Berlusconi Fights Back

Berlusconi Fights Back

You want politics in the modern era? Imagine all of the possible reactions that Obama could have had to the way the media attacked him over his comments about the Gates arrest a few weeks ago. He could have derided the media, could have ignored the reaction completely, or he could have gotten defensive, or he could have held some press conferences, answered a few questions, and gotten on with business like a good President. He chose the press conferences.

Another option he may or may not have thought of is that classic American way of doing battle called lawsuit. If you want to see how that may have worked out, you need look no further than Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is suing media in Italy, Spain, France and possibly Britain over the way they have covered the scandals in his life. The scandals have included his divorce, his accused relationship with a teenager from Naples and a prostitute who stayed at his home. Berlusconi is accusing the media of libel.

One lawyer said that some headlines were written in a way that made the reader assume that Berlusconi was ill, and Berlusconi himself has asserted that he thinks media mogul rival Rupert Murdoch has used British newspapers to wage a personal attack on the aging politician. Berlusconi is 72 years old.  

Thinking about how to put this in perspective, I can only imagine the reaction of the press if Obama had sued the papers who brought up issues about his comments. What would they have said about that move? Would that have ruined him politically, or made people fear his reactions?

Niccolo Ghedini, Berlusconi’s lawyer, said:
"We have instructed our colleagues to evaluate, according to the laws in their countries, the most serious cases of real, true defamation.”

Berlusconi is not having a good time of it lately. In addition to divorce and bad press, he has been scolded by the Roman Catholic Church. To say that the Prime Minister is striking back to preserve his good name would be overstating it, in my opinion.  

Opposition leaders in Italy are framing the attacks by Berlusconi as signs of weakness. And that’s where it gets interesting.

Is this a sign of weakness by Berlusconi, or is this just how the game of politics is played? When the media is coming after you, not so much reporting stories as diagnosing you with things and prying relentlessly into your sex life- do you have a right, a legal right, to fight back?

When Clinton was under scrutiny for his affair there was much publicity and media involved, but the biggest charge against him was the possibility of lying under oath. Yes, there were stories of his many women, but he, like Berlusconi is so far, came out largely unscathed in the public eye. The fact seems to remain that the people in the country just want a strong leader, not a saint. And the media wants a good story, not the truth or what is fair. And Berlusconi, in this case, just wants people who make assertions to be held as accountable for what they say as they are holding him accountable for what he is doing.

Is that good politics?