Sex, Newspapers and Defamation, Italian-style

The latest in Italy's media wars

The New York Times picks up on the Silvio Berlusconi newspaper wars in Italy today with a follow up on the editor of a Catholic newspaper who dared to condemn Berlusconi’s “spicy personal life,” as the Times puts it, and now finds himself out of a job.

Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister and a media titan who owns nearly half of Italy’s television channels and the nation’s most popular news magazine — and whose brother owns the country’s prominent right-leaning newspaper — has faced a series of sex scandals starting in April.

Last week, he sued some of the few media outlets he doesn’t own for what he claimed was defamatory coverage of his personal life.

This week, the editor of Catholic Church-owned newspaper, Avvenire, resigned from his post after the Berlusconi-affiliated newspaper Il Giornaleattacked him as “a homosexual known to the Italian secret services,” in response to Avvenire’s condemnation of Berlusconi’s non-Church sanctioned extracurricular activities. Those extracurricular activities were summed up succinctly in the Times as “consorting with teenage girls, naked poolside parties and being caught on tape telling a prostitute to wait for him in “Putin’s bed” while he showers.”

“People have understood the unease, the mortification, the suffering that this arrogant neglect of sobriety has caused the Catholic Church,” Avvenire editor Dino Boffo wrote of Berlusconi’s behavior last month.

In response, Il Giornale editor Vittorio Feltri wrote last Friday, “Gossip isn’t enough to crucify someone. Or rather it was enough, it has been enough, only in the cases of two people: Jesus Christ for some of his miracles and more recently Silvio Berlusconi for some of his dances with women who in truth were very available.”

Il Giornale’s gossip certainly crucified Boffo, who resigned, he said, because the scandal had become a distraction for the church.

The Times quotes his rejoinder here:

Mr. Boffo wrote simply that Mr. Feltri’s attack, which he likened to stepping on dog droppings, had debased journalism. “Congratulations,” he added.

He then turned to weigh on Mr. Berlusconi’s role in the smear campaign.

“If he does this with independent journalists,what will the future be for free and responsible information?”

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Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.