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Perfil

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 13-04-2024 05:28

The perfect enemy for Javier Milei

The president, his inner circle, and the Cabinet have become extremely selective regarding the outlets and journalists they speak to, with Milei only giving interviews to friendly reporters who lob softballs at him.

Argentina’s President Javier Milei has ramped up his attacks against the media, ripping a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook, one which has proven so effective for leaders of the new “global right” political movements across the globe. Given the tenacity of the president, his attacks are particularly pernicious as a consequence of his reach, especially on social media, and his capacity to inflict harm given the importance and perceived power of the office he holds. 

Antagonising with journalism in general, and everyone that doesn’t hold the same opinion as the leader, is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it is substantially more effective in this day and age, where the media industry has been discredited in the face of the public and remains economically weak. At the same time, the rise and proliferation of smartphones and social media networks allows influencers to speak directly to their followers, as long as they please the exponential whims of the digital algorithms.

There was something different this time, though, as he picked a fight with Editorial Perfil SA, suggesting this media house is going bankrupt given his government’s decision to cut the official advertising budget to zero. Milei also alleged that we had been bailed out in the past, first by an individual businessman and later by the state. The ad hominen attacks against my father and this company’s co-founder, Jorge Fontevecchia, were aggressive but they were also examples of the usual types of insults that Milei has employed in his meteoric political career, beginning as talking head TV panellist and rising all the way to president. 

Weirdly enough, his attacks generally rely on the physical characteristics of his perceived enemies, whilst it has become a known fact that the president has an obsession regarding his image, one that is so persistent that it leads him to digitally enhance pictures to make him look slim and young, amongst other things. A libertarian paradox that could lead a psychologist to infer a certain level of insecurity regarding Milei’s own physique, maybe?

Not unlike the Kirchnerites that he loves to hate, Milei and his La Libertad Avanza party have settled on a traditional political strategy based on the selection of enemies with which to go on epic battles against. These are then used as the pillars of a communications strategy that feeds the digital tribe’s need for self-satisfaction, creating a feedback loop that allows Milei to retain political momentum, despite consistent failures in terms of putting in place a policy plan. 

The strategy is being orchestrated by Milei’s inner circle, which includes the president himself, sister and presidential chief-of-staff Karina Milei, Cabinet Chief Nicolás Posse, and political advisor Santiago Caputo, a rogue disciple of Jaime Durán Barba who is as dogmatic as his current boss. They have determined that they are waging a culture war that has, as its ultimate objective, the elimination of anything reminiscent to the world in the ‘BM’ era (i.e. “Before Milei”), unless it offers up its unconditional support and loyalty to the leader.  Once again, nothing new under the sun, with the exception that these guys are really good at social media, which gives the strategy a potency in another order of magnitude.

A fundamental piece of the culture war Milei & Co are waging is the media, given its central role in the construction of social subjectivity. Despite having come into being thanks to the traditional media ecosystem, which took him in as another late-night panellist on cable news, only to later propel him to the national stage given his eccentric appearance and aggressive rhetoric, the president is on a personal crusade to destroy the journalistic ecosystem as it currently exists, which has become technologically obsolete and “corrupted, sullied, and prostituted” in his view. 

The president, his inner circle, and the Cabinet have become extremely selective regarding the outlets and journalists they speak to, with Milei only giving interviews to friendly reporters who lob softballs at him. Certain media outlets, like Perfil, are now excluded from background conversations by high-ranking officials with access to information limited, particularly in the Economy Ministry led by Luis ‘Toto’ Caputo. 

A team of influencers and social media experts has been assembled, both officially and inorganically, in order to dominate the digital “battleground,” particularly spaces like X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram, where adversaries are digitally mobbed, generating fear and self-censorship. Official advertising, while formerly taken to zero, is being distributed only to friendly outlets, while debt payments aren’t being made to firms in trouble, ramping up economic pressure at a time of generalised crisis and concentrated malaise in the industry.

In that context, Milei has singled out Perfil as his preferred enemy within the world of journalism. His most damning comments came in an interview with Alejandro Fantino, in which the President indicated the firm was on the verge of bankruptcy given his personal decision to cut official advertising, a comment he made while sneering on air and using pejorative language to refer to the company’s co-founder. 

Previously he had falsely claimed that the company had a five-month delay in making salary payments. The fact that his accusations are false doesn’t mean they don’t cause damage, generating uncertainty and fear among employees, providers and advertisers. Furthermore, it appears at very least contradictory that a head of state that is obsessed with Ayn Rand and told the Davos elite that businessmen are the heroes of this historical moment would take pleasure at the prospect of a private company, one with over 40 years of operation and that employs over 600 people, would fold, as is the implication that he will do his part to ensure that bankruptcy. 

Confronting Perfil responds to the communications strategy they have adopted, one that seeks to paint Milei in a heroic battle with journalists, who have been allegedly corrupted by the system, part of a toxic “caste” that includes the political class.

It goes further than that, though. There’s a reason why Milei’s attacks focus on journalists belonging to mainstream outlets, as opposed to militant titles that respond ideologically to the Peronist opposition. Perfil, like fellow-newspapers Clarín and La Nación have been a major focus of the president’s attacks, which are amplified by his “troll army” (as its referred to). Given that these outlets couldn’t be identified as Kirchnerite, they therefore in part speak to a large portion of Milei’s electorate. 

Interestingly, the President previously had a very friendly relationship with Jorge Fontevecchia, sharing multiple long-form interviews in which he laid out his beliefs. He even liked them so much, he ripped off a full long-form interview to use as a full chapter in one of his books. He accepted a debate with a nemesis of sorts, Juan Grabois, in a long interview staged at Perfil’s offices over several days. It was moderated by Jorge. 

However, at some point, the impossible candidate became a leading contender for the Presidency, which is when he came under the full scrutiny of Noticias and Perfil. He began to get aggravated when journalists at our publishing house found he had massively plagiarised the content of others in his writings. He became even more angry when the story of Conan and his clones was published, and when sister Karina was put on the cover of  one of our magazines. 

Milei was clearly hurt by columns written by Jorge Fontevecchia that endorsed his electoral opponents and a recent article that suspeculated over what would happen if he were replaced in the context of an early end of his Presidency. but according to one of his closest aides, it was a recent Noticias cover story that really set him off, one that reported that his beloved English mastiff Conan hasn’t been alive for years. This is what reportedly led them to “declare war.” The oddities of the first anarcho-capitalist government in history.

Since the recovery of democracy in 1983, Argentina has had a long history of governments turning authoritarian and trying to silence its critics. Carlos Menem, whom Milei admires, was an early example, while Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took it to new extremes. Our current president seems to be cut from the same cloth.

Agustino Fontevecchia

Agustino Fontevecchia

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