The Evangelical Leap Is High

Folha needs to adjust its focus and understand when Bolsonaro is just a passenger

Newspapers suffer from certain mishaps. Some facts are sometimes omitted from headlines because they are obvious, to denote balance, to avoid hurting sensibilities, for whatever reason. These are decisions, in general, calibrated by the sensitivity of writers and editors, often misleadingly translated by those who read. Not saying certain things almost always opens them up.

André Mendonça, appointed by Jair Bolsonaro and with the approval of the Senate, is the evangelical prime minister of the Federal Supreme Court. This is actually the big news that should be included in last week's main articles. Of the four major national newspapers, only O Globo went straight to the point, but already with an eye on the consequence, not on the primary information: "Approved by the Supreme Court, Mendonça sees 'a leap for evangelicals.'"

Folha, O Estado de S.Paulo and Valor simply skipped religion and wrote: "Senate approves Mendonça as new STF minister," "Senate approves second name nominated by Bolsonaro to the Supreme Court" and "Senate approves André Mendonça for the Supreme Court." Folha recalled the main topic in the fine line, the subtitle that goes below the headline, noting that the new member of the court promised, in the hearing made by the senators, to defend the secular state. The others, not even that. The brief analysis is based on the printed versions, which still serve as a historical record.

Mendonça is the first evangelical in the STF, this is the objective fact. The rest is forced detachment or lost focus on the president. Religion, such as skin color, ethnicity, origin or sexual orientation, should not qualify anyone in any post, but we are still far from this universe without social markers. The first woman made history, as did the first black and now the first evangelical. Just as the first gay person will one day, if we doubt those who preach a backward country.

Mendonça made history, but he really thinks he went to the Moon. In his first public publication after the Senate voting scoreboard, he released a gospel version of Neil Armstrong's phrase and scared secular listeners. More than one analyst surmised on which Mendonça would wear the justice's cloak—the guarantor with the Constitution in his hand who went to the Sabbath or the pastor shouting hallelujah and glory to God hugging his family and Michelle Bolsonaro.

(It's easy to slip into prejudice here. Once, along with a colleague, I was picked to talk with 16 leaders from different denominations at Folha. Their intention was to introduce the group, which aimed to dispense with professional religious politicians in Brasília. At the end of the meeting, one of the pastors asked to say a prayer for Folha and its journalists. Of course, why not? It was strange to hear, in the more than secular environment of the Newsroom, shouts of hallelujah and glory to God.)

Mendonça is frightening because of the risk of subservience to the "Bolsonarista" project, as noted by the newspaper in an editorial, and because of the customary agenda that he carries out by trade. The chance that the press will mix or confuse one thing with another is great. There will be a lack of balance, such as that demonstrated by senator Fabiano Contarato, who said that he perceives the new minister as a tolerable, albeit conservative, advent for a more diverse Supreme Court.

For Folha, for a change, just balance will not be enough. On Thursday (2), shortly after Mendonça received enough votes to become justice, the newspaper published a short article on attacks on Umbanda terreiros in the interior of São Paulo. In a message to the ombudsman, a reader noted the virulence of the comments made to the text on the website, many associating delinquency with evangelicals. She even reported one of them to the newspaper's moderators. For her, it is the result of a calculated error by Folha, Machiavellian in publishing exactly after selection to the Supreme Court, "to stir up the pack against evangelicals once more."

On the same Thursday, in the print, a letter in the Panel of the Reader criticized the newspaper for having given "room to religious proselytism and obscurantism in its opinion page." Another missive classified as balm the columns written by journalist Melina Cardoso, in the last two weeks, of an openly confessional character. That the judgment of merit remains with the readers, but it is remarkable that texts of this nature reach page A2 of Folha.

That was a leap, but maybe not what this diary needs at the moment.

Just as coverage of the environment should be important in itself and not just because of the herds released by the government, coverage of evangelicals has long taken on a life of its own. The Catholic Bolsonaro is just the passenger. Attention is needed in those who build rockets to reach the Moon.

José Henrique Mariante​- Trained as an engineer and journalist, Mariante has been a reporter, correspondent, editor and editorial secretary at Folha, where he has worked since 1991. He is the ombudsman.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon