Silvio Berlusconi’s shady rise from cruise ship crooner to TV tycoon, transformation into the “media-political Frankenstein” who until recently ran Italy, and the cautionary significance this Orwellian aberration can have for the rest of the world, are engagingly reconstructed in Alexander Stille’s tome. The American journo puts Silvio’s saga into context with the socio-political changes that swept Italy after the country’s terrorism-plagued 1970’s and the current post-ideological age at large.
Scribe deftly delineates Berlusconi’s rise and fall in a breezy style full of wit and insight. Though raised in New York, his father was the onetime editor of Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, which may account for his clarity in thrashing out Italian intricacies and his access to great sources, such as investigating magistrate Piercamillo Davigo, who has prosecuted Berlusconi and his associates, former Corriere editor Ferruccio De Bortoli, whom Berlusconi managed to remove from his job, and Mediaset chair Fedele Confalonieri, Berlusconi’s close friend who candidly calls him “decidedly anomalous as a democratic politician.”
Book is at its best when it dissects the delirious omnipotence-prone mindset that turns Berlusconi into the populist pol for whom Mediaset and any other media he gets his paws on are mere political weapons. In Berlusconi’s hands, journalism became just spin.
Stille warns that Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group could foster similar disbelief in reporter objectivity Stateside. Parallels are also fittingly made with Arnold Schwarzenegger and recently deposed former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Stille is less convincing when he attributes practically all of Berlusconi’s political success to his TV channels, perhaps underestimating the deep disgust Italians felt for the Cold War political class which preceded his ascent, in particular disillusionment with the left. Those dynamics, however, would make for another book.