Eugenio Scalfari, who revolutionized Italian journalism, has died

ROME — Eugenio Scalfari, who helped revolutionize Italian journalism with the creation of La Repubblica, a liberal daily that boldly challenged traditional Italian newspapers, died Thursday at age 98, the Senate president announced.

Senate President Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati led lawmakers debating a bill into a minute of silence to honor one of Italy’s doyens of journalism.

Rome-based La Repubblica led the way when it burst into already crowded newsstands in 1976, catching readers’ attention with hard-hitting headlines and a tabloid format. His sassy style of writing has nothing to do with the austere prose then used by Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera, headquartered in Milan.

Its original recipe is a success and La Repubblica becomes the second Italian daily.

In Scalfari’s later years, the journalist, a self-proclaimed atheist, filled La Repubblica with what he described as a detailed account of lengthy in-person and telephone conversations with Pope Francis.

“The personality I’m most interested in is Pope Francis,” Scalfari said during a television appearance. “He’s a revolutionary.”

He describes himself as a “great friend of the pope”.

The pontiff learned the news “from his friend with sadness,” official Vatican media said. Francis “lovingly remembers these meetings and the intense conversations” and prayerfully entrusted his soul to the Lord, the Vatican said.

Early on, Scalfari used the pages of La Repubblica to wage a number of battles. It was the first mainstream Italian newspaper to urge Italians to reassess the Italian Communist Party, which successive Christian Democrat-led coalitions had ably kept out of power by allying with an array of coalition partners much smaller.

He used his weekly columns to campaign relentlessly against Silvio Berlusconi after the TV mogul entered politics in the mid-1990s, leading a centre-right bloc that would eventually form three Italian governments and appoint him prime minister. La Repubblica accused Berlusconi of entering politics to safeguard his business interests.

Alongside his media empire, Berlusconi also owned vast real estate holdings, advertising companies and a soccer team. Accusations of conflict of interest dogged him throughout his political career.

One of the first tributes after news of Scalfari’s death, however, came from Berlusconi, who still leads the center-right Forza Italia party he created three decades ago.

“Eugenio Scalfari was a reference figure for my opponents in politics,” he tweeted. “Today, however, I can only recognize that he was a great editor and journalist, whom I have 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 that the journalist’s death “leaves an incombable void in the public life of our country. “.

Scalfari’s editorials “were fundamental reading for anyone who wanted to understand politics, economics,” Draghi said.

Arguing for a new reading of the Italian Communist Party, which had been the largest in the West, Scalfari argued that he had broken with his Soviet roots. Many former communists joined new left parties, which eventually became coalition partners in several Italian governments.

La Repubblica’s appeal among left-leaning readers became so broad that it increasingly exhausted itself with the readership of the then widely read Communist and post-Communist newspaper, Unita.

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Scalfari has been referred to as everything from the “Lider Maximo of Italian journalism,” a reference to a nickname for late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, to an ideological opportunist.

It was a testament to his lasting influence that even after he retired from his position as editor of La Repubblica in 1996, his weekly columns continued to ruffle feathers.

Scalfari’s life was marked by remarkable triumphs. Besides La Repubblica, he was the co-founder of the successful weekly news magazine L’Espresso.

For years he took part in Italian political life, first with the Italian Radical Party, as a founding member, of which he was National Deputy Secretary between 1958 and 1963, then with the Italian Socialist Party. Scalfari also served one term in Parliament, beginning in 1968.

Under his leadership, L’Espresso and La Repubblica adopted tough investigative approaches, exposing some of the many scandals that marked a particularly tumultuous period in post-war Italian history.

Most notably, in 1967, L’Espresso blew the lid off a 1964 coup attempt by an Italian general.

Born in Civitavecchia, a port city near Rome, on April 6, 1924, Scalfari studied law before turning to journalism. He began writing in 1950 for Il Mondo and L’Europeo, two major magazines, leaving in 1955 for the company L’Espresso.

He was editor of the popular news magazine between 1963 and 1968, then general manager of the publishing house L’Espresso between 1970 and 1975, helping to establish it as one of the most influential in Italy.

Scalfari was married to Simonetta De Benedetti and the couple had two daughters, Enrica and Donata.

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Former AP reporter Victor L. Simpson contributed biographical material to this story.

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