By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press
ROME (AP) — Eugenio Scalfari, who helped revolutionize Italian journalism with the creation of La Repubblica, a liberal daily that boldly challenged Italy’s traditional newspapers, died Thursday at the age of 98, the Senate president announced.
Senate President Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati led lawmakers debating a bill in a minute of silence in honor of one of the doyens of Italian journalism.
Rome-based La Repubblica led the way when it stormed already packed newsstands in 1976, capturing readers’ attention with punchy headlines and a tabloid format. His bold style of writing had little in common with the austere prose then used by Italy’s leading newspaper, the Milan-based Corriere della Sera.
His novel recipe proved to be a success and La Repubblica became Italy’s second largest daily newspaper.
In Scalfari’s final years, the self-described atheist journalist filled La Repubblica with what he described as a detailed account of lengthy in-person and telephone conversations with Pope Francis.
“The personality that interests me the most is Pope Francis,” Scalfari said during a television appearance. “He is a revolutionary.”
He described himself as a “great friend of the Pope”.
The pontiff learned the news “from his friend with pain,” the official Vatican media said. Francis “affectionately cherishes the memory of those meetings and intense conversations” and entrusted his soul to the Lord in prayer, the Vatican said.
At first, Scalfari used the pages of La Repubblica to fight a series of battles. His was the first mainstream Italian newspaper to urge Italians to reassess the Communist Party of Italy, which successive Christian Democrat-led coalitions had cleverly kept out of power by allying themselves with a series of much smaller coalition partners.
He used his weekly columns to campaign relentlessly against Silvio Berlusconi after the television mogul ventured into politics in the mid-1990s, leading a center-right bloc that would eventually form three Italian governments and make him prime minister. La Repubblica accused Berlusconi of jumping into politics to safeguard his business interests.
Along with his media empire, Berlusconi also had extensive real estate holdings, advertising companies and a soccer team. Accusations of conflict of interest dogged him throughout his political career.
However, one of the first tributes following the news of Scalfari’s death came from Berlusconi, who still heads the center-right Forza Italia party he created three decades ago.
“Eugenio Scalfari was a figure of reference for my opponents in politics,” he tweeted. “Today, however, I cannot help but recognize that he was a great editor and journalist, whom I always appreciated for his dedication and passion for his work.”
Italian Prime Minister Mari Draghi praised Scalfari for “the clarity of his prose, the depth of his analysis, the courage of his ideas” and said the journalist’s death “leaves an unfillable void in the public life of our country. “.
Scalfari’s editorials “were essential reading for anyone who wanted to understand politics, economics,” Draghi said.
In arguing for a new reading of Italy’s Communist Party, which had been the largest in the West, Scalfari argued that it had broken with its Soviet roots. Many former communists joined new leftist parties, which eventually became coalition partners in various Italian governments.
La Repubblica’s appeal among left-leaning readers became so wide that it increasingly eroded the readership of the then widely read communist and post-communist newspaper l’Unita.
During a career that spanned more than 50 years, Scalfari was called everything from the “Maximum Leader of Italian Journalism,” a reference to the nickname of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, to an ideological opportunist.
It was a testament to his enduring influence that even after he retired from his post as editor of La Repubblica in 1996, his weekly columns continued to ruffle feathers.
Scalfari’s life was marked by conspicuous triumphs. In addition to La Repubblica, he was a co-founder of the successful weekly news magazine L’Espresso.
For years, he participated in Italian political life, first with the Italian Radical Party, as a founding member, serving as its deputy national secretary between 1958 and 1963, then with the Italian Socialist Party. Scalfari also served a term in Parliament, beginning in 1968.
Under his leadership, both L’Espresso and La Repubblica adopted harsh investigative approaches, exposing some of the many scandals that marked a particularly tumultuous period of post-war Italian history.
In particular, in 1967, L’Espresso uncovered a 1964 coup attempt by an Italian general.
Born in Civitavecchia, a port city near Rome, on April 6, 1924, Scalfari studied law before devoting himself to journalism. He began writing in 1950 for Il Mondo and L’European, two important magazines, and left in 1955 for the L’Espresso company.
He served as editor-in-chief of the popular news magazine from 1963 to 1968, and then as managing director of the publishing house L’Espresso from 1970 to 1975, helping to establish it as one of the most influential publishing groups in Italy.
Scalfari was married to Simonetta De Benedetti, and the couple had two daughters, Enrica and Donata.
Former AP journalist Victor L. Simpson contributed biographical material to this story.
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