Lots of Italian and international observers have had basta with Silvio Berlusconi for years, but none more so than The Economist, which, in cover story after cover story, has been trying to take down the libidinous Italian leader since 2001 -- so congrats to The Economist! Berlsuconi said he was stepping down as prime minister meaning it's time to run a victory lap with the very British weekly by recounting the big cover stories on Il Cavaliere, as culled by Reuter's Alex Leo.
The Economist comes out swinging as Berlusconi is on the verge of being reelected prime minister in 2001 (he first served as PM from 1994 to 1995) in a doozy of a leader arguing that he is "unfit" for office and that his election would "mark a dark day for Italian democracy and the rule of law." Why is that? Well: "magistrates have investigated many allegations against Mr Berlusconi, including money-laundering, association with the Mafia, tax evasion, complicity in murder and bribery of politicians, judges and the finance ministry’s police," according to another article from the same issue. Ah, the quant days when the worst thing about Berlusconi was his business dealings! But for a man first elected prime minister in 1994 as a self-proclaimed "clean break with Italy’s corrupt past," The Economist says he "did only what all businessmen had to do to get ahead: pay off anybody, politicians and judges included, who was in a position to help."
So remember all those pending criminal investigations The Economist reported on in 2001? Do you think Berlusconi might have used his power at prime minister since taking office to, say, get charges downgraded or brought to different jurisdictions, laws rewritten, or even lawsuits brought against that aforementioned magazine? Yes, says The Economist. So the magazine pens an an open letter to the Italian leader, highlighting his successful passage of "a law making Italy's prime minister, along with the country's other top officials, immune from prosecution during their time in office." The magazine writes: "A serving prime minister should be answerable, on this argument, to the court of public opinion, not to courts of law. So, in an effort to make Mr Berlusconi answerable to the public, The Economist is this week sending him a challenge." The magazine sent a dossier on Berlusconi's alleged misconduct to him, asking for an official response, like any good journalist. (Unsurprisngly, it doesn't seem like anything came out of its request.) More than addressing the prime minister, the magazine pleads with Italy: "Does it matter whether Italy is run by a man investigated by magistrates for money-laundering and accused by prosecutors of being a perjurer, a falsifier of company accounts and a briber of judges, among other things?"
It's 2006, which means Berlusconi is up for reelection! Do you think The Economist has anything to say about this? Of course it does, pleading with Italians to not give him their votes . The magazine trots out its by now well-worn arguments that he's a criminal and conning businessman. But the magazine has an ace up its sleeves: with five years in office, Berlusconi now also has a record as prime minister. "Italy now has the slowest-growing large economy in Europe. With wages still rising even though productivity is not, and with currency devaluation no longer possible now that Italy is in the euro, Italian business is fast losing competitiveness." The magazine also calls him out out for not keeping Italy's budget deficit and national debt in check. "The conclusion from these five years is that Mr Berlusconi is not and never will be a bold economic reformer of the kind that Italy desperately needs."
Italy booted the Berlusconi from office in 2006, but he's back in the prime minister's office in 2008. So, The Economist reiterates its claims that he is unfit for office--except this time, it gives Berlusconi a little wiggle room to fall into its good graces. It writes "the biggest challenge now for Mr Berlusconi does not concern conflicts of interest, court cases or the Mafia. It is the dire state of the Italian economy." After Romano Prodi's inept two-year rule as PM, The Economist is begrudgingly ready to give Berlusconi a second chance, especially as the Italian economy is starting to show the troubling signs of a collapse. "But if the government succeeds in reforming, our verdict on Mr Berlusconi would have to be tempered by the acknowledgment that even he is capable of improvement," concluding that Berlusconi's "comfortable majority [in parliament] means that he has no more excuses for putting off reforms."
It didn't work. Three years into his third term there's a headline on the Italian prime minister from June 2011: "The man who screwed an entire country." Oof. That (and, really, any headlines you read on Italy today) tells you practically everything you need to know about the legacy of "Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini"--a legacy The Economist did much to ferment. The magazine, again, calls him unfit to lead, but the central reason for his unfitness has yet again changed. "But it is now clear that neither the dodgy sex nor the dubious business history should be the main reason for Italians looking back on Mr Berlusconi as a disastrous, even malign, failure. Worst by far has been a third defect: his total disregard for the economic condition of his country." The Economist adeptly reads the tea leaves signaling the economic crisis we're seeing play out in Italy today, which finally undid Berlusconi's prime ministership. And the magazine could help but gloat in a three-line blog post this afternoon:
Update, November 11:
The magazine that hated Silvio Berlusconi the most couldn't help itself in taking one final potshot at the now-former prime minister. On the cover of its latest issue, released today, The Economist embeds what's suggested to be a post-coitus Berlusconi amid a dozen or so old-timey lady-friends from a Thomas Couture painting called Roman in the Decadence of the Empire. Ah, we get it, The Economist. Actually, what interests us about this cover is that it's one of its few passing references to Berlusconi's well-publicized sexcapades. As it wrote in its last Berlusconi cover story in June, "However shameful the sexual scandal has been, its impact on Mr Berlusconi’s performance as a politician has been limited, so this newspaper has largely ignored it." The actual cover story from today's issue is about how while his departure might not mean much for the debt crisis in the Europe, which now hinges on Italy, "Without Mr Berlusconi, Italy stands a chance."