened to lose the elections.

Without evidence, he created the story of irregularities in votes sent by mail (sometimes repeated by the media without context). He realized that, amid the pandemic, Democratic voters were more likely to vote by mail.

Without the mail-in vote, it also seemed easier to keep the undesirable electorate away from the polls - the black population, historically a Democratic majority. It was not for nothing that, in his speech, Trump attacked cities with expressive black voters, such as Detroit and Philadelphia, calling them centers of corruption.

The discussion of what to do in situations like this is not new in journalism. For some, what the president does is news, but what he says may not be. Thus, their speeches live would not need to be broadcast in full, but they should be accompanied by journalists who would report the news that emerged.

For others, broadcasts should not be interrupted, as the public has a right to know what Trump and his team are saying.

A Harvard University internet research center study of Trump's campaign against mail-in voting showed that the president used the media to disseminate disinformation using three professional journalism practices: the notion that what the president says is news, the unbridled search for headlines by the media and the fear of the press to be seen as partial.

I don't think it was a deadly sin to interrupt Trump's show of offenses to the American electoral system. Do you have to be careful with the open precedent? Of course, but it does not seem bad to adopt as a rule to deny a candidate a platform whenever he, without showing evidence of fraud, does not accept the election results.

An important point to consider is that, as soon as they interrupted the president, the broadcasters placed their anchors to explain that Trump made accusations without proof. The speech contained lies, inaccuracies, and claims of nonexistent victories.

To say that Trump had the word revoked does not account for what happened. For example, the ABC network interrupted the transmission at around 16 minutes, about 40 seconds from the end of the speech, when it became clear that something relevant would not come from there.

To claim censorship in a case like this would be to ignore that the press chooses what it publishes and, above all, what it does not publish or highlight daily.

The US President has set a complex precedent, and it is not difficult to imagine that this is what awaits us in 2022. Trump's strategy leaves a critical warning about the challenges that the Brazilian press must face in the years that remain until the next elections in Brazil.

It is better to start already thinking about it.

Flavia Lima

A reporter with a specialization in economics, Flavia Lima 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