VIEWS ON POWER FROM A 1976 CHAT WITH THE FEISTY ITALIAN JOURNALIST.
Byline: Susan Smith, April 1976
Oriana Fallaci is the scourge of politicians — and she’s proud of it.
Fallaci, the 45-year-old correspondent for L’Europeo who has become internationally known for her rough, aggressive interviews of political figures, calls these interviews “fights” and says her basic weapon is the tape recorder.
“Nothing portrays a person as well as the self-portrait this person makes of himself,” she says.
Perhaps her most famous interview was with Henry Kissinger, who described himself to her as “the cowboy leading the caravan alone astride his horse,” a statement he later regretted. Kissinger is not the only one to say imprudent things during a Fallaci interview. Recently, William Colby, former head of the CIA, exasperated by her attacks on the CIA for interfering in the internal affairs of Italy, Chile, and Cuba, said, “Maybe our morals are not perfect, but they are better than others….”
Fallaci’s voice is low and hoarse. She smokes constantly and interrupts herself frequently with a harsh cough. She mocks her “hilarious Fallaci English,” a language in which she pronounces the suffix “ed” as a separate syllable, giving her speech a quaint, Elizabethan flavor….
Why is it important to interview the heads of state, the leaders who have power?
“Their answers. They say the truth or they lie. In the democratic countries, we are the only tool of communication between the people and the power. What other bridge does society have but the bridge offered by the journalists; as bad as they accuse us of being — superficial, without culture — we are still the only ones who guarantee to the people the right and duty to know what happens, to understand it and to intervene somehow. It is far more important and far more moral to be a journalist than a politician.”
Fallaci does not trust politicians generally because, she says, she knows them “too well.” She once liked and admired Indira Gandhi, but now she feels betrayed and her pessimism about those with power has been doubled.
“Now she is dictator,” says Fallaci. “She has been doing in advance what the others will do. She has been the first to betray democracy.”
By now, politicians have grown wary of Fallaci, and it is often difficult for her to get an interview: “I work a long time before I get a good interview. Sometimes months. Sometimes one or two years. But I wait. The politicians know me too well and they know the risk. Having one of those interviews can be very good or very bad. Some are scared. They pay attention and they prepare themselves. It’s like playing kung fu all the time.”
She regrets she has been unable to interview Richard Nixon or Gerald Ford: “And I cannot see Chou En-lai anymore. I was so furious with him when he died. I’m sure he would have been a marvelous interview.”