There’s never a dull moment when you talk to CNN anchor Richard Quest.
A self-confessed “old-school” type who loves to sit on a plane where he “can’t be got at” and read the newspapers, Quest is equally eloquent talking about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 as he is on the Make in India campaign.
In over 25 years as a journalist, he has seen a wide sweep of reportage across stock-market meltdowns, death of Michel Jackson, Lockerbie bombing and the recent tragedy of the missing Malaysian airline.
Ask him about the mysterious MH370 disappearance and he says in his inimitable style, “You’ll have to stop me… because I’ve just written a 300 page book on this!” The book, on the hunt for the missing plane, came out on Tuesday, marking the second anniversary of the aircraft’s disappearance.
Recently in Mumbai, to anchor a roundtable coinciding with the Make in India Week, among other things, Quest met BusinessLine after the “embarrassing fire at the government mega-event hogged headlines. Not dropping his journalist persona, he lobs the question on the fire and its impact right back at you, to get the local pulse.
But having seen the Make in India branding and lion at Davos (World Economic Forum) last year, he says, the branding now needs to be fleshed out with reform, change, difference in the way of doing business etc.
And the challenge there “begins with a B, and its bureaucracy,” he says dramatically of the British legacy. “We invented it, but I think you perfected it! And now you have to get the shears out,” he says.
The popular face from ‘Quest means Business’ pulls no punches, as he animatedly discusses newsroom battles (general vs business news) or how Twitter can be a “career killer” without safeguards.
Fateful night But, it’s while discussing flight MH370’s disappearance that we delve into dealing with tragedies, especially one with no closure. And the silvery Arabian sea, visible through a large window behind Quest, seems to set the tone.
Pointing to different spots on the wooden table in front of us, like it was a map of the sea, Quest distils the disappearance down to a critical unanswered question that fateful night. “On the night, this 777 , turns around and flies back across the country and nobody does a thing. Could you imagine a 777 flying over Southern England and nobody doing anything in a post 9/11 world? Or a plane flying over Florida and the US Air Force says, ‘We think it’s a plane, but don’t worry about it’,” he says, questioning how Malaysia let this happen.
“I am concerned that we don’t know why the plane went missing,” he says, believing though that the pilot may not be behind it. “When you think it might be mechanical, and I still think it might be mechanical, you don’t get that level of closure. You just don’t. And yet, there are 1,200 Triple 7s down there… and we do not know why that plane went missing,” he says.
Detached, not uncaring Disagreeing with “heart on the sleeve” journalism, he says, “That’s not journalism, that’s activism or partisan. You’ve got to be able to leave your opinions with your coat and your hat at the door.” But that is not to say you become uncaring, just stay detached, he explains.
But, there were times he’s got “involved.” Narrating his coverage, as a young reporter, in Northern Ireland (1988), where a landmine had taken down young soldiers going back to their barracks, Quest recalls what happened when he was returning in his car after filing the report. “I’d been up all night and I switch the radio on to hear the bulletin, Radio 4. I hear the news reader intone the names and ages of all those killed.” One was 18, another 22, he says. “I just sat there with tears pouring down my face.”
Having made business news a lot less boring with his thundering, even theatrical style, Quest, dressed in a grey suit and a yellow tie, admits, he’s had to fight hard to push business stories against general news, from say Syria or Afghanistan.
“And I’m saying, yeah, that’s all really good stuff. But the Fed raising interest rates will affect more people, in more ways, over more time,” he says, thumping the table to drive home the point.
Unique interest While American audience’s interest in Wall Street seems similar to that in India, Quest says, the average Indian’s interest in the economy is unique.
“People love the markets here, they love scrips, they love IPOs,” he says, recalling a conversation with a bunch of traders near the stock exchange, who bemoaned the stock market flip-flop despite good earnings by companies. Soon, they were “exhorting me to buy shares,” he quips.
The engaging 40-minute interaction over the economy, tragedies and journalism comes to an end and Quest prepares for the rest of the evening. But not before offering the last cookie on the table as a parting shot, much to everyone’s amusement.