The Breakfast Table

The Complicated Personality

Good morning—

Had the rare treat of catching part of Bill O’Reilly this a.m. I guess the Pledge of Allegiance story is starting to flag a bit (sorry). He was feasting on another staple of the Murdoch diet—wrong-thinking celebrities. Alec Baldwin and Rosie O’Donnell must have been on vacation, because this time it was Tom Cruise, quoted by a British newspaper as calling the United States a “terrifying” place to live. Cruise’s Hollywood flack said he didn’t mean to be unpatriotic, only to say that it was a scary time in America. But O’Reilly demanded that Cruise explain himself personally. Maybe he’s got it out for him because he thinks Minority Report is a sympathetic portrayal of racial preferences.

Who would argue that it’s not a scary time? It doesn’t feel much safer here, with Italian officials saying in recent days that they feel an attack is inevitable. Of course, ever since Sept. 11 there’s been a strange hint of terror envy here. Italy’s yearning to be a big player at the center of the international action is so manifest, it’s like there’s a small place inside that wishes something would happen.

Anyway, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has got more immediate problems. Berlusconi defended Claudio Scajola, the interior minister quoted over the weekend as calling Marco Biagi, a labor consultant assassinated by terrorists after Scajola pulled his security detail, “a ball breaker” interested only in seeing his contract renewed. But the papers today are reporting that other key Cabinet ministers, apparently nursing their own various grudges against Scajola, are remaining silent. The issue shows some signs of pulling his coalition apart. I still say John Paul will outlast him.

One really odd thing about the Italy Daily’s story today. Scajola’s quote has been mysteriously modified—with “ball breaker” downgraded to “pain in the neck.” By the weekend, it’ll probably be “complicated personality.”