Oriana Fallaci (1929-2006) was a famous Italian journalist and political interviewer. She is perhaps most well known in the United States for her interview with Henry Kissinger, who described his 1972 interaction with her as “the most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press.” Oriana Fallaci is well remembered for her fearless, outspoken persona, and she was probably one of the best journalists of the 20th century, in addition to being one of Italy's most publicized writers.
Oriana Fallaci was born in Florence, Italy, in 1929, during a very turbulent period in Italy's history. Benito Mussolini was rising to power, and World War Two was looming in the very near future. It is likely this childhood that gave Oriana Fallaci a strong determination to fight inequality, totalitarian governments, and tyranny. Oriana Fallaci was a radical liberal, at one point having an affair with Alexandros Panagoulis, a hero of the Greek resistance movement, and speaking out all her life for those who couldn't. Some might go as far as to call Oriana Fallaci an anarchist, because she held many anarchist values.
Oriana Fallaci probably inherited her politics from her father, who was a liberal opposed to Mussolini's rise to power. Her father was briefly imprisoned and tortured during the war, and Oriana Fallaci joined the anti-fascist resistance at the age of 14 as a result. Shortly after the war, she decided to pursue journalism as a career, because she sensed the potential for speaking out for the unrepresented. She worked for a wide variety of Italian and international newspapers over the course of her life and quickly acquired a reputation for intense and sometimes confrontational political interviews.
As a complement to her numerous interviews, Fallaci also published several books, some of which were compilations of interviews. Others consisted of social commentary on issues ranging from the position of women in Western society to the American space program. In addition, she published several novels.
Oriana Fallaci had a very unique writing style, describing her interview subjects and their settings in lyrical detail. This writing style also appeared in full flower in her novels. Oriana Fallaci considered the context in which her interviews took place, writing not only about the people she spoke with, but also about the environments in which they lived and worked. She was also an extremely perceptive and sensitive author, revealing truths about her subjects that they probably would have preferred to conceal.
Oriana Fallaci was frequently criticized for her interview style, which many said bordered on interrogation. Some of her more notorious interviews included one with Ayatollah Khomeini in which she ripped off the chador she had been forced to don to meet with him. As a journalist, she was feared by many of her subjects, because she was very adroit at extracting unfavorable information and not afraid of publishing it. Her internationally published interviews brought a new level of scrutiny to world leaders and governments.
In her later years, Oriana Fallaci spoke out fervently against radical Islam, arguing that the West was living in fear and compromising its values rather than confronting the threat from the Middle East. She wrote several polemic books about the issue, for which she was heavily criticized. She was prosecuted in Italy for defamation of Islam, but died before the case went to trial. Oriana Fallaci lived her ideals. She was deeply committed to freedom, equal rights, and a fearless journalism style that earned her a grudging respect from all corners of the international community.