Brave Thinkers 2012 November 2012

The Bloomberg Way

The mayor of New York on his soda ban, why he doesn't worry about approval ratings, governing in the age of Twitter, and the dumbed-down media

I mean, Hillary Clinton’s very competent—but there’s no Obama Doctrine that I know of. I don’t know that anybody has enunciated a worldview the way that Henry Kissinger did in his day, or George Shultz, or even [James] Baker. I have nothing but respect for Hillary, but I think the world today is run out of the White House rather than Foggy Bottom and places like that.

On Obama’s biggest failure:

Well, his biggest failure is, he has been unable to pull Congress together—and that’s not to say anybody else could’ve done it either. It may be that it’s just too tough. But that is, in the end, the executive’s job, to pull both sides together, and I think he would—he’s frustrated—he would not say that he managed to get that done.

On how the Tea Party is like Occupy Wall Street:

The Tea Party is a manifestation of frustration. The Tea Party is almost like Occupy Wall Street—they don’t want it. What is “it”? They don’t know what “it” is, there’s just a general feeling that society is not going in the right direction. Now, the people that were in Zuccotti Park versus the people that are parading in conservative America may view what’s wrong very differently, but there’s just this sense of uneasiness in the country.

“We’ve dumbed down, and it’s not good for society.”

On his own regrets:

We haven’t improved the schools as much as we want. We’ve raised graduation rates from 40 percent to 60 percent, or whatever those numbers are, for minority kids as well as whites and Asians, but we’re still, I think, falling behind the needs of industry and the improvement in education elsewhere in the world. And we’ve done a better job than any other big city, far and away.

But you eat your heart out and say, “If I’d been smarter, could I have done more?” You can’t live your life that way. I mean, I’ve looked forward to coming into work every single day. I looked forward to going to work at Salomon Brothers, even the day I knew I was going to get fired. I’ve always been an optimist, I always think tomorrow is going to be better, I always think today is going to be fun, challenging.

On how he reacts to promotions and firings:

I have always had a policy: If it’s a friend and they get a promotion, I don’t bother to call them; I’ll see them sometime and make a joke about it. If they get fired, I want to go out to dinner with them that night. And I want to do it in a public place where everybody can see me. Because I remember when I got fired from Salomon Brothers—I can tell you every single person that called me. That meant something. When I was made a partner? I have no recollection of that whatsoever.

On whether he could possibly have really meant it when he said earlier in the interview that he would be satisfied exiting with a low approval rating:

Yeah, but it depends on your definition of “approval rating.” If your approval rating is the polls, I don’t care. Number one, incidentally, if you go out with low approval ratings, six months later it’s like you’re dead. Everybody loves you once you’re dead. So that’ll come back right away. If the approval rating is the most important poll: I get up in the morning, I gotta look in the mirror. Before I go to bed, I’ve gotta turn off the light. I said this one time and the press made fun of me, but you’ve gotta like what you see. How would it be to go to bed ashamed of what you did? Or having to lie to yourself?

You know, I come home and I always say—and my kids don’t live with me anymore; they’re adults—but you’ve gotta be able to come home and explain to your kids what you did that day, without shading it or hiding it. If you find yourself finding a clever way of [talking] to your kids that really doesn’t tell the truth but gets you through the answer, what kind of person are you if you want to do that? And there’s also the—what’s the word I’m looking for?—validation of people you respect. In the public-health area, Tom Farley, our public-health commissioner, Tom Frieden of CDC, if Al Sommer, formerly the dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health—if those people think you did a good job, the fact that the public might not? Okay, come on, who would you rather have in your court?

On how people react to him on the street:

When I walk down the street, cabdrivers, bus drivers stop the bus, trucks, people [say] “Good job, good job.” And if that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what does. And it’s not just on the Upper East Side. When I go to neighborhoods where you’d think, What do they have in common with this 70-year-old white Jewish billionaire?, and yet, the reception—now, it’s true that if they don’t like you, most people would never scream at you and say “Fuck you.” On the other hand, a big percentage of people smile and say “Good job.” What they’re thinking, I don’t know. The only time anybody’s ever yelled at me on the subway—a big hulking guy, on the other side of the train—I got off and as I turned around as the doors closed, he screams at me, “Fix the Knicks!” This was eight, nine years ago. I can do a lot of things, but that ain’t one of them, let me tell you.

On the state of journalism:

I’ve never believed this argument: “You should get the news that you care about, and that’s the only thing,” and all the technology’s designed to let you select what news. You don’t know what you care about. Because what you care about changes with what’s going on in the world, and you need somebody to make those decisions for you. You say, “I don’t want anybody to make decisions for me, what’s in my interest.” Of course you do. That’s what the editor does—the editor and the headline writer, the layout person—and they tell you the stories in importance by size and how big the headline is, and if you don’t like their selection, then you go to a different publication. I do believe that there is a market for upscale news …

“Elected officials say ‘Oh my God, 1,000 people just Twittered me or Facebooked me’—or whatever the thing. they don’t even know the difference.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is, I think it is fair to say, the quality of journalism has gone down dramatically. It is a function of the economics of the news business. We don’t have experienced reporters. We get rid of them and get low-priced novices who have never traveled and have no understanding of what they’re writing … We don’t have the editors, we don’t have the legal beagles, you have the competition of the blogs—I don’t know what the difference between a blog and a newspaper is, for example, and sometimes they have different standards, even under the same logo and the same name.

Jump to comments
Presented by

James Bennet is the editor in chief and a co-president of The Atlantic. Prior to joining the magazine in 2006, he was the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. More

"I wanted a profound and extreme talent who led quietly, was generous to others, and comported himself with collegial respect," remarked Atlantic Media chairman David Bradley when announcing his selection of James Bennet as the magazine's fourteenth editor in chief in early 2006. "On all scores, but surely these, I have conviction on James' appointment." Before joining the Atlantic staff, Bennet was the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. During his three years in Israel, his coverage of the Middle East conflict was widely acclaimed for its balance and sensitivity. His much-lauded long-form writing for The New York Times Magazine was responsible for catching the eye of David Bradley during his year-long search for a new editor. Upon accepting the position, Bennet told a Times reporter that he saw the Atlantic job as "a chance to help, encourage and preserve the practice of serious, long-form journalism." Bennet is a graduate of Yale University who began his journalism career at The Washington Monthly. Prior to his work in Jerusalem, he served as the Times' White House correspondent and was preparing to join its Beijing bureau when he was offered the Atlantic editorship.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Video

A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier

Video

What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets

Video

Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.

Video

What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Politics

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In