Brazilian Presidents Criticize Folha Since The 1930s

Politicians have been targeting the newspaper for its critical political coverage for most of Brazil's history as a republic

Nelson de Sá
São Paulo

In 1930, as Folha questioned the then-candidate Getúlio Vargas, it encountered the displeasure of many of his supporters. So much that after Vargas' election, they celebrated by invading Folha's building to damage the rotary presses and set fire to the furniture and typewriters.

In 1977, under the military dictatorship, someone from the government didn't like it when Lourenço Diaféria's column was repeatedly published as a blank space as a form of protest against the columnist's arrest. General Hugo Abreu called from then-publisher Octavio Frias de Oliveira to say: "We are going to close your newspaper."

Fernando Collor, the first elected president after the end of the dictatorship, went further and in 1990, with less than three months in office, ordered the Brazilian federal police to invade Folha. He also sued four Folha journalists, including editor-in-chief Otavio Frias Filho (1957-2018).

Former presidents José Sarney, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Fernando Collor pose together for a picture in 2013 - Roberto Stuckert Filho/Presidência

Collor didn't finish his term, and from then on, elected officials' bark was a lot worse than their bite against Folha and the rest of the Brazilian press. In 1993. Itamar Franco declared that he would ask God to help him prepare the ground for the next president, "so he could find a more understanding press."

Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB), who followed him, didn't find the coverage too considerate towards him.  "No president, perhaps just Getúlio, has been so aggressively targeted by certain media outlets," he said in 2002.

Lula questioned Folha less, but he too, in 2010, reminisced with some resentment over a lunch meeting with Folha's leadership, eight years before. 

"Folha's director asked me if I spoke English,'" he said, referring to Frias Filho. "They thought that [Bill] Clinton had no obligation to speak Portuguese. It was me, the subordinate, the colonized country, who had to speak English. I took the elevator and left." Frias Filho replied that Lula had been questioned about his disdain for studying. 

Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded Lula, took a more formal tone when questioning Folha's reporting. She had the habit of releasing press announcements to "repudiate untrue facts."

During a speech after her impeachment, she claimed that her "progressive project for Brazil" had been stopped in its tracks "with the support of "an inflammatory and venal press."

This year, then-candidate Jair Bolsonaro said this past October: "Folha de S.Paulo is the biggest 'fake news' maker in Brazil. The government will no longer buy advertising space from you. "

Like his predecessors, Bolsonaro tends to understand a critical press coverage of his work as a personal attack. He mirrors the last of the Brazilian military presidents, João Figueiredo, whose term ended in 1985 and, when once questioned about the press, answered: "The reporters' work was to work against me."

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

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