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Jewish World Review June 3, 2002 / 22 Sivan, 5762

Michael Ledeen

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Consumer Reports

Ridiculous, even for a journalist | Returning from Europe, I'm sitting on the plane reading Tuesday's International Herald Tribune, which featured a long article from the New York Times about Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. It was written by John Tagliabue, who has been writing from Rome for years and years, but it could have been written by any frustrated leftist who cannot stand the fact that the Italian people are enthusiastically voting for center-right and even out and out right-wing parties and candidates. Tagliabue trots out the usual tired list of Berlusconi's sins, beginning with his ownership of the country's most popular television stations. Berlusconi's critics claim that this "explains" his popularity with the Italians. His TV stations are believed to have somehow hypnotized the Italians into voting for him and his party.

Quite aside from the fact that the political clout of TV news has long been overestimated (back when Reagan beat Mondale, James Reston - then the acknowledged "dean" of American journalism - wrote words to the effect that "never before have so many of us in the media worked so hard to defeat a candidate as we have this year to defeat Ronald Reagan, and we have failed miserably"), Tagliabue and his ilk never mention that his opponents until recently controlled the state-owned, politically correct channels that indoctrinated the Italian public until Berlusconi came along. Nor does he mention that many of Berlusconi's presumed puppets on his own channels speak their own left-wing minds, denounce him and his policies, and campaign for his opponents.

Well, fair enough, so far as it goes. I'm not one who thinks that the Times should feel the slightest bit ashamed at withholding material facts from the American public. Why bother to own the most influential newspaper in America unless you intend to use it to crush the opposition? So I applaud the relentless distortion of the news for political advantage that is so well demonstrated in the Tagliabue story.

But there are limits, and Tagliabue surpasses them in his assault on Berlusconi. The "news hook" for the Tagliabue article is the construction of a high-priced conference center that at least one person in Rome - quoted but never named - thinks is rather like a Walt Disney version of what a proper conference center should be. So what? You may ask, and I ask it along with you. John Tagliabue answers, "because it turns out that there's at least one person in Rome who thinks that Berlusconi's conference center looks like half of a structure that was built while Mussolini was ruling Italy."

Now I think it's safe to say that very few people, even the sophisticated ones that read the Times, care very much about neoclassical architecture in Italy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The architecture is simply an excuse to imply that Berlusconi is some sort of fascist, first duping the Italians with his television and then imitating the Duce's bad taste in buildings.

It's a shabby performance, and it isn't likely to convince anyone. But it might get Tagliabue a free dinner in Rome from one of Berlusconi's many political enemies. Who, by the way, failed to gain ground in a round of local elections over the weekend. I guess the TV magic is still working.

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Tocqueville on American Character . Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael Ledeen