Italy is set to have its first-ever female prime minister in Giorgia Meloni, but it’s not a moment of happiness for American media outlets that normally celebrate glass ceiling breakthroughs.
Meloni, leader of the right-wing Brothers of Italy political party, appeared on track to win Italy’s election Sunday, and Rai state broadcaster said Meloni’s Brothers of Italy in alliance with two right-wing parties appeared headed to take as much as 45% of the vote in both chambers of Parliament.
But Meloni’s triumph was overshadowed in American press reports by labels comparing her to fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who led Italy into ruin in World War II because of his alliance with Nazi Germany. The press also criticized her socially conservative views on LGBT issues, criticism of the European Union and her coalition’s generally anti-establishment views. Her party’s win is part of a broader sweep of right-wing success and gains in Europe in recent years, in nations such as Sweden, France, Hungary and Poland.
A CNN piece with six bylines trumpeted, “Giorgia Meloni claims victory to become Italy’s most far-right prime minister since Mussolini.”
The Associated Press published an explainer, “How a party of neo-fascist roots won big in Italy” following Meloni’s triumph. Last week, with polls showing likely success for her party, an Atlantic article declared, “The Return of Fascism in Italy.” It quoted Hillary Clinton noting the significance of Italy installing a prime minister who was a woman for the first time.
“Meloni would also represent continuity with Italy’s darkest episode: the interwar dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. As Clinton would surely concede, this is not such a good thing,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat wrote.
“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,” the New York Times reported.
Variety (“Giorgia Meloni Poised to Win Italy’s Election, Becoming Most Far-Right Prime Minister Since Benito Mussolini”), NBC News (“Far-right leader Giorgia Meloni set to become Italian prime minister”), Politico (“Italy on track to elect most right-wing government since Mussolini”) and the Washington Post (“Italy election results set up first far-right government since Mussolini”)fre hit the same vein.
ABC News noted Meloni’s historic status as first female prime minister in its headline, but it also fretted over her politics.
“The archconservative of Italian politics, Meloni entered politics at age 15 in 1992, joining the neo-fascist Social Movement, a group with pronounced sympathy for Benito Mussolini, the country’s dictator from 1925 to 1945. Fratelli d’Italia’s party imagery evokes Italy’s fascist past, but Meloni has rejected the associations, framing her proposed conservative coalition as a nationalist project that would recover power from Brussels,” it reported.
Politico cautioned she should be taken seriously and not dismissed as a carnival sideshow, or a “mere Italian Trump.”
“Her combination of nationalist identity politics and transatlantic solidarity makes her a hit with American conservatives and makes her harder to isolate or dismiss than a mere Italian Trump,” Politico’s Ryan Heath wrote.
The Mussolini talking point was prevalent throughout the media and on television as well. “CBS Mornings” saw the “hallmarks of Italian fascism” in her use of the slogan “God, fatherland and family,” and broadcasters on CNN, NBC, PBS and ABC expressed concern over her party’s roots in “neo-fascism” and the “most far-right government in that country since Mussolini.”
“Italy is revered for its history, but not all of that history is beautiful, and many fear that one particularly ugly chapter could soon repeat itself,” CBS correspondent Chris Livesay said over the weekend.
There wasn’t alarmist talk everywhere. Italian journalist Mattia Ferraresi, penning a guest essay for the New York Times, noted Meloni’s party “fell short of the two-thirds majority in Parliament that would have allowed it to modify the Constitution without recourse to a popular vote.”
“Her platform — militantly anti-migrant, socially reactionary and steeped in a culture of clientelism and tribalism — is unmistakably nativist and radical,” she wrote. “All this, of course, is problematic. But not all problems lead to autocracy.”
The press’ coverage of Meloni raised some eyebrows among media observers. The New York Post’s Jon Levine noted a fawning headline over the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un at the 2018 Winter Olympics, juxtaposed with Europe viewing Meloni with “trepidation.””
Grabien’s Tom Elliott tweeted, “Memo to my friends in the media covering Italy’s elections: Italian fascism — and especially Mussolini — were not ‘right wing,’ but rather another statist/collectivist ideology that was worshiped among left-wing intellectuals of the day.”
Fox News’ Bradford Betz contributed to this report.