Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro repeated a debunked sexually charged allegation about one of the country's more prominent journalists on Tuesday, drawing fire from press freedom advocates and even some recent allies.
Bolsonaro referred to Patricia Campos Mello, a reporter for newspaper Folha de S. Paulo who last year won the International Press Freedom Award after coverage of his presidential campaign. She'd also been honored for earlier reporting from the Middle East, U.S. and Africa.
A witness in a congressional hearing testified she had insinuated an offer of sex in exchange for help with a story that triggered an investigation of Bolsonaro's campaign by Brazil's top electoral court. Her newspaper quickly debunked the assertion by releasing transcripts, screenshots and recordings of their conversations.
Still, Bolsonaro echoed the insinuation as he spoke outside the presidential residence in Brasilia.
“He talked about the journalist's harassment, hitting on him. She wanted a scoop, she wanted to give a scoop, at any price, against me,'' Bolsonaro said with a smile, using a Portuguese word for “scoop'' that can have sexual connotations. That drew laughs from his supporters.
Hours later Bolsonaro spoke to journalists again at the same spot. “Is there anyone from Folha there? So I sexually attacked your reporter? OK. I don't want to talk to you,'' he said before walking away.
The Brazilian Press Association issued a statement calling Bolsonaro's comment cowardly and embarrassing to Brazilians.
“This misogynous behavior is undeserving of the office of the President and an affront to the Constitution,” the statement said.
Folha, issued a statement calling Bolsonaro's comment an attack to all professional journalists. “He also tars the dignity, the honor and the decorum as stated by the law for the exercise of the presidency,'' the daily added.
Campos Mello declined to comment on Bolsonaro's insult.
She has suffered online abuse and received threats from supporters of the Brazilian president since October 2018, when Folha published her report on a network of businessmen who allegedly sponsored the production of false news against rival candidate, Fernando Haddad.
The wave of insults against the journalist returned last week after the testimony in Congress.
Like U.S. President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro frequently speaks off the cuff, doesn't shy from comments perceived as politically incorrect and often uses the press as a foil to rally support. He has repeatedly said that journalists willfully misconstrue his statements and are seeking to undermine his administration.
The incident in Brasilia follows two recent examples of Bolsonaro making offensive arm gestures at a group of journalists.
The Brazilian association of investigative journalism and the Brazilian bar association's press freedom branch issued a joint statement Tuesday expressing “vehement repudiation” of Tuesday's statement.
Even the right-wing party that sponsored Bolsonaro's run for president repudiated his comments. The Social Liberal Party said called the president's attacks unacceptable and said “they deserve the repudiation of good Brazilians.''