Guarini Roundtable Discussion: "Clash of Civilizations? The Challenges of Explaining Italy to the US Public"

On June 16, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs presented the roundtable discussion Clash of Civilizations? The Challenges of Explaining Italy to the US Public. Moderated by JCU Professor Peter Sarram, the Guarini Institute roundtable discussion hosted by John Cabot University featured the remarkable participation of five journalists whose work is characterized by the constant challenge of finding effective ways of reporting on the complexities of the Italian political and cultural reality. The participants were Philip Pullella (Reuters News), Rachel Donadio (New York Times), Anselma Dell’Olio (freelance journalist), Patricia Thomas (Associated Press) and Greg Burke (Fox News).

The discussion was introduced by Prof. Sarram who, having showed a clip featuring a US TV journalist comically reporting on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, opened the floor of debate by addressing a question to all the participants: “How do you approach the representation of Italy in your own work?”

Philip Pullella, the first to intervene, underlined the importance of covering Italy with the seriousness that the country, among the world’s richest economies and a member of the G8, really deserves. Pullella’s intervention also stressed that US journalists reporting on Italy should be concerned with providing the readership with a truthful image of the reality they are covering, therefore avoiding to end up “pumping stereotypes back to the States”.

Agreeing with Pullella, Rachel Donadio, the second to speak, reminded the audience about the difficulties of providing US audiences with a real grasp on Italian political and cultural life in general: as the US and Italian realities are very distant from one another, she argued, the job of covering Italy is one that requires a great deal of dedication (which, as she underlined more than once, is what makes it amusing).

As a journalist who has contributed to both US and Italian papers, Anselma Dell’Olio highlighted the importance that studying the history of one country plays in the effort of understanding how it really works. In the specific case of Italian politics, she argued, it is impossible to understand the mechanisms that drive contemporary Italian political life without going back to the great political shock of “Tangentopoli”.

The fourth speaker, Patricia Thomas, entered the discussion by developing the issue of stereotypes brought up by Pullella: reporting on Italy is challenging not only because you need to avoid the stereotypes with which Italians often appear to the eyes and ears of US audiences, but also because you need to overcome the stereotypes that the Italian public has towards Americans. As she argued, in fact, in order for effective intercultural communication to take place, stereotypes “need to be taken apart on both sides”.

Greg Burke, the last to intervene, then further developed the theme of intercultural differences among US and Italian mentalities by pointing to both everyday realities and historical circumstances. He then concluded by convening with his colleagues that, no matter how challenging, reporting on a country like Italy definitely constitutes a great life experience. The floor was then opened to questions from the numerous and very interested audience, and each of the panelists replied to several of the questions asked. Every participant in the event really benefitted from the discussion and increased his/her acquaintance with the multiple complexities of Italy.