Jair, The Journalist, Had a Scoop

President uses media to sell advertising as if it were news

An ombudsman is expected to criticize Folha, but it is also his or her role to analyze the media, its agents, issues, and dilemmas. The column, therefore, starts from this premise to comment on the performance of the President of the Republic last week, in a public class on what not to do in journalism —read and produce fake news.

On Monday (7), Jair Bolsonaro announced to supporters that he had a scoop on his hands. "First hand there for you guys," he told them. A scoop, in press jargon, is exclusive news, which you get ahead and publish before your competitors. Excited about his scoop, the president insisted on giving the source. "Is not mine. It's from the Federal Court of Accounts."

Bolsonaro often considers himself illegitimate as a source of information. "I'm not saying it" is a frequent phrase in his speech. As every journalist knows, having a qualified source to back up the data for a story is the first step in a good job.

TCU's seal of quality is widely used by the national media. Responsible for auditing government accounts, the court is a natural producer of control content by dissecting the actions of public administrators. In other words, up to this point, reporter Jair did well. Only so far, actually.

"Questioning the number of deaths last year by Covid. And there, the final report is not conclusive [weighting], but around 50% of deaths by Covid last year were not due to Covid [repeat for emphasis], according to the Federal Court of Accounts [confirmation]."

It's a lie; the whole country already knows. It sprang from the mind and computer of a court auditor, the son of a military friend of Bolsonaro's—professional journalism was not slow to reveal. In what should have been an episode of great embarrassment, if the country were in a normal situation, the TCU itself publicly denied the president in an official statement.

On Tuesday (8), Bolsonaro, again among supporters, admitted he was wrong": "TCU is right, I was wrong when I said table, what is right is judgment." Understood? Well, the idea was not to make it understood, but to register that what was said yesterday was not exactly that, despite there being a "huge evidence" of overreporting of Covid cases in the states.

Lie again. Thanks also to professional journalism, the entire country already knows that the most likely hypothesis is that the disease is underreported. Brazil is far from being like Peru, which saw the number of deaths triple overnight after reviewing the criteria. Still, it has a jump in deaths from SRAG (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which accounts for a significant excess of deaths and low testing rates.

The reasons for the employee, removed from their duties and without access to the TCU system and building, will be investigated. The president's reasons for investigating and disseminating something that was clearly not factual are obvious. As well described in a comic by Adam Iturrusgarai, "a lie has a short leg, but it dribbles well."

It was a scandal that happened last week. Jair, the journalist, gave a belly, another industry jargon, this one for untrue news. Bolsonaro, the president, won yet another apocryphal document circulating on the networks to certify that the lie he told seems true.

Folha skidded at the start of the telenovela, mainly in the protocol edition of the news. It was also wrong to give little space to the subject on the Front Page, on Thursday (10), when the server's serious fault was verified.

Not that the episode was more or less serious compared to the many others that the agent produced in recent days. In none of them, however, was the manipulation mechanism so evident.

Bolsonarism is a powerhouse of false news, and while occupying media space and treating political propaganda as news, the president behaves like a competitor of the press outlet. It is then necessary to treat it as such.


Gabriel Kanner's entry into the Folha columnist team dominated the comments sent to the ombudsman. The leader of the Brasil 200 is an enthusiastic supporter of Jair Bolsonaro.

In his second column, he criticized the "child sexualization agenda" when commenting on the controversy surrounding the Escola Móbile, which adopted an illustrated version of The Diary of Anne Frank, with "disgusting passages," authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation.

The reaction from readers was strong, demanding, above all, coherence from Folha, lavish with uncomfortable choices for its vast palette of opinions.

"The intolerance towards intolerance made the Nazis famous," the ombudsman could say, repeating the last column by João Pereira Coutinho. It is easier, however, to believe in the newspaper's natural selection.


Translated by Kiratiana Freelon