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Justin Webb and soundbites

I had the pleasure this morning of sitting next to Justin Webb, the Today programme presenter and former North America correspondent of the BBC, when he was kind enough to come and speak at a breakfast that my company,  Camberton, had organised for a few clients and interested parties.

Alongside some fascinating analysis of the American political scene, he told one or two very amusing anecdotes.

One (which he said John Major tells of himself) he used to illustrate how careful you have to be with soundbites, since they can give a very distorted picture of the real position.

When Major first visited Moscow, soon after becoming Prime Minister, he found himself walking alongside Boris Yeltsin from a private meeting to a lunch. All his Russian experts and many from the media were around him, at a time when he was under great scrutiny because people were not convinced he was up to the job. In Russia, meanwhile, nothing was working: it was 1992 (I remember myself that in the four months I lived there from September 1992 to January 1993, the rouble went from 50 to the dollar to 243).

Major turned to Yeltsin, and asked him, “So, Boris Nikolayevich… In a word, how are things going here in Russia?”

“In a word, Mr. Major… Good.”

They walked on…

Major, slightly concerned that they were saying nothing, took up the conversation. “And what would be the slightly longer version of that, Mr President?”

“A slightly longer version… Not good.”

Justin’s got a new book out, if you want more of his stories. I read his last one – Have a Nice Day – and enjoyed it. His new one has just come out: Notes on Them and Us.

If today’s talk was anything to go by, I suspect it’s worth a read.

Posted in My articles, Politics, Stories.

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