“We Need Women, Because We Need a Better World”: Maria Latella on Women in Power

Maria Latella is an internationally-recognized multimedia journalist and television anchorwoman, renowned for her popular political interview show, “The Interview,” which airs on SkyTV in Italy. Latella has also authored a biography about Veronica Berlusconi called “Tendenza Veronica,” in addition to writing a daily column for Il Messaggero, a newspaper in Rome. Latella is currently a Spring Fellow at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, where the Gate’s Riddhi Sangam sat down with her to discuss the direction of journalism and the role of women in politics.

The Gate: In your current role as a journalist, your work reaches across many different mediums—you run a blog, you have a TV show, and you also have one of the most popular Twitter accounts in Italy. How do you think the scope of the journalistic profession has evolved since you started your career?

Latella: It’s really different from when I started in the early 1980s. In the early ’80s, you had your job: maybe you were a reporter and you were covering murders, for example. You had to be specialized. When I was in my early twenties, I had to know as much as possible about the field I was covering. I started to cover all the stories about trials and inquiries—I tried to be very specialized. So I talked to people in my field, I read books about stories I had to cover, and so on. Same [thing] when I moved from Milan, the original town I was working in, and went to Rome to cover politics. I tried to have contact with the political world and with Parliament, so I read books by good journalists about the issues I was covering. What has changed now is that we don’t have the chance to be specialized. We can’t afford the luxury of being specialized. If you are on Twitter or you have a radio program, as I have, or you do political interviews, as I do on my TV show, you have to cover so many different fields. You must know many things. That gets extremely involving and tiring.

Gate: What do you predict the direction of journalism will be in the future?

Latella: Well, I worry about journalism on the average. I think that the publishers and the companies will struggle in order to survive. Many of them will be dead in five years, or ten years. Those who survive will try to cut costs as much as they can. I will be not surprised if, in ten years, you don’t click on the website of a very important newspaper, let’s say New York Times, or Corriere Della Serra, in Italy, for having news prepared and told by [human] journalists. Instead, you will have an algorithm, something that a machine or a computer has researched, with the news of the day. That is what the future could be. You will always have the opinion pieces because opinions will always survive with brand journalism because of journalists who are famous and opinionated and very well-trusted by the public. But the average news—the day-by-day news, the hour-by-hour news—that may come from organizations that are not always or not only made by human beings.

Gate: How has the prevalence of social media changed the way voters respond to political campaigns, and how do you think social media affects politics around the world?

Latella: Well we have the IOP Fellows seminar today with the special presence of Linda Douglass, a very well-known journalist who now is the Global Chief of Communications for Bloomberg. What we said during our seminar is that… in less than fifteen years, politicians will be dependent on social media and, at the same time, be prisoners of the same media that they are contributing to. Look, Donald Trump is heavily using social media, especially Twitter. But in the meantime, Twitter is also using Donald Trump, and we can say the same thing happened with television. Networks—especially the most important American networks—were looking for someone who would revitalize their audience, and they found Donald Trump… It’s like Donald Trump appeared on the political stage when the networks were desperately looking for some popular politician in order to feed their monetary situation. And he was like a dose of crack for a crack addict.

Gate: In one of your Fellows seminar descriptions on the IOP’s website, you say that Silvio Berlusconi and Donald Trump are very similar. If Donald Trump were elected president, how do you think America would look, just based on the similarities between Berlusconi and Trump?

Latella: There are similarities, but I don’t think these two guys are really similar. They are entrepreneurs, they love to show off, they like beautiful homes and beautiful women. They are the narcissistic type, but I don’t know if Donald Trump could become president of the United States. I don’t know if he will be like Berlusconi. He was surrounded by a bunch of people so that he was able to do a sort of mediation — to mediate the important things [through his aides].Trump makes statements that are absolutely unbelievable—”Build a wall,” for example–which is something that Berlusconi never said. Berlusconi was surrounded by people who were very moderate. I don’t know what kind of people will surround Trump.

Gate: You are known primarily as a champion for women’s rights in the fields of politics and business. In America, women in politics are not always treated kindly or portrayed fairly by the media. For example, Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife, has had a very impressive professional career, but now, during the campaign season, she is often depicted by the media as simply a pillar for her husband. Can you compare the treatment of figures like Mrs. Cruz and, for example, Veronica Berlusconi by the media?

Latella: Veronica Berlusconi was very savvy. She decided to become the shadow wife—we never had her on the stage. She used to say, “There is just one person who wants to stay on the stage. That is my husband. It’s not the case that I will be on the stage as well.” So she was very savvy, because she survived a very larger-than-life personality and chose a traditional way to be a wife: taking care of the kids, cultivating her passions for philosophy, but not being a sort of corporate wife. Today, in the political season we are living, especially in the United States, I think it is very, very difficult to be a traditional wife. I have met and interviewed Laura Bush, and I think that she was very able to protect herself by being a very present First Lady, a beloved First Lady—but at the same time, she was able to put a sort of crystal wall between her life and the politics. I think that the same decision was made by Michelle Obama.

Gate: Would you say in Europe today that other women in positions of leadership have been able to make the same decision as Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, or is it different?

Latella: I think that Europe should have, in the end, a woman who, like Angela Merkel, will have the power in her country. We have Angela Merkel, but we don’t have a female prime minister in the U.K., and not in Italy or France or Spain either. So after Margaret Thatcher and after Angela Merkel, it is time for Europe to try to find a woman who is more a woman of her time as prime minister.

Gate: You mentioned that it is difficult for women in politics because they always have to make certain trade-offs and decisions about their lives. Considering that sentiment, how did you navigate the political arena?

Latella: When my editor sent me to Rome to cover politics in the early ‘90s, I was really frightened because I was the only woman at that time among a bunch of very cynical men of my age, or older than me, who were ready to do everything in order to get to the news. And I was the only woman who didn’t have a network because I was coming from Milan and they had been in Rome for a long time. It was not easy.They sometimes had rude behavior. They made a sort of group all together—the boys’ group—and I was the only woman. Sometimes I tried to get along with them, but most of the time they had their own issues; they talked about football, they had their own stuff to say, and I was alone. I felt lonely most of the time. But, with a few of them, I was able, year by year, to become friends, and those are friendships that are still alive.

Gate: How do you think things have changed for a woman entering politics today?

Latella: I think it’s a little bit easier nowadays, for the simple reason that there are many women in politics nowadays, at least in Europe, in Italy for sure, and now in the United States. So, things are much easier when you are not the only woman in a field because you simply have a sort of common ground—you share the same problems. If you have kids, you can ask the other women for a bit of advice. So the important thing is that it’s not easy, and politics especially is not easy, and sometimes I think that it’s something that, for a woman, makes you become tougher… Hillary Clinton has been in politics for forty years, since she started to be a politician when her husband became governor in Arkansas. I think that she’s probably different from the Hillary Clinton she could have been outside of politics. So, it is a hard job. It’s a very tough game, but we need women because we need a better world.

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