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Remembering Fox News legend Mario Biasetti: ‘He did it all’

I worked with Mario Biasetti, who has just passed away at the age of 96, on and off for much of my years at Fox News. To say he was an institution is an understatement.

First of all, when it came to TV, he made “old school” seem new. As a longtime cameraman for CBS News, he was “there at the creation” for so much of what we consider great on-air journalism. He was a “Dashing Dan” with the knack of following stories in the rough, in war zones, in elegant settings… he did it all.  

He won an award for his daring work in Nicaragua in 1959. (His gutsiness probably due to his time in the Army during and after World War II, action that earned him the Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge.)

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As the guy behind the lens when that was so crucial in the development of TV, he worked with all of the “talent” at what was called the “Tiffany network.” He taught them how to do “on- camera stand-ups,” how to match words with images, and how simply to tell a visual tale.

How do I know this? Mario told me (Smile.) Of course, he backed everything up with evidence. Photos of him from “the day” were rare and delicious bits of the golden age of the medium.

Which brings me to the next great thing about this late icon. He loved to talk. He loved to tell stories. He loved to make friends and contacts and sources.    

And… give you mini-histories of his life, news events and the world. Usually, of course, over a few glasses of red wine. And a delicious bowl of pasta. Along with some friendly banter with a pleasant server.

SEE MORE PICTURES FROM MARIO’S CAREER IN THIS PHOTO GALLERY

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That leads to the place and theme most of us associate Mario with ahead of everything else: Italy. His original and re-adopted homeland. He was born there and moved to the States with his family as a child. Then moved back. For all intents and purposes, he was Fox’s Rome bureau chief… for decades.

And most importantly… “Capo di capo” of the Vatican. St. Peter’s. The Sistine Chapel. The Swiss Guards. John Paul I. John Paul II. Etc.

When you’d walk through that hallowed ground you got the feeling he knew everybody. That he had everyone’s number (both literally and figuratively). That he had the inside story and scoop on any sacred scandal that might be lurking behind a statue or aside an altar.

He helped me and so many other Fox correspondents working that Italian turf feel like they were locals. I would also love exchanging my bad Italian with his good grasp of the language and the people. And feel better for it.

SEE MORE PICTURES FROM MARIO’S CAREER IN THIS PHOTO GALLERY

Was he opinionated? Of course. Could he be stubborn and irascible? Absolutely. But that was part of the determined “Mario package” as well. And once you got over picking fights with him, he became your blood brother.

I last spoke with Mario a few weeks ago by phone. He had retired in March. He had sent a kind note to me about some reporting I had done. And I am now so happy I rang him back promptly. We talked about old times, the latest news, and planned a next meeting… maybe somewhere near the Spanish Steps.

My deepest condolences to Joan, his wife, and his children Dana and Jon, extended family and close friends. Being Italian by birth, all of this was part of the DNA of Mario… to always keep his loved ones near and dear.

Here’s to you, Mario. Mio fratello. Cin-cin!

Remembering Mario:

Jon Biasetti, Mario’s son:

“I suppose that when I think about Dad I remember how in the ‘60s and ’70s, we would always huddle around his very heavy Braun short-wave radio to listen to the BBC World Service, whether at home in Rome around the kitchen table or at the beach in San Felice Circeo, often surrounded by our curious Italian friends. He was a news junkie through and through and by association, so was his family. He carried that radio with him to Afghanistan to cover the Soviet invasion and Katanga to cover the Congo crisis and many other places.

“The BBC jingle, before they read the news, was a call to arms in our household and we never missed it. I now have that radio with me and enjoy listening to it as I reminisce about my childhood with Dad.

SEE MORE PICTURES FROM MARIO’S CAREER IN THIS PHOTO GALLERY

“Dad was quite the storyteller when he returned from his foreign adventures, often dangerous (e.g., civil wars) but also amusing as the eagle that ate my Dad’s breakfast on his hotel patio in India every day until Dad figured out that he should order two breakfasts, one for him and one for his new friend.

“Dad never turned down an assignment, was always eager to cover the story, and did so with artistry, courage, compassion and honesty. He is a recipient of the famous Robert Capa Award for a reason.

“If Dad could hear me today, I would say, ‘Well done, Dad, well done, not too bad for a little boy who came to the U.S. from a small mountain town (Cocullo) in the Abruzzi mountains of Italy.”

Mario Biasetti in Africa

Mario Biasetti working at a desk on assignment in Africa. (Biasetti family)

“The most endearing picture of Dad that I have is the attached picture while he was working in the Congo. Brings a smile to my face every time.”

Greg Burke, former Fox News Rome correspondent:

“Mario was happiest behind the camera. He brought so much experience – literally decades – that the product he produced was second to none. He was a real stickler for details, and also stubborn as a mule, which meant we were all going to go the extra mile to get it right. And it showed.”

Mario Biasetti and Greg Burke

Former Fox News correspondent Greg Burke and Mario Biasetti on location.

“I don’t think I could have had anyone better, or more entertaining, to teach me television. We worked hard but we had a good time as well. Mario worked as hard as anyone, but also knew how to kick back. Like any good Italian, he really enjoyed a great meal. And of course we had many of them in Rome.”

Courtney Walsh, Fox News Rome bureau:

“When I first started working with Mario in 2004, one of the first things that struck me was his love of a leisurely lunch. I was used to eating a salad at my desk during my former job at a financial wire service, but Mario insisted we stop whatever we were doing and go to one of the local restaurants near our office. He also often generously offered to pay for our meals, saying that he was the most senior among us.”

“Mario had a slight build and was very fit, and I often marveled how he would tuck into his pasta with a glass of wine or beer, and often a dessert too. During these lunches he would tell stories about the many adventures of his CBS career, and some of the sacrifices as well. One that struck me (as a mother of three) was how his beloved wife Joan was on her own when she gave birth to her first child, while if I recall correctly Mario was in some remote place in the Amazon jungles. He absolutely adored his wife and spoke often with pride of his two children Dana and Jon.”

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“Mario also made every effort to keep abreast of the fast changes in technology. He was over-the-moon happy when we moved from tapes to digital and had grand plans to use his archives to make a documentary of his life and travels. He loved to teach others and had an eye for compelling scenes. Mario was dedicated. 

“When he had some medical issues over a decade ago, I took over as camerawoman for several months. While lugging our equipment up to the rooftop for live shots, my admiration for his physical prowess as a man in his early 80s, and his commitment to the job despite the often rough conditions only grew.”

Mario will be laid to rest in his birthplace of Cocullo, Italy.

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