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Lionel Barber's access to world leaders over the past fifteen years has given him a front-row seat to decision-making amid what he calls ‘turbulent times’. Since leaving his longtime position at the Financial Times last year, Barber published his book, "The Powerful and the Damned". He recently spoke with NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker to discuss his perspectives on Trump, Putin, Brexit and more.
The photo album Lionel Barber managed to assemble during his tenure as editor of the Financial Times is like a flipbook of global power.
His 15 years running one of the world's most well known financial newspapers brought a steady stream of interactions with CEO's like Disney's Bob Iger and world leaders like Gordon Brown, Vladmir Putin and Donald Trump.
No longer sitting in the captain's chair of the pink business paper, he's published a book: The Powerful and the Damned – Private Diaries in Turbulent Times.
From the financial crisis to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, Barber's notes not only peel back a bit of the curtain that surrounded the individuals at the forefront of those moments but offer an unflinching analysis of he, as editor of a newspaper charged with covering them, responded.
You detail a phone call early in your editorship with from Hank Paulson. Hank Paulson is calling you from an airplane. He's just been nominated to be Treasury secretary. You say this was a – this type of relationship would be a play a vital role in during your time as editor. Why?
I saw this number one as, look, he's the treasury secretary. I run one of the most important newspapers in the world. Knowing what is on his mind is very important, but I'm never going to be solely reliant on him, but I am going to get some information and I'll be able to pass that on to reporters and I can tap in, in effect, to his network
Barber notes that Paulson was calling him as the Treasury Secretary wanted to use the Financial Times as a means of communicating to an influential worldwide audience.
As you went through your, your notes, did your impression of power go through a dramatic change or transformation?
I understood better reading my notes how power had fragmented. There's a fundamental change in the media power in the 14 years plus that I was editor. And then, of course, the other big changes that liberal democracies really were under threat from the populace and from those the enemies of liberal democracies like Putin who are employing completely different methods, cyber-attacks, counterinsurgency, propaganda or what Donald Trump likes to call fake news.
What do you think holds more weight for your story, those big giant moments, Brexit, Donald Trump's election, the financial crisis, or all the moments in between that help kind of build the context of what it was to be the editor at this institution?
I was constantly aware of the big picture. And this book tries to convey that, you know, globalization and then the financial crash, the reaction, the political legacy, if you like, the backlash, the rise of populism and then another sort of story and theme was the rise of digital, the digital revolution, which transformed media, but within that, I had access and you mentioned some of the people and I hate dropping names like Putin and Trump that I interviewed, so when I did that, I took extensive notes so that I had a cinematic sort of diary on big moments.
What areas, if you were at the helm, where would you be telling your journalists to focus?
I would be looking at the threat of inflation with all this debt around, you know, what point is monetary policy going to change and even if it's a small change, uptick in inflation, it's likely to have a disproportionate impact on financial markets. So I'd certainly be looking for that. You got to think about how far covid has really changed the way societies are organized and the way we work. So it could be anything from offices, office space to virtual working, to education, all these things. I tend to think some of the legacy of COVID will it will last. It's not going to we're not going to go back to where we were and then you've got to just be focusing on China. Xi's China. The the power of the Communist Party now picking a beginning to start squeezing the giants, the commercial business giants like Jack Ma and the whole US-China — it's not necessarily a Cold War, but it's an age. This is the two superpowers are now facing off and how that plays out.
Are you anticipating another debt crisis, particularly as it relates to, say, commercial real estate, as these offices don't fill up, as you have fewer tenants across all of these mega, fantastic cities?
I tend to think that, you know, history doesn't repeat itself. It might rhyme sometimes, but it's not the same. So we shouldn't look at a replica of 2008, but when people say to me, 'inflation has been banished. It's a new model.' Any time people talk about new paradigm, I start running for the hills, or at least my old editor's office.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
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