A World Made of War: On Oriana Fallaci's Fearless Journalism

Cristina de Stefano’s discusses her perceptive insight into the fascinating Italian journalist with Oriana Fallaci, a book delivered in a riveting and engaging narrative style that’s evocative of Fallaci herself.

Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend

Publisher: Other
Length: 464 pages
Author: Cristina de Stefano
Price: $25.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-10
A key component of Fallaci's interviews... was her tendency to treat them as theatre, with herself playing a leading role.
The name Oriana Fallaci may not be familiar to younger readers. But for decades it was a household word around the globe; a name that evoked fear and respect among the world’s most powerful leaders, and frequent controversy in her home country.

The first official biography of this pioneering Italian woman journalist (who was also a successful novelist) is about to emerge in English translation. Its author, Cristina de Stefano, says Fallaci still has a lot to teach us about journalism today.

“I became a journalist because of Oriana,” recalls de Stefano. She read Fallaci’s collection of political interviews -- Interview With History as a teenager, and it inspired her to pursue journalism.

When she died in 2007, de Stefano recalls wondering who would write the journalist’s biography.

“I said to myself, Not you! It’s impossible because you are not in touch with the family and the friends so forget it, there will be another person already working on it.”

But it wasn’t impossible. Two years after her death, de Stefano was contacted by Fallaci’s nephew Eduardo, her designated heir. Eduardo had read de Stefano’s work and been impressed by her style. She was the journalist he felt most capable of giving Fallaci’s biography the effort it deserved.

All in all, the project took about four years. De Stefano’s first task was to review and catalogue all of Fallaci’s papers, to which she had full access -- notes, manuscripts, even love letters. She hired research assistants, and collectively they contacted Fallaci’s many friends and colleagues, traveling throughout Europe and the US to interview them, racing to find them before they too died. Fact-checking all the information they compiled also took time.

“To be honest, I was worried because Oriana was very open to exaggerating things,” recalls de Stefano, laughing. “So I was expecting to find some untrue facts in her life, but in fact, it was not the case. Sometimes she exaggerated a little bit -- she tended to be very epic in her personal narration -- but in the end, I was surprised to find that everything she had told was true to real life. It was just put in an epic way.”

Fallaci’s career was as diverse as it was precipitous. Best known for her reportage and complex, in-depth interviews with public figures, her early reporting days saw her covering arts, culture and entertainment beats, first in Italy and then Hollywood. Tiring of this, she set her sights on the space program, becoming a fixture at NASA and close friends with many of the American astronauts (one of whom even smuggled a photo of her to the moon, at her behest).

Then her career took an unexpected turn -- she leveraged her fame as an arts and entertainment reporter to demand to be sent abroad to cover the Vietnam War, and thus began a career as one of the world’s preeminent war correspondents. Whether hitching a ride on a US fighter jet in Vietnam or traveling with Palestinian guerrillas in the Middle East, her war reporting provided a conduit for her to enact the personal courage and bravery which she considered to be the most important quality in a person.

The Art of the Political Interview

She was perhaps most well known for her political interviews. She pursued interviews with key public figures from around the world and across the political spectrum: from Princess Soraya of Iran (wife of the Shah), to Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping, to Polish rebel and trade union activist Lech Walesa. Her interview with Henry Kissinger is widely considered to have been a key factor in his political demise; she succeeded in drawing out his conceited arrogance in a manner no American journalist had managed.

A key component of her interviews, says de Stefano, was her tendency to treat them as theatre, with herself playing a leading role.

“She did an interview as a writer. She saw an interview like a piece of theatre... she was part of the interview. She was not just asking questions to a person, but this person was interacting with Oriana Fallaci as a character. And she had a good sense of timing.”

When she interviewed Iranian Islamic leader (and future dictator) Ayatollah Khomeini, she had been told to wear a chador (headscarf), which she did. During the interview, however, she confronted Khomeini on the matter of women’s rights and tore off the chador to make a point. Khomeini, incensed, stormed out of the interview. Fallaci refused to leave, insisting she’d been promised an interview and that she would stay until he returned. After a standoff of several hours, Khomeini’s son conceded her point, and the next day the future Iranian Supreme Leader obediently returned to complete the interview. Rather than be diplomatic, Fallaci continued the interview on the very same contentious point they had left it at the previous day (forcing the notoriously stern-faced imam to crack a rare grin).

In preparing for an interview, Fallaci did a tremendous amount of background research. She developed extensive files on all of her subjects, with elaborate lists of questions. The interviews themselves were sometimes full-day affairs, lasting at least several hours. Her goal was not just to ask a few questions, but to develop a more personal understanding of her subject. After hours of interviewing a subject, she would often request a follow-up interview, sometimes the next day. The follow-ups allowed her to test or confirm hypotheses she developed about the interview subject and their behaviour.

"Then she sat in front of all this big material from the interview, and that’s the moment when she was [like] a novelist," explained de Stefano. "Or a theatre writer. She created a piece of theatre. Sometimes she was extreme. I don’t deny it. For example, sometimes she went to an interview and she wanted the person to say something. And the person didn’t say it. So she suggested it, with the body language, with the observations. She had a kind of idea in her mind when she was creating an interview.”

"She’s a writer. She’s not just a journalist. She put a certain degree of creativity in. She doesn’t invent, but she’s very creative in the way she put all the pieces together. We [fact-]checked a lot of the interviews and she never invented a word or statement. But the way that you put the words of a person together, and the way you put the description of the person, [lets] you change the reality, in effect.”

"There are people who like her as an interviewer and people who don’t like her at all. You like it or you don’t like it... she liked to knead the person, to try to find the weak point. It was a real confrontation between her and the person... She always felt in the position to ask the questions, because she said ‘I am a journalist, I am here representing the reader, so I can ask you this question. It’s your problem, if you don’t want to answer.’”

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The interviews she didn’t manage to do were almost as interesting as the ones she did. De Stefano’s work enabled her to gain access to Fallaci’s extensive preparatory interview notes, including files on people she never succeeded in interviewing. The vast majority of subjects she approached succumbed to the lure of being featured in a Fallaci interview; among those with the strength of will to resist the temptation were Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II. It’s a pity Fallaci never managed to interview the Pope; her questions would have been revealing, de Stefano says.

“She was going to ask him questions about his sexual life, about the fact that he was a very handsome man, and big, you know -- she was asking questions that you would never think of asking a Pope! She was also preparing to ask the Pope very hard political questions; Why are you fighting against South American priests who do politics, while you are helping the Polish priests who do politics against the Russians? Which was a good political question to ask the Pope. He was a very political Pope, but he had his own agenda, which was to fight the USSR, and not to fight in South America.”

Toward a More Creative Journalism

Journalism has changed considerably since Fallaci’s heyday, but de Stefano says the Italian journalist’s work offers important lessons for journalists today.

“I think that the most interesting thing in Oriana as a journalist was her way of dealing with power. Political power. I think that this is still very important. She was against power. She was a kind of anarchist, she couldn’t stand power -- the power of politicians but also the power of the stage, the actors.”

“When you go to interview a politician, you have to be careful. Because today we live in a society that is based on image and politicians are showmen. Because of their image, because of their speech, they tend to charm people in a sense, to draw people to them. Oriana was always repeating that you have to try to see behind all this screen of fame. That’s something that I think is still important today, when you are informed of a person who has power -- not to forget this is just a person. The way she wrote about big names, she was always trying to show the reader that they were a normal person, [who happened to be] just at the right place at the right moment. So I think this is good [advice] still now, and maybe more even now than before.”

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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