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Marino de Medici, dean of foreign correspondents in Washington, dies at age 89

Marino de Medici, an Italian journalist who reported from Washington for more than a quarter of a century, became Dean of the Foreign Press and distinguished himself as an astute observer of American politics, died Nov. 15 at his home in Winchester, Virginia. He turned 89.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Nicki Furlan de Medici.

De Medici arrived in the United States in 1954 as a college student in the Fulbright Scholars Program, an initiative supported by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) in the aftermath of World War II to promote international understanding.

De Medici then spent almost his entire career interpreting American life for Italian readers, primarily as a foreign correspondent in Washington for Il Tempo, a center-right newspaper headquartered in Rome. He covered presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the successes of the American democratic tradition and its stains.

“The role of a foreign correspondent,” said Mr. De Medici in 1985 to National Journal, “is not only to report the ordinary news, but also to clarify, analyze and explain what is going on in the US and to interpret its meaning and significance for its country and the rest of the world. He becomes a player in a sophisticated game and influences policy.”

By the time he retired, the New York Times reported, the Medici had been reporting from Washington longer than any other member of the city’s foreign press corps, which at the time consisted of 500 accredited journalists from 60 countries.

He covered the civil rights movement, traveled to Southeast Asia to cover the Vietnam War, and wrote the Watergate scandal for an Italian readership better acquainted than Americans with government instability.

When the revelations of the scandal pushed President Richard M. Nixon toward resignation, “I found it difficult to explain to Italians,” de Medici told the Times, “that it was not a political maneuver to get the White House over but a moral, constitutional and judicial matter where the final result was dictated not by politics but by the full force of the law.”

De Medici occasionally detoured from his Washington assignment to cover world affairs, including coups d’état in Latin America. But he seemed most at home in the US capital, where he lived for years and where he drafted his reports from the National Press Building.

An advantage of being a foreign correspondent was the distance to the editor. “If you’re lazy,” he joked, “you can just rewrite The Washington Post and no one will notice.” But Mr. de Medici was proud of his role as not only a writer, but also an analyst of democracy.

“I love American politics – the interaction of politics with public opinion,” he told the Times. “Ultimately it is public opinion that decides, and that is typically American.”

Marino Romano Pietro Lorenzo Celso de Medici was born in Rome on May 16, 1933. He claimed no ties to the Florentine dynasty whose name he shared, although he once reportedly won the sale of a United States property by posing as to do as Medici. Prince. Many Italians view Americans as ignorant of history, a reputation that Mr. de Medici’s brokers confirmed when they dubbed him “the Medicini.”

Mr. de Medici’s father was a non-commissioned officer in the Italian Navy and his mother was a housewife. During World War II, Mr. de Medici lived for a period with an aunt and uncle in Rome before fleeing the rigors of the city to join his parents in the Romagna region, not far from the German defensive positions known as the Gothic line.

He was 11, he wrote in a memory of the war, when he experienced an event which he said was in his memory “like a huge boulder”.

“I happily pedaled along with my books in my backpack and had fun riding an old bicycle borrowed from the farm owner,” he wrote. “Suddenly I heard a screaming roar in my back that made me stop and look behind me. And then I saw it, a black plane spewing sparks from its wings. Those sparks were bullets raining down on the road.” It was an American plane.

De Medici was working for the Rome-based Il Messaggero newspaper when he received his Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Washington in 1955 and a master’s degree, also in journalism, from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Mr. de Medici returned to Italy and began working for ANSA, the largest news agency in the country, which sent him back to the United States in 1960 to open a Washington bureau. Four years later, he became a Washington correspondent for Il Tempo.

At first, he recalled, he didn’t fit in with the American reporters, with their salty manner and sloppy clothes. “I was a young, green reporter who came to a country that to me was a great cathedral of journalism,” he told the Times. “I was wearing cologne and a gold necklace and they thought I was really weird.”

Mr. de Medici retired from Il Tempo in 1987. He later returned to Rome to serve as communications director for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a United Nations agency. In 1998 he settled in Winchester, where he taught at Shenandoah University. He continued to write for Italian publications and the Northern Virginia Daily.

Monsieur de Medici’s marriage to Marianne Bengtson ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 38 years, the former Nicki Furlan, and their two daughters, Laura de Medici and Marina de Medici, all of Winchester; and three grandchildren.

Mr. de Medici was the author of the book “SCRIBE: 30 Years as a Foreign Correspondent in America”, as well as a book in Italian about Donald Trump and the risks that the former president posed to democracy, according to Mr. de Medici.

After years of giving Italians an insider’s view of Washington, he offered Americans an outsider’s view of their country, one that had become his own.

The United States “is becoming less and less of the democracy I knew, admired and wanted to experience” when he first came here, he told the Northern Virginia Daily in 2020.

But in past “historical crises,” America “always emerged… and became stronger than before,” he added. “It will be again, I am sure. But we must close this horrible chapter of the worst presidency in the history of the United States. And who can say that with more confidence than a foreigner who knows this country very well?”

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