Eugenio Scalfari dies; founded the Italian newspaper La Repubblica

Eugenio Scalfari, a former statesman of Italian journalism who helped shape political debate and civic life in Italy for decades as the founder and longtime editor of La Repubblica, one of the leading newspapers of the country, died on July 14 in Rome. He was 98 years old.

The cause was not immediately available. Mr Scalfari’s death was reported by La Repubblica and announced by officials including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who said in a statement that his “death…leaves a gaping hole in the public life of our country”.

“The clarity of his prose, and the depth of his analyzes [and] the courage of his ideas has accompanied Italians for more than 70 years,” Draghi added, describing Mr Scalfari’s comments as “essential reading”.

For nearly half a century, newsstands across Italy carried La Repubblica, the left-wing daily that Mr Scalfari founded with publisher Carlo Caracciolo in 1976. Based in Rome, it has become a upstart competitor to the Corriere della Sera, at times outpacing the more staid Milanese daily in circulation with its splashy tabloid format and modern sensibility.

Mr Scalfari, who previously helped found the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, served as editor of La Repubblica for its first two decades. He continued to write a weekly Sunday column until shortly before his death, even becoming known to competitors as “the dean of our profession”, writes journalist Aldo Cazzullo in a tribute published by the Corriere after M’s death. Scalfari.

La Repubblica changed the Italian print media by helping to popularize the tabloid format, which offered readers an alternative to the more traditional broadsheet layout.

Under Mr. Scalfari, it also offered a new political vision, with coverage and commentary that sought to reorient the Italian political left away from communism and towards greater embrace of liberalism as practiced in the West. . Ezio Mauro, who succeeded Mr. Scalfari as editor of La Repubblica, described him in an interview as a “great innovator” who believed that with the help of the robust exchange of ideas in the pages of a newspaper, “Italy could change”.

In addition to providing readers with expanded coverage of politics and the day’s events, Mr. Scalfari ditched the antiquated academic style of newspaper book reviews and instead offered lively discussions of culture and literature. He recruited contributors including Italo Calvino, a journalist, novelist and essayist who was one of the most prominent Italian writers of the 20th century, as well as a close friend from his youth.

Mr. Scalfari was born on April 6, 1924 in Civitavecchia, a coastal town near Rome. He spent part of his education in Sanremo, near the French border on the Ligurian Sea, where his father ran a casino and where Mr Scalfari met Calvino.

Mr. Scalfari grew up under the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, who came to power two years before he was born. Years later, recalling the indoctrination to which young people of his generation were subjected, he says he was drawn to Mussolini’s grandiose promises of a resurrected Roman Empire.

A fascist university group expelled Mr Scalfari from its ranks, according to an account by La Repubblica, after he published a comment criticizing the party leadership. To humiliate him for his transgression, other members removed the Fascist badge from his uniform. The incident marked the start of a political transformation that brought Mr Scalfari into the heart of Italian life.

He wrote for magazines such as Il Mondo and L’Europeo before helping to found L’Espresso in 1955. He was also editor-in-chief of L’Espresso from 1963 to 1968. The magazine was widely noticed in 1967, when he revealed that Gen. Giovanni De Lorenzo, Italy’s former counterintelligence chief, had plotted a failed coup three years earlier.

Mr Scalfari then ran the publishing house L’Espresso before founding La Repubblica, which was sold to the publishing group of industrialist Carlo De Benedetti in 1989.

In his weekly columns, widely read across Italy, Mr. Scalfari explored topics ranging from economics to philosophy to religion, or lack thereof. He was an atheist but cultivated an unusual and sometimes disconcerting friendship with Pope Francis.

On several occasions, reporting on their meetings, Mr. Scalfari attributed to the pope statements that the Vatican later denied that the pontiff had made. Most notably, Mr Scalfari claimed in 2018 that Francis told him “hell does not exist”, a claim that would diverge radically from the Catholic catechism.

The Vatican described the statement as “the fruit” of Mr Scalfari’s “reconstruction”. Mr Scalfari conceded that he did not take notes and that at his age – he was 93 at the time – he could make “mistakes”.

In Italy, a New York Times reporter wrote in a report on the setback: “Mr. Scalfari personifies an impressionistic style of Italian journalism, prevalent in his coverage of the Vatican, politics and much else, in which the essential is more important than the verbatim, and the spirit greater than the letter.

According to the official Vatican News online outlet, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said Pope Francis had “painfully [learned] of the death of his friend. He fondly remembers the encounters – and meaningful conversations about the ultimate questions of man – he had with him over the years.

Mr. Scalfari has been married twice, first to Simonetta De Benedetti and later to Serena Rossetti. He had two daughters from his first marriage, Enrica and Donata, but a full list of survivors was not immediately available.

In its media coverage, La Repubblica under Mr. Scalfari established an editorial tradition that saw it become a chief antagonist of the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian media mogul who served a total of nine years of scandals as Prime Minister. between 1994 and 2011.

But even Berlusconi praised Mr Scalfari when he died, write on twitter that he “could only recognize him as a great publisher and journalist, whom I have always admired for his dedication and passion for his work”.

Stefano Pitrelli, a reporter in the Post’s Rome bureau, contributed to this report.

Comments are closed.