Jair Bolsonaro used on the night of Monday (22/08) his interview to Jornal Nacional (the top-rated prime time news program in Brazil) to again spread unfounded paranoia about the reliability of the electoral system and signaled that he may not respect the results of the polls. Throughout the interview, the far-right president also lied on topics such as vaccines, pandemics, his clashes with the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF), as well as downplaying corruption scandals in his government and exaggerating the actions of his government.
At the moment, Bolsonaro is at a disadvantage in the electoral polls and sees his reelection strongly threatened. Initially, the president had refused to participate in the interview, but reconsidered shortly afterwards, in a sign that his campaign hoped to take advantage of the TV news’ high ratings.
According to the latest Datafolha survey, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), Bolsonaro’s main opponent in the dispute, continues to lead the electoral dispute for the presidency in the October elections, with 47% of total voting intentions, while the current occupant of the Planalto remains in second place with 32%.
Several panelaços (cacerolazos) were recorded in Brasilia, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Recife, and Porto Alegre during the interview.
Attacks on the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) and electoral system
In the very first question to the president, host William Bonner asked Bolsonaro what he intends with his cursing of the Supreme Court ministers and spreading lies about the electronic ballot boxes. “What do you intend or have intended with that? To create an environment that would somehow allow a coup?”, questioned Bonner.
In his response, Bolsonaro again fed unfounded paranoia about the voting system and accused Bonner of “fake news,” claiming that he never “cussed” STF ministers. However, Bonner recalled that Bolsonaro called minister Alexandre de Moraes a “scoundrel.” Dismissed, Bolsonaro declined and said that he has been “persecuted”. Bonner didn’t mention it, but Bolsonaro has also called STF minister Luís Roberto Barroso a “son of a bitch”.
When asked if he will accept the results of the polls, Bolsonaro said he only intends to do so if he considers that the elections “were clean.” “The results of the polls will be respected as long as the elections are clean,” Bolsonaro said, repeating a speech he has been making in recent months and that has been stirring his more radical base.
In his second question, Bonner asked why Bolsonaro does not disallow supporters who openly call for a coup in the country. “Freedom of speech. That’s part of democracy. I don’t see any big deal,” said the president, who has led several coup demonstrations against Congress and the STF alongside supporters since the beginning of his government. “When some people talk about closing Congress, it’s their freedom of speech. I don’t take it that way.”
On the subjects of electronic ballot boxes, one of his main targets of attacks within the strategy of discrediting the electoral system, Bolsonaro again repeated that a “hacker” attacked the system of the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) in 2018. However, investigations showed that the attack did not affect the vote count in any way.
Vaccines and the pandemic
Jornal Nacional co-host Renata Vasconcellos addressed in her questioning the pandemic and the purchase of vaccines. At this point, the president lied or omitted essential facts on several occasions.
When talking about the purchase of immunizers, Bolsonaro mentioned that the first vaccines in the world began to be applied in December 2020, and that Brazil made the first applications in January 2021, trying to pass the impression that the country was not far behind.
However, Bolsonaro omitted that vaccination in Brazil only began on January 17, 2021, thanks to the efforts of the government of São Paulo, which led an initiative of its own to acquire vaccines, which was even the target of attacks by the president. The federal government’s initial plan only foresaw the purchase of raw materials to produce AstraZeneca’s immunizers on national soil, something that only began in mid-March 2021. It was only after the São Paulo state government set a date for the start of immunization in the state that the Bolsonaro administration finally started looking for ready-made AstraZeneca doses from India, which took weeks to arrive in the country.
Brazil could also have started immunizing as early as December, as evidenced by offers from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which began applying its immunizer in several countries that month. However, as shown by the CPI of the Pandemic, several emails with proposals from Pfizer remained unanswered for three months by the Ministry of Health, which at the time suffered from strong personal interference of Bolsonaro. In Jornal Nacional, the president defended himself from the accusation of lack of interest in buying the vaccines from Pfizer, repeating allegations that the company intended to impose impractical conditions to supply the immunizers. However, several countries, such as Israel, the US, and Germany accepted the company’s terms.
At the height of his public dispute with Pfizer, Bolsonaro attacked the company’s vaccine, stating “if you turn into an alligator, it’s your problem.” On Jornal Nacional, the president downplayed the line by claiming that he used a mere “figure of speech.” However, in the following months, Bolsonaro, who officially has not yet taken any covid-19 vaccine, continued to spread unfounded paranoia about immunizers, even liarily associating inoculants with AIDS.
When questioned about the lack of oxygen crisis in Manaus, which resulted in the death by asphyxiation of dozens of people, Bolsonaro minimized the episode by stating that it was “something atypical,” without mentioning that authorities in Amazonas said they had alerted the federal government about the problems in the city.
At the same time, while Manaus hospitals were facing collapse, members of the Ministry of Health dome were more concerned about using the city as a showcase to launch an application that encouraged the consumption of chloroquine, a drug with no effectiveness against covid-19. According to Bolsonaro, “oxygen cylinders started arriving in Manaus within 48 hours”. The statement is false, since eight days passed between the first warning of problems and the arrival of reinforcement in the oxygen supply.
In the same interview, Bolsonaro again defended the ineffective “early treatment” and attacked state and municipal authorities that imposed isolation measures, repeating a speech he has been making since the beginning of the pandemic that has officially left more than 680,000 dead in the country. Several studies have already shown that chloroquine is ineffective in treating the disease.
Still on the topic of the pandemic, Bolsonaro was irritated when he was asked if he had any regrets for having debauched people with shortness of breath on for two occasions in 2021, at the height of the pandemic. “The solidarity I expressed by talking to the people on the streets, visiting the outskirts of Brasilia, seeing humble people forced to stay at home without having a single support from the governor or mayor,” Bolsonaro said.
Pix and amergency aid
“We created the Pix by taking money from bankers,” Bolsonaro said during the interview, trying to propagandize something positive that was implemented under his government. However, the Pix was drafted before Bolsonaro’s government, during Michel Temer’s administration.
In October 2020, on the day of the official launch of the tool, Bolsonaro also demonstrated that he did not know what Pix was. While speaking to supporters, the president was asked about the mechanism for bank transfers and payments and reacted with surprise: “I was not aware of it.”
Moreover, banks’ profits have increased since the tool was launched, largely offsetting any possible loss with Pix – a 30% increase over 2020.
At another point, Bolsonaro tried to propagandize the R$600 emergency aid paid during the pandemic as another positive measure of his government. “The emergency aid itself, in a first moment R$ 600, made sure that the economy and especially the small municipalities did not collapse,” said the president. Again, Bolsonaro omitted that his government wanted to pay only R$ 200 and that it was only because of congressional articulations that the value was raised to R$ 600.
Corruption and scandal in Education
“We are in a government without corruption,” Bolsonaro told the Jornal Nacional hosts. However, several former ministers of his government face inquiries and suspicions of corruption. For example, former Environment Minister Ricardo Salles left the government after being accused of directly serving the private interests of illegal loggers. The Ministry of Health has been the target of several suspicions of irregularities in the purchase of vaccines.
One of the most recent corruption scandals led to the fall of Milton Ribeiro, former head of Education, who was arrested on suspicion of favoring two pastors who collected bribes from mayors to facilitate the release of federal funds. The Ministry of Education (MEC) was one of the most problematic areas of the Bolsonaro government, with five different ministers throughout the government.
When commenting on the scandal involving the MEC, Bolsonaro adopted different approaches, sometimes defending Ribeiro, sometimes distancing himself. “People reveal themselves when they arrive. Currently, I have an excellent Minister of Education. It happens. It’s just like a marriage, many times. The ideal would be not to have any turnover, but it happens. Other ministers were also changed”, he said.
Bolsonaro also got angry when Bonner addressed corruption in the MEC, classifying Ribeiro’s episode as a “scandal”. “He had an arrest warrant. He was arrested, even. He got habeas corpus soon after. The Public Ministry of the Federal District was against his arrest. I was against his arrest. Why? There was nothing against him. If there is nowadays, it is another story. Until that moment there was nothing. The question of having two pastors, who were in his office, what’s the problem?” he said. “MEC scandal, Bonner? Where is the leaking money pipeline?”
Bolsonaro also lied about his government’s actions in the Ribeiro case by stating “we started to investigate the case of the pastors with the CGU.” However, a first investigation by the CGU found no irregularities committed by public agents in the portfolio. It was only after the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo revealed in March 2022 the activities of the pair of pastors that the case effectively began to move forward, with the CGU opening a new procedure.
Lies in 2018
This is not the first time Bolsonaro has used the space on Jornal Nacional to spread lies. In the 2018 interview for Jornal Nacional, in one of the most striking moments of the election, the then-candidate showed a sex education book on the interview, trying to falsely link his main opponent, former Education Minister Fernando Haddad, to a distribution of a delusional “gay kit” in schools across the country.
Bolsonaro took the presenters by surprise when he pulled out the book and misrepresented the content of the work in question, called Le Guide du Zizi Sexuel by French author Hélène Bruller. The publication, however, had not been acquired by the MEC during the Haddad administration, let alone distributed.
This article was originally published on Deutsche Welle and translated by The Brazil Daily News.