I have received more texts than usual the past two weeks. Most of them were about a rather unusual subject — Italy’s national elections. I say unusual subject because it’s not every day that this subject is discussed among my American friends.
Many readers of this space may know that I am the son of immigrant parents who moved to the United States from Italy. As a result, I am bilingual (I read Italian news sites almost as voraciously as American ones) and also a dual citizen, meaning I can vote in Italian elections.
But the texts I was getting was coming from a place of fear. They feared that the center-right would win the election (they ultimately did on Sept. 25) and bring Italy back 100 years to an era marked by fascism.
This sentiment came as a result of the English-language press (predominantly the United States and England) that framed the political rise of Giorgia Meloni as threat to democracy. It was this skewed news coverage that got me to write about her twice in pieces for Religion Unplugged, which included an analysis piece last week on what her election means and the Vatican’s reaction.
Running on a “God, homeland and family” platform, the 45-year-old was labeled a “neo-fascist” and “hard right” by The New York Times largely because of her traditional Catholic views regarding marriage and her anti-abortion views. The Times hailed Meloni’s election this way:
ROME — Italy turned a page of European history on Sunday by electing a hard-right coalition led by Giorgia Meloni, whose long record of bashing the European Union, international bankers and migrants has sown concern about the nation’s reliability in the Western alliance.
Results released early Monday showed that Ms. Meloni, the leader of the nationalist Brothers of Italy, a party descended from the remnants of fascism, had led a right-wing coalition to a majority in Parliament, defeating a fractured left and a resurgent anti-establishment movement.
It will still be weeks before the new Italian Parliament is seated and a new government is formed, leaving plenty of time for political machinations and horse trading in a coalition with major differences. But Ms. Meloni’s strong showing, with about 26 percent of the vote, the highest of any single party, makes her the prohibitive favorite to become the country’s first female prime minister.
The opening of this news story reads more like an opinion piece, loaded with adjectives such as “hard-right coalition.”
This was parroted by other U.S. newspapers as well as major television networks and cable news channels. It also extended to other English-language news sites such as the BBC and The Guardian. These are all sites that routinely pop up in the Twitter feeds and Google searches of American audiences.
Americans, in general, know very little about the elections that take place in foreign countries. Framing issues and candidates in the manner the New York Times did throughout the past few weeks does a disservice to readers. The Times is still a major authority, especially when it comes to international news coverage, and it was unfair to cast Meloni as the second coming of Benito Mussolini.
What was needed was an explainer aimed at helping readers understand Italy’s confusing electoral system that relies heavily on compromise and political alliances in order to survive.
Italy, for much of the post-war era, was dominated by the Christian Democrats and a mix of Catholic-inspired social programs and centrist policies. The Italian Communist Party served as the major opposition force during those years.
In 1994, a political firestorm erupted when a widespread scandal that involved kickbacks obliterated many political parties, including the Christian Democrats. Silvio Berlusconi, a media mogul, created Forza Italy, a center-right party. His coalition won the election. Italian politics was forever changed with right-wing parties, once pushed to the margins, able to win regional and national elections.
Berlusconi was in many ways a precursor to the populism of Donald Trump. You don’t see politicians labeled as “neo-communist” or “hard left.” It could be because secular news outlets don’t much like politicians like Meloni who aren’t afraid to espouse traditional Christian beliefs on marriage and other “culture war” topics.
The Catholic World Report, a website featuring Catholic News Agency stories, tried to explain Meloni’s rise by giving it the proper context. Here’s how the story opened:
The victory of Giorgia Meloni and her “Fratelli d’Italia” (Brothers of Italy) party in Italy’s recent election made global headlines.
Meloni won with a platform that supports traditional families, national identity, and the country’s Christian roots. In a speech earlier this year, she said “no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology.”
As the leader of a party that originates from a postwar movement born from the ashes of fascism, Meloni can neither be called a post-fascist nor simply a far-right leader.
Her international position is Atlanticist, and she has supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, congratulating him on his election.
On European issues, Meloni is critical of how Europe runs the risk of imposing policies on nation-states, but she is not against the principle of a European Union.
In short, the reality of Meloni’s politics is much more nuanced than it may seem at first glance. This explains why Catholic hierarchies in Italy have shown a degree of openness toward the politician following her electoral victory.
Describing Meloni’s victory as “more nuanced” is exactly correct. At a time when the press has lost its objectivity, it has also lost what it means to present topics with nuance.
Media news bubbles are alive and well. Bemoaned in 2016 in the weeks following Trump’s election, it looks as if the media has come to embrace it six years later. Too many of the news stories I read in the English-language press was full of subjective analysis and many experts in the form of political science professors and historians.
What the stories had little of was interviews with voters, who could speak about issues that matter to them such as the economy and immigration. It was an Italian re-run of Trump’s election back in ’16. There was too much hyperbolic coverage and little on-the-ground reporting.
In Italy, few saw Meloni’s election as a win for fascism. Not even partisan political papers there labeled her one. It’s because right-wing parties have been in power before. Meloni worked in the Berlusconi government and his Forza Italia party was allied with the National Alliance, a party that was the precursor to Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.
Interestingly, it was a story in The Jerusalem Post that shed some light on this and how Italian Jews reacted to the election results. This is what they reported:
World media has been intensively covering the Italian election and the victory of right-winger Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s first female prime minister and also a politician who heads what used to be a fascist party. But according to a Jewish community leader who spoke with The Jerusalem Post, her election is “a lot less dramatic than what the world media or Israeli media portrays it to be.”
Meloni is president of the right-wing populist and national-conservative Brothers of Italy Party (FdI in Italian). FdI was the largest party in the 2022 Italian general election.
Sources in the Jewish community said right-wing parties have been part of the government in the past, and there is no comparison to France’s Marine Le Pen. Meloni has a relationship with the Jewish community and has been very positive toward Israel, one source said, adding: “The only problem may be with members of her party” who have been identified as fascists.
Nevertheless, according to all sources in the Jewish community who spoke with the Post, Meloni told Jewish leaders she knows she has a challenge to deal with within her party, and she intends to do so.
It should be noted that the average Italian government lasts about 18 months. That means that the fragile alliances needed to keep this parliamentary system going can come apart very easily.
The real story is that Meloni will be the country’s first female prime minister, not that fascism is back in vogue in Italy.
The message from the mainstream press is clear — upholding traditional Christian values on an array of subjects can now make you a fascist. It is a distorted view of reality that will result in many more text messages from confused friends in the weeks and months to come.
FIRST IMAGE: Giorgia Meloni portrait, drawn From social media via Sachin Jose on Twitter and Tumblr.