Saturday, June 27, 2009

Stalking Silvio

When Italian Prime Minister Silvio throws a party at his villa here on the island of Sardinia, Antonello Zappadu is usually hiding in the bushes, dressed in military fatigues and snapping photos with a high-power zoom.

Over the years, Mr. Zappadu has taken thousands of pictures of Mr. Berlusconi at Villa Certosa, including some of the prime minister strolling hand-in-hand with an array of women and aboard a raft on the villa's artificial lake.

Whether those hand-holdings were spicy or not, well, who really knows?

Mr. Zappadu's latest photos have trained a telephoto lens onto Mr. Berlusconi's private life. Published in El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, they include shots of topless women and a former Czech prime minister sunbathing naked at the villa. The photos were followed by statements by women who claimed they were paid to attend parties hosted by the prime minister, which Mr. Berlusconi denied.

A little spicy, at least, no?

Mr. Berlusconi isn't hurting politically; he is still Italy's most popular politician. But he is under pressure to provide serious answers.

Pressure from other politicians and the media, one supposes, for Silvio remains quite popular, amazingly.

Mr. Berlusconi attended a recording of an Italian television program on May 5 while a portrait of Ms. Lario was displayed behind him

Mr. Berlusconi has charged the foreign media with fanning his troubles. In one episode, he accused News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, of orchestrating personal attacks on him through the media in retaliation for the Italian government's decision in late November to raise the value-added tax on satellite TV subscriptions, a market dominated in Italy by News Corp.'s Italian pay-TV unit Sky Italia. Rupert Murdoch, CEO and chairman of News Corp., called the allegations "nonsense" in an interview on Fox Business Network earlier this month.

Blaming foreign media is a proven way of reducing pressure and shifting focus. Ahmadinejad is doing it, Silvio too. In fact, Murdoch and Berlusconi are quite similar, except that Rupert runs a media empire and Silvio runs a country as well as a media empire.

After months of scrutiny, Mr. Berlusconi struck a defiant note on Thursday. "This is how I'm made, and this is how Italians want me," Mr. Berlusconi told a news conference, adding: "I won't change."

Photographer Antonello Zappadu, above, met Berlusconi shortly after he was first elected prime minister in 1994. Mr. Zappadu's professional pursuit intensified in 2007 after the prime minister's wife publicly chastised her husband for flirting with another woman.

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