Q&A

 

MARGARET BRENNANBloomberg News anchor and member of the Global Irish Economic Forum, talks to EOIN BUTLER

On a sliding scale, from Michael Flatley to Barack Obama, how Irish would you say you are?My mother is fifth-generation Irish, my father is third generation. I have family in Galway, Limerick and Sligo. And my parents both had me doing Irish step-dancing classes when I was five years old. So I’m pretty Irish, I think.

When you interviewed Enda Kenny on St Patrick’s Day, you said that Ireland had lost credibility on international financial markets. What can be done to restore our credibility? Ireland has certainly been more responsible than Portugal or Greece, in particular, in that it took on austerity measures before it was pushed. But if you look at the markets right now [September 23rd], there is a 96 per cent chance of Greece defaulting. But European politicians won’t even discuss the possibility of that happening. There’s a huge disconnect there. Where Greece, and indeed Ireland, could restore some credibility in the eyes of American investors would be if they said, look, we’re not looking at default, but if it does happen, here’s our plan.

The Taoiseach had been criticised at home for not being a tremendously good communicator. How did he come across in the US?It was a very high-profile visit. He was there to visit the White House. He was there to meet prominent American business leaders. So he was at the top of his game. He was very charming. He seemed to be riding a wave of optimism, whereas Taoiseach Cowen always seemed to have a tremendous burden on his shoulders. But the thing is, people on Wall Street don’t necessarily want to be charmed. What they really appreciate is a person being frank. They just want to know that someone is in charge.

You’ve worked in news for 10 years. While still in your 20s, you produced interviews with George W Bush for CNBC. What were the particular pressures of an assignment like that?Going into the White House as a 24- or 25-year-old producer was a tremendous education for me. It was my grad school. I couldn’t do what I do now if I hadn’t worked behind the camera. At the time, we were talking about privatising social security, something that ultimately didn’t happen. It was pre-financial crisis and, looking back now, it was a very different world.

Joining Bloomberg News at the time of the financial crisis must have been a bit like joining the Weather Channel during a hurricane.It was, I guess. But the crisis also gave me a lot more conviction about what I wanted to do. I came to believe that business news should be on the front page for every single household in America.

You anchored from Tahir Square during the Egyptian uprising. Considering the experience of other female journalists, did you feel safe there?When I was in Tahir, the people were in a very celebratory mood. I can speak Arabic and felt totally comfortable in those surroundings.

Unfortunately, you can get a little overconfident in those situations. At one point, I left our cameraman and I was grabbed by a man who demanded my passport. He ripped my jacket. Luckily, another gentleman intervened and pulled him away.

The Egyptian uprising illustrates some of the deficiencies of 24-hour rolling news. For a week, we got minute-by-minute updates. Then nothing. . . That’s absolutely true. Journalists and news networks have a tendency to flock somewhere and pile on to a “breaking” story as long as it’s considered a live event. But as far as Egypt is concerned, when Mubarak fell was far from the end of that story. So there is a responsibility, after shining such a powerful spotlight on a story, not to then abandon it. It’s a mentality that infects social media like Twitter too.

One night last week, 90 per cent of the tweets in my feed concerned a breaking story about an execution in Georgia. But the next day, there was no debate about capital punishment. People were talking about the next thing.I love Twitter. I use it as a news wire service. But I agree with you about live-tweeting. People feel that they’re part of an event without really engaging with it all that much. An hour later, their attention has moved elsewhere.

On your show, you interview statesmen, business leaders and young entrepreneurs. Who was your favourite guest?I love telling stories. I love understanding things and connecting the dots. I’m not interested in how many T-shirts or tablet computers were sold at WalMart. I’m interested in how many transactions involved food stamps. How many people had to wait until midnight, when their pay cheque hit, to buy food. So as far as interviewees go, the office they hold often isn’t as important as the story they have to tell.

Margaret Brennan will be introducing Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Bill Clinton at the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle next Friday and Saturday