Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro told a reporter to “shut up” and referred to her employer’s parent company as “shitty” – and most journalists as “bastards” – in a tirade this week prompted by a question regarding mask mandates, Argentina’s Infobae reported Tuesday.
The incident apparently occurred in Sao Paulo state Monday, which has imposed mandatory use of sanitary masks both indoors and outdoors in public spaces. Bolsonaro, a conservative, has openly condemned economic lockdowns, mask mandates, and other limitations on Brazilians’ freedom tied to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. As president, however, Bolsonaro has no power to impose or remove these limitations. Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria, a potential rival to Bolsonaro in the 2022 presidential election, has enthusiastically embraced mask mandates, lockdowns, and mandatory vaccination.
Laurene Santos, a reporter for the Globo subsidiary TV Vanguardia, asked Bolsonaro during a press conference Monday why he had arrived in Sao Paulo apparently not wearing a mask given that the state mandates their use. Police in the state fined Bolsonaro 552.71 reais ($108.88) last week for not wearing a mask at a motorcycle rally that took place exclusively outdoors and consisted mostly of individual bikers traveling on their own vehicles. Santos reportedly contextualized the question in light of Brazil surpassing 500,000 deaths this week attributed to the Chinese coronavirus pandemic since it began. As of Wednesday, Brazil has documented 18 million coronavirus cases, more than nearly every country on earth – not counting the dubious statistics from rogue states such as China. Bolsonaro appeared to take the question as being deemed responsible for the deaths.
“I show up how I want, where I want – I take care of my own life,” Bolsonaro said in response to why he did not wear a mask initially. “If you don’t want to use a mask, don’t use it.”
An increasingly agitated Bolsonaro then took his mask off, asking the reporter, “Are you happy now? Are you happy now?” and told the reporter to “shut up.”
“That Globo is a shitty media [outlet]. You guys are a crap outlet. Shut up, you guys are bastards. You do bastard journalism that doesn’t help at all,” Bolsonaro railed. “You don’t help at all. You destroy the Brazilian family, you destroy Brazilian religion. You’re useless.”
“If you listen to Globo, you will not be informed,” he continued. “If you listen, you are misinformed. You should be ashamed of providing a dirty service like you do in the Globo network. Thank you.”
The Globo network issued a statement in support of Santos and accusing Bolsonaro of “abusing” her.
“The president told the reporter to shut up and insulted Globo with profanity,” the statement read in part. “Globo and TV Vanguardia repudiate the president’s treatment of reporters Laurene Santos, who was just doing her professional duty. The president will not be able to, with yelling and intolerance, impede or inhibit the work of our agency in Brazil.”
“Unlike him, this [media outlet] will continue to fulfill its role serenely,” the media organizations promised.
Bolsonaro has long maintained a contentious relationship with establishment press outlets in Brazil. Last year, shortly following his recovery from a Chinese coronavirus infection, a combative Bolsonaro threatened a journalist from O Globo, the flagship newspaper of the eponymous media conglomerate, after he asked about a report alleging that First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro had ties to a corruption investigation.
“I want to stuff your mouth with punches, ok?” Bolsonaro replied, calling the journalist “naughty.”
That same month, Bolsonaro boasted to reporters that he had experienced a mild coronavirus infection because he had a history as an “athlete,” but the same was unlikely for journalists.
“Someone in the press engages in debauchery, but when one of you fat-asses get it [coronavirus], the chances of survival are much lower,” he said, accusing journalists of leading an “evil” lifestyle.
Brazil’s establishment press has been particularly critical of Bolsonaro’s pandemic response policies, particularly his urging of the public to patronize local businesses, engage in crowd activities, and other advice contradicting much of what experts consider conventional wisdom on the Chinese coronavirus. Brazil’s extremely high case and death rates, on par with India and the United States, have led to increased scrutiny.
Bolsonaro scored two major political victories this month regarding coronavirus policy. The first was the relocation of the regional Copa América soccer tournament out of Argentina and Colombia and into Brazil. Colombia failed to fulfill its hosting obligations due to what has now become two months of violent leftist riots, roadblocks, and police station attacks, some of which have targeted local soccer venues. Argentina withdrew from the tournament due to rising coronavirus case counts after a mass vaccination campaign largely dependent on “Sputnik V,” the controversial coronavirus vaccine candidate from Russia.
The second victory was the return of the Sao Paulo stock market to pre-pandemic levels and a surge in the nation’s GDP, which Bolsonaro’s administration deemed a vindication of his economic policies during the pandemic.