Reporting the 20th Century

Indro Montanelli

Indro Montanelli in front of the Milan offices of Corriere della Sera, where he began his career (Photo courtesy La Republica)

To admirers and foes alike, he was the “voice of a witness, a master of journalism, Italy’s Grand Old Man.” Indro Montanelli died in July at the age of 92. “A wonder of vitality, he is the most famous journalist of the 20th century,” wrote Dietmar Polaczek in Frankfurt’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Montanelli received WPR’s International Editor of the Year Award for 1994. Never shy of words, he wrote in his acceptance letter, “I consider [this] award as something in between a Nobel and a Pulitzer.” In 2000, he was among the “50 press freedom heroes of the past 50 years,” a list compiled by the International Press Institute.

Montanelli embraced many political leanings in his life: fascist and admirer of Mussolini (who later persecuted him because Montanelli wrote about the duce’s lover). He was ousted from the Fascist Party after he criticized the conduct of Italian troops in the Spanish Civil War. He was an anti-communist, conservative moralist, and icon of the political right who became a vigorous opponent of Silvio Berlusconi. And he was kneecapped by the Red Brigades in 1977 for his conservative views.

Montanelli started his career in 1939 as war correspondent for Milan’s Corriere della Sera, covering the Spanish Civil War. He reported from Nazi Germany (and was the first foreign journalist to interview Hitler), was detained in Milan, and was sentenced to death in 1943 for allegedly conspiring in Mussolini’s arrest. He escaped and fled to Switzerland.

After the war he returned to Corriere and was the first foreign journalist in Budapest to cover the 1956 Hungarian uprising. He left Corriere when he thought it was moving too far to the left, and in 1974 he founded Milan’s Il Giornale.

Montanelli was a friend of Italy’s Prime Minister Berlusconi before the media mogul turned to politics. Berlusconi, the owner of Il Giornale, reportedly sobbed at Montanelli’s hospital bedside after the Red Brigades’ attack, but the relationship turned sour when Berlusconi entered politics and asked Montanelli, who was the editor of Il Giornale, to endorse Berlusconi’s run for prime minister. Montanelli refused to become a mouthpiece for Berlusconi’s party and resigned from the editorship.

In 1994, Montanelli launched the daily La Voce, which folded after a year, not without shaping the political discourse in the country. Montanelli proved to be Berlusconi’s most vociferous—and often lone—opponent. Our lives as journalists are as transient as butterflies,” Montanelli once said. “His,” wrote Nello Ajello in Rome’s La Repubblica, “was a lifelong fight of an Italian with his country.”