Contending Perspectives: Journalists v. Scholars – Monroe Research weeks 3-4

During the past two weeks I continued researching Berlusconi’s political background and learning about the media and about political scandal and I started to write my research project. I finished Political Scandal: Power and Visibility in the Media Age by John B. Thompson and read Italian Vices by Silvana Patriarca, Berlusconi’s Italy: Mapping Contemporary Italian Politics by Michael E. Shin and John A. Agnew, and Crisis and Transition in Italian Politics edited by Martin Bull and Martin Rhodes. After reading many sources I have found that most scholars do not emphasize Berlusconi’s media ownership when discussing his rise to power. With some exceptions, most notably Ginsborg, the scholars whose works I have read often defend Berlusconi’s legitimacy as a leader in their analysis of his political strategies and of the political structure of Italy.

Journalists depict Berlusconi very differently. British and American news sources, journals, and magazines are particularly critical of Berlusconi, while Italian news sources often actually seem much less slanted in either Berlusconi’s favor of against him, or at least Italian journalists do so more subtly. These two weeks I looked into news sources from around the world: for example I looked at news and journal sources from The Economist, Vanity Fair, Le Monde, the New Yorker, La Repubblica, the New York Times, the Australian Times, among others. These articles mostly focused on Berlusconi’s personality rather than his political background. Berlusconi has been in the spotlight recently for allegedly paying an underage girl called Ruby the Heartstealer for sex. The government also held a referendum this weekend. Berlusconi was hoping for yeses from the electorate to his new policies or was hoping that less than the required 50% of the population would not show up. The electorate voted no to Berlusconi’s proposals however, leading to different interpretations of Berlusconi’s political future in different publications.

I am glad to see that Berlusconi has been in the news a lot recently, since it has allowed me to see different perspectives from many different news sources on a controversial topic: his alleged affair with Ruby the Heartstealer. However, journalists have documented only the most controversial of Berlusoni’s career and do not give the average non-Italian reader a sense of understanding of the political landscape in Italy. It has been very valuable to see the perspective of both journalists and scholars these few weeks. If anyone is looking for an interesting read I recommend the recent Vanity Fair article on Berlusconi or the older New Yorker article, but of which are sure to make you laugh. Here is the link to the Vanity Fair article, playfully entitled “La Dolce Viagra,” in case the link does not work: http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2011/07/silvio-berlusconi-201107. Something I do urge readers to keep in mind as they read, however, is that Berlusconi is not all fun and games: Berlusconi has real power as the Prime Minister of Italy and was called one of the world’s most powerful men by Fortune magazine. Foreign journalists often like to poke fun at Berlusconi (let’s face it, scandal sells), but Italians continue to elect him, so (other than for a good laugh), there must be something genuinely appealing about Berlusconi as a politician.

I am leaving the country tomorrow and will be visiting Italy for a one month study abroad course which is unrelated to my project. I made sure to start my research paper this week and will be resuming writing and research after I come back. While the time I spend in Italy is not officially designated for me to be “on the job,” so to speak, I think that I will gain a valuable insight by having greater access to Italian publications, which are often difficult to get from the United States or limited in size or scope. I am excited for the trip, which will be my first out of the United States, and think it will help clear up a lot of questions that I have about Berlusconi but that have been left unanswered by scholars and journalists. This will be a fundamental step to the completion of my thesis and final research paper.