Brazil’s Bolsonaro under fire for misleading tweet on media
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The tumultuous relationship between President Jair Bolsonaro and the media heated up Monday, after the far-right leader criticized a journalist who has written damaging pieces about the first family for one of Brazil’s largest newspapers.
Bolsonaro sent a misleading tweet Sunday night saying Constanca Rezende of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo had been recorded saying she wanted to ruin the life of Bolsonaro’s son, Flavio, and impeach the president.
Rezende has reported on a case of alleged corruption that has cast a shadow over the initial months of the administration. The case involves alleged irregular payments to Flavio Bolsonaro, a senator who is Bolsonaro’s eldest son, as well as to Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle Bolsonaro.
Flavio and Jair Bolsonaro deny any wrongdoing and say they are being politically persecuted.
In the tweet, Brazil’s president also said journalists like Rezende wanted “to topple the government with blackmail, disinformation and leaks.”
Brazil’s Bar Association, the investigative journalism association Abraji and many others condemned Bolsonaro’s tweet.
Bolsonaro’s comment “shows not only a lack of commitment to the facts, but also more seriously the use of his position of power to try to intimidate media outlets and journalists,” the Bar Association said in a statement.
In the audio mentioned by the president, Rezende tells a man who claimed to be a university student researching a paper, “This case can put in a bind and ruin Bolsonaro.”
She also said she believes the case could lead to impeachment, an opinion many legal experts agree with. In 2016, then President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office for illegally managing the federal budget.
In one part of the audio, Rezende, speaking in English, expressed concern that nothing would come of the investigation, a common fate of many probes in Latin America’s largest nation.
Joao Caminoto, director of journalism at Estado de S.Paulo, told The Associated Press that his main concern after Bolsonaro’s tweet was for Rezende’s safety.
“She had her social media accounts suspended, her cellphone number was published,” Caminoto said. “This is very worrying and it isn’t happening only to us. There are frequent attacks on the press and attempts to discredit journalists. It is very well organized.”
The audio was first shared Sunday by the rightist website Terca Livre, and Estado de S. Paulo reported that the author of story was on the staff of a state legislator from Bolsonaro’s party.
There were also questions about whether Rezende was set up, similar to the way rightist groups in the U.S. have presented fake sources to journalists and recorded them without their knowledge.
Estado de S. Paulo said Rezende was contacted by someone named Alex McAllister who “was supposedly a student interested in doing a comparative study between Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.”
Caminoto later told AP that McAllister identified himself as a student at the University of Texas. The University of Texas, Austin said there is no one named Alex McAllister or Alex MacAllister in their student or staff directory.
McAllister and Rezende spoke on Jan. 23, according to the paper.
As of Monday evening, the cover of Terca Livre no longer showed posts about the affair, but the stories and audios were still available in the pro-Bolsonaro website.