RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro lashed out at journalists on Friday, saying one had a homosexual's “face” in a remark that was promptly mocked by the president's critics.
A visibly upset Bolsonaro accused the press of bias against him and his son, Sen. Flávio Bolsonaro. Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro are investigating allegations the younger Bolsonaro hired employees with no duties while he was a state legislator. Another investigation is probing whether those “phantom” workers kicked back part of their salaries to then be laundered through a chocolate shop he co-owns.
In a video posted to Facebook, the younger Bolsonaro has delivered a lengthy denial of all wrongdoing.
The drone of accusations has been a thorn in the side of President Bolsonaro, who was elected on an anti-crime platform to purge the political class of corruption. He has routinely attacked the credibility of mainstream media, particularly targeting the goliath Globo, for unfair coverage.
At a routine morning meeting with journalists in the capital, the president complained that media have accused him of being a racist and committing crimes against the environment. Then he told one reporter, “Your face looks an awful lot like a homosexual's, but that's no reason to accuse you of being a homosexual.”
The comment was met with laughs from his aides and supporters standing nearby.
Meanwhile some politicians, journalists and other Brazilians turned to social media, posting selfies with the caption “awfully homosexual face”. Jean Wyllys, an openly gay former lawmaker who often clashed Bolsonaro when the two served in Congress, was an early participant of the online movement.
“'An awfully homosexual face.' With pride!” Wyllys, now a professor at Harvard University's Afro-Latin American Research Institute, wrote on his Twitter feed.
Bolsonaro has a history of making derogatory remarks about women, gay people and racial minorities, including on last year’s campaign trail. Such offensive rhetoric has diminished since he took office at the beginning of this year.
Asked at the morning briefing whether he had proof that a suspicious deposit into his wife's bank account was merely repayment of a debt, Bolsonaro instructed the journalist, “Ask your mother if she gave your dad a receipt," prompting a cheer from his supporters. He then asked whether the reporter had a receipt for his shoes. “No, you don't have it!" he concluded.
Bolsonaro also complained that details of a sealed investigation have consistently leaked to the press. “Is the process under seal or not? Answer! Answer, damn it!” he said, and then accused Rio's prosecutors' office of having a “direct line” to Globo's news channel.
In a statement published Friday, Globo said that while it took pride in delivering breaking news to its audience, it had not been the first publication to reveal information on the prosecutors' investigations into Sen. Bolsonaro.