Fallaci Shed Light on the World's Leaders
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Just ahead, the nerve-wracking art of the oboe player.
But first, we remember Oriana Fallaci, one of the world's best known journalists. She died this week in her hometown, Florence, at the age of 76. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli recalls this fiercely independent woman who was renowned for probing interviews with many leading figures of the 20th century.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: What most surprised me was how incredibly small Oriana Fallaci was. But there was nothing fragile about her. She compensated for her petiteness with her booming voice and of course her opinions.
Most extraordinary was that long before the days of satellite TV, here was a print reporter, not a politician or a celebrity, who had become a household name throughout the world, a pioneer for a later generation of women journalists.
I discovered her before she became the famous war correspondent. As a teenager, I devoured her magazine profiles on the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda. Years later, when I told her how much I'd learned from those interviews, she appeared embarrassed and dismissed my remarks with a wave of a hand.
Her interview roster reads like a Who's Who. Ayatollah Khomeini, Muammar Gaddafi, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger, among many others. When I asked her why they agreed to talk to her, she giggled and said, They all looked at this small little woman and thought they could manipulate me at will.
I met her just after one of her few defeats. At the last minute, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet had canceled their appointment. She was furious and depressed and wanted consolation. In her book-filled New York apartment, she prepared an elaborate Tuscan meal, accompanied by excellent wine. When she finally relaxed, I asked her, of all of them, who was your favorite? Pointing lovingly to his present, an antique Chinese vase, she said Deng Xiaoping.
She kept a low profile for years, but after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Oriana Fallaci bursts out with a vehemence. She shocked many of her admirers with her vitriolic attacks on Islam, which she saw as the enemy of Western civilization. She argued that Europe had sold its soul to an Islamic invasion.
She was accused of being a neocon, of betraying her liberal background. Unfazed, she dismissed her critics, saying, I've always been independent and nonconformist, even if it means being disagreeable.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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