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



Marino de Medici, an Italian journalist who reported from Washington for more than a quarter century, becoming dean of the foreign press corps and distinguishing himself as a gimlet-eyed observer of American politics, died Nov. 15 at his home in Winchester, Va. He was 89.

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

Mr. de Medici arrived in the United States in 1954 as a university student in the Fulbright scholars program, an initiative championed by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) in the wake of World War II to foster international understanding.

Mr. de Medici went on to spend nearly his entire career as an interpreter of American life for Italian readers, principally as a Washington-based foreign correspondent 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 the stains on it.

“The role of a foreign correspondent,” Mr. de Medici told National Journal in 1985, “is not just to report the straight news but to clarify, analyze and explain what is going on in the U.S. and to interpret its significance and meaning to his 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, Mr. de Medici had been reporting from Washington longer than any other member of the city’s foreign press corps, which at the time included 500 accredited journalists from 60 countries.

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

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

Mr. de Medici took occasional detours from his Washington assignment to cover world affairs, including coups in Latin America. But he seemed most at home in the U.S. capital, where he lived for years, and where he filed his dispatches from the National Press Building.

One benefit of being a foreign correspondent was distance from one’s editor. “If you’re lazy,” he joked, “you can just rewrite The Washington Post and nobody would notice it.” But Mr. de Medici took pride in his role as not only a scribe but also an analyst of democracy.

“I love American politics — the interaction of politics with public opinion,” he told the Times. “In the final analysis, it is public opinion that decides, and that is uniquely 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 reputedly pulled off the sale of a property in the United States by passing as a Medici prince. Many Italians perceive Americans as ignorant of history, a reputation that Mr. de Medici’s real estate agents confirmed when they referred to him as “de Medicini.”

Mr. de Medici’s father was a noncommissioned officer in the Italian navy, and his mother was a homemaker. During World War II, Mr. de Medici lived for a period with an aunt and uncle in Rome before fleeing the city’s deprivations 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 recollection of the war, when he experienced an event that he said stood out in his memory “like a massive boulder.”

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

Mr. de Medici was working for the Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero when he was awarded 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 obtaining his undergraduate degree, Mr. de Medici returned to Italy and began working for ANSA, the country’s leading news agency, which sent him back to the United States to open a Washington bureau in 1960. Four years later, he became a Washington correspondent for Il Tempo.

At first, he recalled, he did not fit in among American reporters, with their salty manner and slovenly dress. “I was a young, green reporter coming to a country that, for me, was a great cathedral of journalism,” he told the Times. “I wore cologne and a gold chain and they thought me very strange.”

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, an agency of the United Nations. In 1998 he settled in Winchester, where he taught at Shenandoah University. He continued writing for Italian publications and the Northern Virginia Daily.

Mr. 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 Mr. de Medici believed the former president posed to democracy.

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

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

But in past “crises of history,” America “always emerged … and became stronger than before,” he added. “It’s going to have that again, I’m sure. But we have to close this abominable 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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