Home > Uncategorized > Italy’s Berlusconi Scandal: The American Free Press and MSNBC

Italy’s Berlusconi Scandal: The American Free Press and MSNBC

Our main man Silvio at his best.

Big international news stories like the Berlusconi scandal in Italy are covered from many unique angles by different media outlets. Though none of the press has been positive for Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy, it has ranged from “standard” journalism to more radical content with an obvious agenda. We will be examining the views of the American Free Press compared to a larger media outlet, MSNBC.

The American Free Press is an alternative news source that has long been associated with conspiracy theories and other extreme viewpoints.  On their website, they state that “in the United States today, it is a select handful of super-rich families and tightly-knit financial interests—a plutocratic elite—who own the Big Media and who control the government through their ownership of that media.”   This quote reveals the American Free Press’ agenda: through journalism and news coverage of their own, they seek to undermine this “plutocratic elite” of big media, and in doing so undermine what they perceive to be a corrupt government and global economic system.  News and journalism from the American Free Press must be taken with a grain of salt, because the organization uses its stories as a platform for commentary on perceived political and economic corruption.  Most of the website’s articles are in fact closer to editorials than classic news reporting, and this style helps to push the agenda further.

It is important to note that the American Free Press was once a circulated newspaper, but owing to the national drop off in reading mentioned in Pavlik and McIntosh’s Converging Media (Pavlik 103), it has become a mostly web based news outlet, with a small subscription newsletter.  It averages about 25,000 viewers per day.

The AFP’s coverage of the Berlusconi scandal in Italy reveals its agenda in a plethora of ways.  The article begins with a quote from a document from Italian prosecutors on Berlusconi’s alleged actions.  Right away the author jumps to a comparison of Berlusconi and Bill Clinton.  This decision serves two purposes: it dismisses all of the media’s hullabaloo as frivolous and unnecessary, and also makes fun of President Clinton, always a good standby joke for right wing media. It then quickly moves to the scandal and Berlusconi’s relationship with the people in powerful positions in media, banking, corporations and government.  Labeling these people as the “Bilderberg group,” the AFP goes on to question the “real” motives behind the scandal, and whether it is an attack on Berlusconi by Bilderberg members.  The article presents Berlusconi’s political views as differing from Bilderberg’s, and thus a possible reason for the scandal.  Members of the Bilderberg group own the Washington Post, and the newspaper is quoted as calling Berlusconi “the biggest challenge yet to the young Euro currency.”  This shows yet again the American Free Press’ agenda of uncovering corruption in politics and economics, by transitioning the Berlusconi sex scandal into a discussion on European economics.  In line with the extreme agenda of the AFP, the article also pushes questions concerning the political ramifications of the scandal, bringing connections that Berlusconi has with Vladimir Putin into the spotlight.  These points are not at all related to the scandal, but instead are inserted as an additional point of controversy for the reader.  The article then introduces Berlusconi’s main political rival, Nichi Vendola, “an openly homosexual ex-communist named after former Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev. Vendola wears a looped diamond earring, glittering black shoes with velcro straps and a paisley scarf. He also talks with a lisp and has a boyfriend named Ed.”  This point clearly is far removed from the scandal, and is inserted again to provide more controversy.  The article begins as a report on Berlusconi’s trial, but ends up almost as an editorial on European media and politics.

The American Free Press seeks to “stir the pot” with its stories, and not to accurately report the news.  The language used in the AFP article is rife with words like “appears” and instead of presenting facts, the article asks question like, “is the current media tizzy exploding in Italy actually a politically oriented smear—especially the fuss over allegations that the prime minister had sexual relations with a 17-year-old nightclub dancer?”  This style clearly is used to challenge what is being reported by “big media”, but it has a detrimental effect on the AFP’s legitimacy in much of the public’s eye.  By using facts as only part of the basis of articles, the AFP loses credibility as an objective news source.  Clearly this does not bother them, as they are committed to tearing down the traditional form of news, including the established style of writing in journalism.  Unfortunately this casts an illegitimate shadow on the AFP, and right off the bat readers who do not share these views can be turned off.


MSNBC is a very different type of news source than the American Free Press.  It represents the specialization of media that is referenced in Pavlik’s Converging Media (Pavlik 127).  It is much more accepted by mainstream America and has a great deal amount larger following than the AFP. The outlet’s political leanings tend to be toward the liberal side, however it remains fairly moderate.  It targets the 25-54 age group and is substantially larger than the American Free Press in terms of daily viewership.  MSNBC is owned by Comcast, which also owns the rest of the NBC family, NBC and CNBC. It is a well-respected and established news source that is generally held in higher regard than alternative media outlets like American Free Press.

MSNBC’s framing of the Berlusconi scandal reveals the issues of gender equity in their reporting, interesting issues for a major news outlet in a country which supposedly values equality between the sexes.  The network reports on the actions of Berlusconi as discriminatory towards women, and by portraying women as victims it makes them appear inferior to males.  The network could have commented on the corrupt state of the Italian government, or on how Berlusconi is damaging Italy’s public image, but instead focuses on women protesting, with quotes like: “Women are offended. The image of our country that Berlusconi is presenting to the world is just unbearable,” said 52-year-old Roberta Nicchiarelli, attending a rally in Rome.”

Because MSNBC is owned by Comcast, it can be considered part of “Big Media.”  As a branch of NBC, it represents exactly what the American Free Press strives to combat, the “interlocking combine” of major media outlets.

There are many differences between the way MSNBC and AFP communicate their views on the Berlusconi scandal. MSNBC took a more moderate stance on the subject quoting less extremist sources and reported the scandal in a less biased way. This isn’t to say they were completely objective though. The article in MSNBC was written from the women protestors’ point-of-view, which showed how disgruntled the women in Italy felt about their prime minister. AFP had more opinionated statements and went further on past the scandal and criticized Berlusconi’s political views as well. There, article was much more controversial in some of the things that they said. For instance, the AFP writes, “Among other things, during a party at his villa, Berlusconi was recorded telling a joke about an old Jew, who admits that ‘during the time of the death camps’ he agreed to hide another Jew in his cellar, but forced him to pay $4,000 a day because ‘we are Jews.’” This passage has nothing to do with the scandal, but instead is brought up to further ridicule Berlusconi.  The AFP has been accused of anti-semitism in the past, so it is possible that the joke was included simply as a racist jab.  The AFP used the scandal as an excuse to share its opinions on Berlusconi’s policies, and spread its stance on the supposed “Berlusconi v. Bilderberg” standoff. Though MSNBC is slightly biased as well, they are nowhere close to how skewed the AFP is.

The AFP and MSNBC seek to report the news in very different ways, and as such have two very different final products.  MSNBC is a big media news outlet which reports in a classic journalism style.  The AFP fights against this type of reporting, and often editorializes many of its stories with highly opinionated content.  They frame the Berlusconi story in a way that raises the possibility of ulterior motives for the scandal, bringing conspiracy theories into play.  MSNBC approaches the story from a far different angle, framing the story in a lens of gender equity wich casts women as inferior.   Through our research on these two news sources, we have come to the conclusion that MSNBC is a much more reputable and objective source than the AFP.  MSNBC certainly has an agenda, as does any news outlet, however it is not as blatant or radical as that of the AFP.  Certainly some people are more drawn to the news from AFP, however we feel that in general MSNBC is the better choice for objective, factual news.

The American Free Press Article

MSNBC Article

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. emp234
    February 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Gives good description about the articles being discussed as well as supporting evidence from each article. You give good points as to how AFP’s bias is much more extreme than MSNBC’s. There are a few grammatical errors (there instead of their..etc) Good job, though, easy to follow.

  2. February 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Great paper overall! You really go in depth and give some good examples from the websites of excessive information. An idea I have is after each quote to cite the source where it came from. For example: “an openly homosexual ex-communist named after former Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev. Vendola wears a looped diamond earring, glittering black shoes with velcro straps and a paisley scarf. He also talks with a lisp and has a boyfriend named Ed.” is good information but it would be nice for the reader to know where it came from. You also want to include a picture from one of the articles. Good job overall, it is a good paper!

  3. whitneybliss
    February 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    I agree with liz, I thought your writing was real east to follow. I don’t have much input on what you need to add because I think you have everything that is required for the assignment. Just a small thing-indent your paragraphs because right now without obvious sections, the article seems to drag on and the structure is hidden. Great job with the content!

  4. February 26, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Interesting analysis, and very nice use of images.

    I read your analysis before reading the AFP article and was confused when I came to the part that seemed to discount Berlusconi’s rival through associations with homosexuality. Then I read the AFP piece and found a few clues about their position as a right wing populist conspiracy group.

    I found it interesting that the article starts by noting that Berlusconi’s “playboy lifestyle” “easily rivals that of Bill Clinton,” which both denigrates Clinton (a tactic that never seems to get old with members of the Right) and simultaneously dismisses the issues of infidelity, coverup, and the illegality of sex with a minor as equated with a “playboy lifestyle” and something the press seemed to “fuss” over (suggesting such “fussing” is without merit). But the article, as you noted, also seemed to be framed by the AFP’s stated desire to undermine “the ‘plutocratic elite’ of big media, and in doing so undermine what they perceive to be a corrupt government and global economic system.” Thus, they are not right wing in the sense that other pro-biz organizations and publications are right wing, but rather seem to attempt to embrace a populist view that also holds some resonance with those on the left who fear centralization of power in government and business.

    The article then ends with an anti-semitic joke, allegedly included to make Berlusconi look bad. Yet it could be relevant to note that AFP has been accused of anti-semitism in the past, so this seemingly irrelevant inclusion could be a source of humor or agreement among some readers.

    On the other hand, the MSNBC report, as you note, privileges gender as the frame through which to interpret the dissatisfaction with Berlusconi. This seems quite different from AFP’s objections, and warrants more explanation/analysis on your part. I’d like to see more details cited from the MSNBC article.

    For this analysis, I am less interested in your opinion about which source is more “objective” or “better” and more interested in how you provide an argument about the different frames used to tell the same story. I’ve suggested here that I see a frame of gender equity as an important aspect of a country that supports equal rights and a frame of all politicians as tending toward corruption and perhaps immorality. You might choose different words to describe the frames based on the evidence you marshal to help us understand how these frames are constructed for readers. A very good start with some work to do for the next version.

  5. February 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Fantastic job overall! I loved your choice of pictures and your use of diction. I found it very easy to read and interesting. I don’t have much to say because your paper seems to include everything needed for our assignment. My only sugguestion would to maybe add the readership demographics for each news source so your readers can better compare the two sources by knowing the different kinds of people that like to follow each news sources. Over all great job though! -Riley

  6. March 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Terrific rewrite. Good job!

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