What Sheet think?

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A secret that more attentive readers already know, the press has a side and that's why it moves

After the consolidation of Joe Biden's victory in the US presidential elections, on November 14, the newspaper Folha de S. Paul published an editorial entitled “The centers move”. The text was made public after coverage by journalist Fábio Zanini about meetings and possible alliances between João Doria, Luciano Huck and Sérgio Moro. From the title to the ending, in which the newspaper expresses its eagerness to guarantee the defeat of Bolsonaro and the left in 2022, the text reveals a secret that more attentive readers already know, the press has a side and that's why it moves.

There were two articles signed by Zanini on the subject. The first, published on November 8, is categorical in identifying Huck and Moro as “two of the main names in center on the ideological spectrum in politics”. The text exposes details of the meeting between the two that took place on October 30, 2020 and maps what would be the construction of this “third way”, headed by them. In summary, these characters intended to disassociate themselves from Bolsonarism, which until recently was dear to them, while at the same time they did not see the possibility of alliances in the field of the left. In this passage, the report mentions by name Ciro Gomes (PDT) and Lula (PT). Zanini points out that the postulants will have to face other initiatives in the centrist field: João Doria (PSDB) and Luiz Henrique Mandetta (DEM), both who curiously also had a direct relationship with Jair Bolsonaro.

Five days later, the subject returned to the agenda in a new article by the journalist, but with some corrections. Zanini now goes on to identify the initiative of the global presenter and the former Minister of Justice of center right front, adding the toucan governor to the group. The alliance also started to be questioned regarding the compatibility between the projects. There would be, according to the journalist, a convergence in the economy, but disagreements in the field of values ​​and security. The report goes on to compare different positions of the three candidates, now reclassified as center-right.

It is in this context that the editorial is published. At this point, the nomenclature of the promising alliance had already been revised by the journalist, probably due to pressure from readers or self-critical enlightenment. However, the editors insisted on naming the trio as center. Right in the first lines, the newspaper makes a kind of disclaimer by stating that, unlike the left, the definition of the political center is “a thankless task and subject to subjectivism”, and that the political actors of the center “depending on the point of view, would be classified as center-right or even right-wing”. In other words, aware of the symbolic plurality of this alliance, Folha deliberately decided to classify it as centrist. Butwhy? In an environment of political polarization, where anti-PTism still has strength, see the results of the 2020 municipal elections, and with the president's staggering performance, the center would have supposed electoral advantages, as it would function as a kind of conciliatory third way, which would be above of the supposed weaknesses of the extremes.

In a critical text, Folha's ombudsman, Flavia Lima, demanded a clear position before the reader if the newspaper decides to serve the strategies of politicians. According to the journalist, explicit statements are important to communicate the newspaper's position to the reader, but they do not solve deeper problems such as the distortion in the application of the ideological categories "center", "right", "left" and derived from the Sheet.

But the conceptual 'imprecision' of journalism in the Sheet was not limited to its print edition, even spilling over to social networks. In the series “What Sheet think”, which publishes excerpts of its editorials on the timeline of Sheet on Instagram we found the following post.

Source: Folha de S. Paulo profile (@folhadespaulo) on Instagram. Published on November 14, 2020. 

The combination of image and text in the post conveys a message that couldn't be clearer. The need for unity is against Bolsonaro and so is the left. The image of a smiling Moro clearly illustrates such a “center” solution. In a single stroke, the Journal creates the demand and offers the solution. There are few doubts if it was a clickbait strategy, a failed act or just the Brazilian press again turning a blind eye to the facts by betting on a political-economic project that is convenient for them. There is a much simpler expression for this practice: manipulation of information.

Such an attitude of “rubbing Moro's head” is nothing new at Folha. In the graph below, data from the Manchetometer show the benevolent treatment received by Jair Bolsonaro's former Minister of Justice and Public Security over the years. Different from the pattern found for other public figures, Moro has a curve of pros that is superior to that of contraries and ambivalents in a considerable period of coverage of Folha's editorials. Also noteworthy is the constancy of the line of neutral editorials in relation to this public character. The growth peak of negative texts is driven both by the former judge’s adherence to the Bolsonaro government and by the dissemination of “Vaza Jato” in 2019.

Graph 1 – Sérgio Moro in the editorials of Folha de S. Paulo (2016 – November 14, 2020) 

The graph represents coverage up to November 14, 2020, the day the editorial was published, and it is already possible to see the tendency of the opposite and favorable curves to cross again, to Moro's relief. With the dust settled on Vaza Jato and after leaving the position of minister, the former judge is once again treated well by the newspaper.

Folha's editorial decision to start the 2022 campaign by taking sides, but without actually doing so explicitly, is not surprising. The differentiated coverage that the newspaper grants to certain political figures has been around for a long time. In the graph below, we present the valences of Jair Bolsonaro, Lula, João Doria and Sergio Moro in Folha's editorials. It is not a question of comparing the volume of texts, but the disproportion of each character between his own contrary and favorable variables, for example. Although the visual contrast is enough to identify how Jair Bolsonaro and Lula have a huge data discrepancy, let's look at the proportions: while the representatives of the group that Folha intends to fight, Bolsonaro and Lula, have the highest rates of contrary articles (71,72% and 57,73) and favorable in the single digits (2,73 and 3,27), João Doria appears in the middle of the table with 39,67 of contrary articles and 9,23 of favorable ones. Sérgio Moro, on the other hand, brings together the best of both worlds, with the lowest rate of negative articles 32,33% and the highest rate of favorable 15,03%, the only one to reach double digits.

Graph 2 – Jair Bolsonaro, Lula, João Doria and Sergio Moro in Folha's Editorials in percentages (2014-Nov 14, 2020)

In addition to the journalist's manipulation of ideological categories and confirmed by the editorial, it is necessary to highlight the sense of anti-politics espoused by the second text. Any reader of the Manchetômetro is capable of noticing the negative coverage received by the President of the Republic, as well as the negative campaign carried out by the newspapers against the PT administrations, especially the second government of Dilma Rousseff. Aware of this history, the published call for a “union against” Jair Bolsonaro’s re-election in 2022 seems consistent with the political position of the newspaper, which for some months has been disappointed with the poor performance of the country’s economy under Paulo Guedes, ultraliberal minister in the which Folha had pinned hopes. However, when this urgency of confrontation in the next presidential elections is also directed towards the left, which according to the newspaper itself is well defined, the editorial eliminates an entire political field from the dispute, annihilating the possibility that any leadership in this spectrum will be able to present solutions meritorious for the country.


Folha does not clearly assume that this centrist candidate would be its preference, but it gives all the signs for its readers to conclude in this way when announcing the urgency of this articulation and the political forces against which it stands: Bolsonarism and the left. It is in this sense that Folha moves.

The permanence of Jair Bolsonaro in the Presidency until 2022 helps the right to sell itself as “the moderate center”, technical, impartial, not populist. Such an operation of illusionism should be the object of criticism from a journalism that proposes to be neutral in relation to conflicts and objective in the face of facts. After all, the four characters named above have already publicly, to a greater or lesser extent, been involved with Bolsonarism. But Folha, on the contrary, ignores the attempt at ideological falsification and worse, adheres to it with barely contained enthusiasm. By acting in this way, the newspaper reveals its own political orientation more than that of the candidates. It should be noted that this type of manipulation of the news for political purposes, unfortunately, is nothing new when it comes to the Brazilian mainstream press.

From the Folha editorial to here, however, Sergio Moro took over as managing partner of an American company, withdrawing, in theory, from the presidential race and Huck has not left the place, he continues to study the candidacy. Doria, yes, gained prominence with the effort to start vaccination against Covid-19 in Brazil - and possibly launch himself as the candidate of science. To see where the newspaper will move to.

Lidiane Vieira is a doctoral student in Political Science from the Institute of Social and Political Studies of UERJ (IESP-UERJ).

André Madruga, journalist, administrator of the social networks of the Brazilian Legislative Observatory (OBL).

*João Feres Junior is professor of political science at IESP-UERJ. He is coordinator of the Affirmative Action Multidisciplinary Study Group (GEMAA).

Originally published on the website of Media and Public Space Studies Laboratory (LEMEP).


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