These are confusing times for the establishment media. Fascism is on the hoof, and the liberal order and its various shibboleths are under threat, among them the very notion of a free press. But how to get a handle on such a phenomenon? How does one report objectively on the cannon being pointed at one’s head?
Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressman, is by any reasonable definition an authoritarian, a fascist and a potential dictator. He praises dictatorships and says the only problem with previous dictators is that they didn’t kill enough. He has called for killing his political opponents and said last week that he would “cleanse” Brazil of leftists, who would have no choice but to “leave or go to jail.” He calls immigrants “scum” and said members of Afro-Brazilian communities aren’t suitable for pro-creation, wants police to kill alleged criminals on sight and chose a running mate who refuses to rule out a return of military rule. His entire political career is built on violent rhetoric aimed at Brazil’s most marginalized peoples.
These are all objectively fascist, authoritarian, autocratic things to say, and Bolsonaro’s long history of espousing such sentiment suggests they are a good bet to become the fascist, authoritarian, autocratic things he will do.
And yet after the returns were in, the elite press, which we’re told is very committed to objectivity, started hemming and hawing its way around the election of a president who would gladly shutter their operations and throw them all in prison if he could.
Bolsonaro is a “divisive populist,” The New York Times said, jamming a euphemism and a category error together, the latter premised on the idea that populism is nothing more than a matter of coarse rhetoric. (As with Donald Trump, Bolsonaro’s “populist” gestures served mainly to distract from the support he was consolidating among the reactionary fancy classes.)
A “rough-talking former Army captain,” The Associated Press called him, which is certainly one way to describe him.
An “antiestablishment” “conservative,” The Wall Street Journal preferred.
Give these three credit, at least: Beneath the bad tweets, the AP and the Times still managed to describe Bolsonaro as a “far-right” leader who poses an obvious threat to Brazilian democracy, even if they hid behind their favorite construct of attributing such concerns to “critics.” And the Journal’s news-side editors and reporters didn’t go as far as the paper’s editorial board, which has a long-standing policy of supporting fascism as long as the authoritarians institute conservative, market-friendly economic policies while torturing leftists.
Plus, none of their tweets were as bad as the BBC’s. In a tour de force of false equivalence, the British outlet wondered aloud if Bolsonaro’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic statements qualifies him as a racist, sexist homophobe or just a “refreshing break from political correctness:”
The award for the worst tweet, though, goes to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, which dropped all the pretense and started celebrating.
There’s no need to worry about fascism or the “critics” who “have lambasted the former paratrooper for his homophobic, racist and misogynist statements and his support for Brazil’s military dictatorship,” the CBC’s Chris Arsenault wrote. “For Canadian business, a Bolsonaro presidency could open new investment opportunities.”
The CBC was so proud of itself it tweeted the story twice, likely in order to taunt the WSJ for not writing it first.
Sometimes democracy dies in daylight, too!