Image Hiccups

Is Bolsonaro's hospital bed photo news or political propaganda?

Readers complained about the shirtless photo of Jair Bolsonaro, taken at the Hospital das Forças Armadas in Brasília. The image, taken from the president's social media, spread to almost every news site on Wednesday night (14) and on some front pages across the country the following morning. Among the newspapers with large circulation, Folha and O Globo understood that there was news there.

It's easy to say yes, the image should be published. The incumbent's health is of evident public interest; his existence, in practical terms, is lent to the country for the duration of office; we depend on his actions, mental faculties, and decisions. Motorbike rallies, the most dangerous means of transport in Brazil, should be viewed with concern; an endless crisis of sobbing, with worry. He is a patient with a history of delicate medical operations stemming from the Juiz de Fora attack that happened in the middle of the electoral race almost three years ago.

If the individual argument is not enough, the institutional issue must be considered. It's not every day that a president shows himself half-naked to the population. His willingness to expose himself, his cult of social networking personality, as well as the insults leveled against members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and journalists, deserve mention. Always.

It is even easier to defend why Bolsonaro's image should not be published. Most of the reasons have already been mentioned. The president is taking advantage of his own disgrace; he wants to be seen as a martyr. He is on a permanent campaign; he needs to turn the attention away from the scandals of his government, which are piling up in the Covid Senate investigation. He needs to escape his declining popularity in opinion polls. To give him space at this point is falling into all this mess.

If the populist argument is not enough, the aesthetic question remains. The image, to say the least, is in bad taste, appealing, crude. In fact, this is a registered trademark of the Bolsonaro, who seeks to legitimize himself with condensed milk, slippers with socks, and a pirate football club shirt.

Choosing photography for the Front Page is not an easy task. Some come ready-made, like in those days when all newspapers look alike. Others are worked on or take a while to emerge and, at the last minute, don't fit. There are those whose choice brings challenges about the message being communicated. It is or should be the case with the image of a sick Bolsonaro.

The dynamics on the website are entirely different, as the audience and the competitors' work flash non-stop on the screen. The work is not smaller, just different. Exclusivity is a matter of seconds, and, at the end of the day, the important choices naturally go in the same directions. Hence the president's photo was almost unanimous on Wednesday.

Everything is journalism; the dilemma is the same, no matter the platform. Raw news or political propaganda? The president mythologizes himself or so wants to be seen, wrote Thiago Amparo in the excellent text "Death in Bolsonaro." Does Folha need to collaborate with this process? Can you escape it? In the current context, does it make any difference to be in the newspaper or not?

He does. Images like the one on Wednesday are not hiccups. Bubbles and pocketbook robots have been working incessantly ever since, as shown by O Globo on Friday, but they mostly speak to converts. The president needs to appear in the professional media. That he deserves it, fighting for the lives of others for a change.


The environment coverage gained another dimension in the past week. As Germany and Belgium were drowning in historic floods and the American West was burning in flames, the European Union launched its plan to combat climate change. The bloc will institute a carbon import tax. Goods produced under more permissive emissions legislation will be taxed so that competition with the European equivalent is fair.

Think now of the Brazil emerging from Salles and Bolsonaro and imagine what will happen here in the future. The Financial Times didn't even think about it and has already asked, in an editorial, that investors (US$ 7 trillion in assets), those who a year ago pressured the country to end deforestation in the Amazon, take the threat forward. In the name of the "credibility of the ESG commitment," they have made.

Like some of its main competitors, Folha already has a section dedicated to the acronym that summarizes good environmental, social, and governance practices. Companies strive to show numbers and the image that they are on the new path. Therefore, it is time for its leaders to participate a little in the honest discussion that the Brazilian government pretends not to exist.

It is the role of the press to push them into the arena.

José Henrique Mariante

He is an engineer and journalist who has worked in various roles at Folha since 1991 — as a reporter, correspondent, editor and editorial secretary. He has been the ombudsman since 2021.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon