Brazil Politics

DILMA ROUSSEFF: IMPEACHED AND UPFRONT-ED

The Al Jazeera treatment that Brazil’s deposed president went through says a lot. Not so much about her, but about Brazilian media

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dilma rousseff al jazeera upfront

What a year for Dilma Rousseff. On the same day that electoral prosecutors said they found strong evidence of corruption in her 2014 presidential campaign, Brazil’s impeached president appeared in an interview for the latest episode of Al Jazeera’s “Upfront”. And the result was, well, mixed.

For starters, Dilma finally took the chance to go on the record and call Michel Temer, Brazil’s current president, a “traitor” for “tearing up the Constitution”. Then she didn’t do so badly when highlighting that none of her accusers had anything to say about her having offshore accounts or of being involved in corruption schemes.

Still, things didn’t go smoothly for Dilma. Mehdi Hasan, the host of Upfront, went straight to the point when saying that one thing (the political class being corrupt) didn’t exempt Dilma from the other (the government under Dilma committed fiscal backpedaling 50 times more than any other president). Hasan also questioned her on the government’s political backpedaling and spendings on the World Cup, among other topics.

Furthermore, Hasan was quick to block Dilma from throwing the discussion of the Petrobras bribery scheme under the bus. When she brought up the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis in the U.S. to highlight that people didn’t question whether then-president George W. Bush knew about it, Hasan didn’t take the bait. “Whether George W. Bush was responsible is a different issue. Maybe he was. But I’m asking about your role in Petrobras.”

To Play Nice Or To Play Fair, That Is The Question

The Upfront host also waxed binaries. In one of the most headline-worthy moments, Hasan asked Dilma in a very (wait for it) upfront manner: “Some might say you either knew what was going on (with the Petrobras kickback scheme) and was complicit. Or you didn’t know what was going on, in which case you were incompetent. Which of the two is it?” Dilma called this a “Sophie’s choice” and started talking about the difference between a council of trustees and a board of directors. But based on the reactions to the interview in the headlines in Brazil, the damage had already been done.

Speaking of the headlines, one striking moment was when Dilma answered who she blamed the most for her impeachment. Among other culprits, the impeached politician put the blame mostly on the heads of the five families that run Brazil’s major media outlets. In her words, the media elite sold the idea that her leaving power would immediately end the recession.

Finally, the Upfront host chose to end on a somewhat positive note for Dilma, by letting her elaborate on whether she thought misogyny and sexism played a role in her impeachment (spoiler: she does).

Upfront Ups The Ante

Overall, this interview is an example of the way Brazilian journalists should be using their power: to hold our politicians accountable. Whether or not you agree with Dilma, it would do us a world of good if Brazil’s politicians all got a healthy dose of the Upfront treatment.

At least it would be way better than that light-hearted/ill-fated interview with Michel Temer on Roda Viva, a Brazilian round-table debate program. In case you missed it, here’s the last question journalists chose to ask Temer: “How did you fall in love with the first lady, Marcela Temer?” Touching, isn’t it?

In the end, one gets the feeling Dilma did less poorly than, or at least as good as, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil’s former president who also had a not-so-great time with Hasan a while ago. I wonder whether Dilma watched that interview before agreeing to appear on AJ’s UpFront. Well, at least she didn’t try to speak English.


Watch Dilma’s full interview on Upfront here.