94 David Andelman on A Shattered Peace–was WWII preventable? PODCAST INTERVIEW

A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today by David A. Andelman
Order A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today by David A. Andelman from Amazon.com by clicking on the book cover above!

David Andelman and I have been connected via the internet for the last few years. I frequently receive emails from people who remember me from CBS News or The New York Times, who want to reconnect via Facebook or network through LinkedIn. Unfortunately, I never worked for CBS News or The New York Times.

And on his end, I suspect David Andelman receives late-night emails intended for me from overdue bill collectors and people who want him to teach them how to become sports agents, based on a story I wrote for Gallery magazine in 1994.

We have both, I believe, handled the mistaken identity issue with good humor, eventually referring to each other as “cousin.” Today, I even introduced David to my son as “Uncle” David.

David is a veteran foreign affairs correspondent whose assignments took him to more than fifty countries, as Paris correspondent for CBS News and as the Southeast Asia and Eastern European bureau chief for The New York Times. He also spent time at the New York Daily News and CNBC.

He is now the author of a topical new book, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and The Price We Pay Today, as well as two earlier works, The Peacemakers and The Fourth World War.

When I learned that David, who is currently the executive editor of Forbes.com, the online identity of the esteemed business magazine, would be appearing in the new media capital of St. Petersburg, Florida for the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading today, I had to invite my cousin for an in-person edition of Mr. Media.

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BOB ANDELMAN/MR. MEDIA: David, welcome to Mr. Media.

DAVID ANDELMAN: Thanks for having me. Great to know a new cousin.

MR. MEDIA: Let’s start on a very serious note, David. Did you bring any mail for me?

D. ANDELMAN: Email. You have it all.

MR. MEDIA: Your new book, A Shattered Peace, is an extension of your 1965 senior honors thesis at Harvard. What took you so long?

D. ANDELMAN: I got interested in that topic at that time, and in fact, a gentleman who helped me a lot on the book, Professor Ernest May, who’s the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard — probably the leading diplomatic historian of our time — he really inspired me about the Versailles Conference, the Paris Peace Conference, that led to the Versailles Treaty. And the reason I got interested was that there were very few real turning points in history. As I’ve explained to people, I’m not a believer so much in the single causation theory of history, but there are certain turning points.

There was a Congress of Vienna in 1814; this, Versailles, a century later, and then now we’re a century later after the Versailles Conference of 1919, so we’re coming up on another hundred years. Each of those really changed the whole direction, the kind of paths that the world has been able to take ever since then. And once you embark on these kinds of paths, it’s very hard to fight your way back into it, and often only because of millions of lives as has been the case certainly in what happened after the Versailles Conference in the past hundred years.

Also, whenever I was traveling, and I’ve been to, as you mentioned, I’ve been to over fifty countries as a foreign correspondent. I would ask people, “Where did things kind of go wrong in your country?” I thought they would say the Second World War, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, even the first Iraq War. I thought they’d say one of those. And when they thought about it, they’d say, “I think it really has to be the First World War, and the peace came after that. And all the mistakes they made and how they rejiggered the boundaries and how they changed the world for our country — and never for the better. So I finally decided, look, I understand the subject matter. And going back 40 years to my time at Harvard, it’s time now to actually sit down and say what does it really mean on the ground today as well. So that’s how the book came about.

MR. MEDIA: One of the things that I think that’s driving interest in the book is the straight line that you draw between the Peace Conference at Versailles following the great war, World War I, and the current conflict in Iraq and the Middle East in general. Let’s try to tackle this in pieces because I, for one, am not that smart about these things. First, what is the historical significance of Versailles in 1919 as the next 90 years have drawn out?

D. ANDELMAN: What the major powers did then, especially the Western powers, the Allies — the British and the French — they redrew the map of the world in their own image. What they wanted to do was they wanted to create a series of new very heterogeneous countries that were weak that they could control, therefore, as major powers. It would also give them the kinds of territorial advantage that they needed. For instance, the British needed a route across the Middle East, across Mesopotamia, and so on that would allow them to continue to deal with the Raj, as it was called, the British imperial India, their colonies in India. The French needed a territory in the Middle East, also, to be able to get to their territories in Indochina and in Southeast Asia. So each of them needed a secure region that they could control that would be dependent on them and that would not be independent in any way or develop any kind of strength of its own. They called them mandates, their mandates. So that’s what they did. They drew the map of the world, particularly the Middle East, and certainly also in the Balkans, for instance, in parts of Asia and so on, which I also deal with in the book. They drew them to their advantage and not to the advantage of the people who lived there and with little understanding of the people who lived there and certainly not to the advantage of the Americans. President Wilson, who came over with the idea of democracy as the big thing, and that was very much a buzzword, even then, for the Americans. They wanted democratic solutions. The French and the British wanted nothing of the kind.

MR. MEDIA: It didn’t work out, though. And I’m thinking, as you were saying that, that the British and the French were seeing the future would be the same as the past. They were still going to control all these colonies. In 1919, just a little too soon to be thinking that there’s going to be this technological and this communications explosion that was going to really free a lot of people. But their plans in 1990 were still pretty much that it was going to be business as usual.

D. ANDELMAN: Right. What they failed to realize was, a lot of them, was that the world had profoundly changed during the First World War. Remember, when we went into the war, the major powers were the big empires. It was the British, the French, Austria-Hungary, the enemy Germany, and the Ottoman Empire — which was basically Turkey and all of the Middle East. Those were the major powers of the time. We came out of that war. Remember Germany was prostrate, Austria-Hungary was carved up and disintegrated, the Ottoman Empire was disintegrating.

The major powers were, when we came out of the war, really the United States and imperial Japan. The British and the French hadn’t recognized the fact that they were no longer major powers. Their economies had been prostrated by the war. Their colonies were desperate to get rid of them, get out from under their rule. So, really, the whole world had changed. And oil was suddenly becoming, suddenly rising to the level of consciousness, although the major powers still hadn’t recognized how important it would be in the future. And, certainly, as you mentioned, communications had profoundly changed, but they didn’t recognize that either. So, right, it was a whole different world after the war than before the war. The British and the French, particularly, were trying to preserve the old order, which was dead.

David A. Andelman, author of ' A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,' with Bob Andelman, Mr. Media
David A. Andelman, author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, with Bob Andelman, Mr. Media, at the 2007 Times Festival of Reading in St. Petersburg, Florida

MR. MEDIA: The decisions at Versailles wound up creating the Middle Eastern countries. Can we blame Hitler’s rise on Versailles as well?

D. ANDELMAN: Oh, absolutely. There’s no question about it. We created Iraq. We created Israel, Palestine, and what there was of them, a Palestinian state. We created, certainly, Yugoslavia, which was an amalgam of six different countries really. We created Czechoslovakia. The Czech and the Slovak nations were slammed together. We created all of these countries, which were not really destined to be together. There’s no question about that. So, yes, that was a major problem. And in Asia, they left Japan as the overlord really over Asia and desperately weakened China, which led to the rise of the Communist party in China.

MR. MEDIA: It’s interesting in the book cause you talk about how it was like two conferences going on. There were the people who were running things and making all the decisions, and then there were all the people who showed up from all over the world and thought they were a part of it but weren’t. Is that the way the world pretty much always runs?

D. ANDELMAN: Well, it did back then. That’s for sure. This was supposed to be the peace to end all wars, and so every nation in the world was supposed to come. This was Paris, the conferees, the Allies, certainly. They constituted themselves as almost like a world government, in effect. And, right, there were a lot of countries, a lot of individuals from different countries, who really had their nose pressed against the glass and really couldn’t get anywhere. There was a busboy at the Ritz named Nguyan Ai Quoc. He wanted desperately to get independence for Indochina, Cochin China, which was actually Vietnam, and he drafted a series of Eight Principles like Wilson’s Fourteen Points and presented them to the Americans and the other Allied delegations and was basically told to go fly a kite. He turned Communist, went off to Moscow, joined the Comintern, and later he took the nom de guerre of Ho Chi Minh. And that was the rise of Communism in Vietnam.

All of these countries, you can go through them one by one, the ones who basically got the boot at Versailles, terrible things happened. And the kinds of nations that they assembled there, terrible things happened, and we’re paying the price today.

MR. MEDIA: This is a skeptic’s question. What is the value of going back to an event like that and dissecting it in such incredible detail? How can that be useful today? A lot of people only want to deal in the present. We always hear, even Tony Soprano said, those that don’t study the past will re-commit the same mistakes. I think he said it better. Why should we go back and look at things like this?

D. ANDELMAN: Because we are, again, at a crossroads, especially in many parts of the world, and we have to see how…The way I see the world going in the future is I think we’re getting back to the kinds of microstates, I call them microstates, that should’ve been created then. And Yugoslavia’s working very well. We have Slovenia. We have Croatia. In fact, I met the President of Croatia a few weeks ago. He was on a panel I was chairing in New York, and he agreed. He said, “We finally are getting a country that we should’ve had back in 1919, 1920.” All these countries are getting their independence suddenly. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are two independent countries now, and they’re prospering. This is a lesson that we can learn that these small microstates can work in the modern world. It certainly is happening in the old Soviet Union is being broken up, and now I suspect we’ll wind up with three countries or at least two or three countries in Iraq. These were the kinds of states that should’ve been created there and were not because we didn’t understand. The major powers didn’t understand the consequences of the sort of self-serving kinds of countries they were putting together back then. We’re now in a position where we can recognize that. We can right the wrongs back then, and if we don’t, we could be in for another hundred years of terrible problems in the world.

MR. MEDIA: And how does that apply to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

D. ANDELMAN: It does, it does apply because what the Jews were given, remember, in the Balfour Declaration, which actually was ratified by the countries in Paris. They were given a homeland — which is great — without any understanding that there were also other people living there.

MR. MEDIA: Just a minor detail.

D. ANDELMAN: Minor detail. And if they had carved up the Middle East differently, they could’ve given a real country to the Palestinians. They weren’t called Palestinians, of course, in those days but to the indigenous Arabs in that part of the world. They could’ve found a way of making them all be able to live apart but peacefully in the same region.

MR. MEDIA: Near the end of the book — and I’m bouncing around a little bit — but near the end of the book, you say, and I’m gonna quote here:

“In the end, Versailles proved a colossal failure for Woodrow Wilson, for the United States, and for the future of a world that had hoped it might be governed by principles of freedom and self-determination even today. Covenants of peace were not openly arrived at. Freedom of the seas was not secured. Free trade was not established in Europe. National armaments were not reduced.”

I read that, and I thought, Yikes, what a mess!” And it actually reminded me of kind of the disastrous set of international policies or non-policies that we’re living through today. Am I overstating the connection?

D. ANDELMAN: No, no. You’re saying it exactly right. That’s exactly the kind of conclusion I try to draw in there. You’ve interpreted that very accurately. What’s interesting is I think that the countries basically come, eventually people come, to get the kinds of government that they deserve, that is right for them. That may be very different from the kind of government that we have. It may be different from the kind of democracy that we have. If you look at Russia, for instance, Russia has capitalism, which is good. It also has a very strong leader, which is what they really want. They want a strong leader. They’re not looking for a very heterogeneous democracy where you have 20 parties in the parliament all fighting over each other.

MR. MEDIA: They seem like they want a paternalistic society.

D. ANDELMAN: They do. They are a paternalistic society, exactly, and they want a strong leader. Not every country does. Some countries want a real American-style democracy, but it doesn’t work for everybody. So, yes, I think countries ultimately come to achieve… it may sometimes be at the cost of enormous bloodshed and whatever, but I think they ultimately come to achieve the kind of government that they deserve and their people want, if left alone.

MR. MEDIA: If left alone. It seems like the difference between U.S. involvement in World War I and World War II and the current war in Iraq is that we were pulled kicking and screaming into those first two wars whereas we jumped, almost gleefully, into Iraq. Is that also a correct differentiation?

D. ANDELMAN: Yes, but first let me answer the one question you did ask before. I realized I didn’t answer it, which was about World War II. I think it did set up World War II. There’s no question about that. The intent of the countries, especially the French, was to so weaken Germany politically and economically that they would never rise again. Well, the result was they resulted in huge inflation in Weimar, Germany, mega-inflation. People were out of work. There was enormous unemployment. The country was prostrate so they welcomed a leader like Hitler who came along and promised them to get rid of the Versailles Treaty, which was destroying their economy and their government and their society, and he did that. And that’s what really led to, almost directly to, World War II. There’s no question about that.

MR. MEDIA: We were kind of drawn into World War I and World War II. We didn’t really want to be in either. But in Iraq, it seems like we jumped in. We were really happy to be there and go and blow some stuff up. Is that differentiation correct?

D. ANDELMAN: I think, in some respect. What I think the Presidents, successive Presidents, saw in Saddam Hussein. They saw a Tito in Yugoslavia, who got Saddam out in some fashion. The Iraqi people would find a way on their own, maybe by partition, maybe by setting up a government of their own. The goal was to get rid of Saddam. He was the evil genius like Tito was the Communist leader in Yugoslavia. He died. We didn’t have to go in and get him. There was bloodshed. There was turmoil and then freedom for a lot of these countries in Yugoslavia. They thought the same thing could happen in Iraq. There was no question about that. So I think people went into the war with the best intentions, perhaps, but with not understanding at all the consequences because without understanding, necessarily, the people who are there and what was necessary for this to work itself through. So, you’re right. We were dragged into the other two wars. There’s no question about that. But the question is, were we dragged into Iraq? Well, we certainly were in the first Iraq war. Remember, we came in to rescue Kuwait. That was a pretty good reason for going in. Also to make sure that Kuwait’s oil didn’t flow into Saddam’s hands, but that’s another issue. The second war, I don’t know. The origins of it are so murky at this point and because things have gone so terribly wrong there, it’s hard to say.

BOB ANDELMAN/MR. MEDIA: Could a different result in Versailles have really changed the world’s make-up today for the better?

DAVID ANDELMAN: I think it could have. I think definitely. There’s no question. I think it’s very unlikely that if Saddam would’ve come to power in Iraq, if things had been done differently then, I think that…

MR. MEDIA: No Hitler?

D. ANDELMAN: Oh no. I think if they hadn’t tried to destroy Germany, Hitler might never have come to power. I think that’s entirely possible. There were people like John Maynard Keynes, a very young economist in those days. He had a solution that would’ve worked in terms of reparations, in terms of the kind of payments that Germany was going to have to make and so on. He wrote a book called The Economic Consequences of the Peace after he walked out in disgust from the deliberations in Paris in 1919. If his concepts and if the concepts of others like him who wanted to see a strong but free Germany in the middle of Europe, as an anchor in the middle of Europe, if that had been paid attention to, we might never have had World War II. That’s entirely possible.

MR. MEDIA: I have to say, this seems like one of those Star Trek time paradigms. “If this, then that. If that, then this…”

D. ANDELMAN: Sure. The path not taken. Here we have all of these paths before us after this war. We choose this one. It’s very hard to fight your way back up to start over at square one and go down another path, and that’s what happened.

MR. MEDIA: You’ve written these other two books, The Peacemakers and The Fourth World War. After those books, have you seen that they have had an impact on the debate, on the discussion, and what do you think will happen following A Shattered Peace?

D. ANDELMAN: Well, let’s take The Fourth World War, particularly. It was interesting because that was done in the early 1990s, and terrorism was only just vaguely coming into vogue. The subtitle of the book was “Diplomacy, Espionage, and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism,” and my co-author was a gentleman named the Count de Marenches, who was the long-time head of French intelligence. Our theory was that terrorism was going to be the next major war. It was going to be a North-South conflict. We suggested that the world had to take a number of actions, which they never did, of course, if this was going to be prevented. But the world that we painted as a consequence, it was so frighteningly similar to this world, that I’m kind of hoping that people will see this book as a roadmap as well and do something about it. They didn’t particularly, in the last book, partly because Marenches was a Frenchman, and you know what Americans think of the French!

MR. MEDIA: Oui, oui.

Even more than the thesis of the book, one of the most compelling elements of A Shattered Peace is the colorful details and the anecdotes that you bring to bear on the storytelling. In one place, you quote an aide to then-President Woodrow Wilson, Colonel Edward House, describing the post-war situation of Hungary and suggest — to the reader — replacing Hungary in the reading of it with Iraq and Bolshevism with Al Qaeda. Is it really that similar? Again, we’re drawing that parallel.

D. ANDELMAN: Oh sure. Remember, the fears at the time were colossal in having to do with Bolshevism. Lenin and his people were predicting revolutions in the streets momentarily in London and Liverpool and across France and across Germany. The Communist parties were suddenly rising. There were actually Communist cells in various cities in Germany and even in France. People were desperately afraid in those days that Bolshevism really was the new terrorism in so many ways. It was the root of terrorism. And Lenin was quite definitive that he was going to be there to destroy the Capitalist system and have the Soviets take over across the West. There was a desperate fear. The result was it motivated them into failing to deal with Russia the way they should have and trying to draw them into the international system. That’s my fear now, that we need, in some fashion, to draw the Muslims into the international system more effectively so they feel they have a voice just like Bolshevism might have had a voice in those days.

MR. MEDIA: We always seem to demonize a group whether it’s the Muslims or the North Koreans, the Communists. We have to have someone…There was that whole issue even on…I hate to bring television into this, but the show “24” had that issue over a couple years. It’s like, “Who are we fighting against anymore?” Now, okay, it’s a little more clear, but maybe we’re just demonizing people. Maybe they’re not really…

D. ANDELMAN: Exactly. There certainly are people out there who are suicide bombers and blowing things up and blowing people up. 9/11 was a reality. It was a fact of life. And these are suicide bombers, and these were Muslims. But we can’t demonize all Muslims just like we couldn’t demonize all Russians or even all Bolsheviks. Not all of them wanted to see revolutions and blood running in the streets in the West. We have to find the right people to talk to and then bring them into the system and make sure we understand them.

MR. MEDIA: You mentioned Lenin, and I want to come back to Lenin because, again, this is the storytelling of the book. But a great moment of intrigue in the book is found right up front when future American spymaster Allen Dulles declines to take an urgent call from a Russian revolutionary because he was more interested in keeping a date with a buxom Swiss lass. The caller: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Oops. When and how did you dig up that detail? I love that.

D. ANDELMAN: It’s actually a detail that Dulles loved to tell on himself and on his life. It was actually written in one of his diaries. I found it there. But it’s so emblematic of the kinds of changes in history, these little turning points that could make such enormous differences. A date on a tennis court versus a half-hour conversation at a consulate. It could’ve changed the course of history! And I tried to get across the fact that that is the case very often if we don’t pay enormous attention to detail, it’s the details that can do us in.

MR. MEDIA: Suddenly, I have this flash. I’m thinking of former President Clinton. Maybe if there were a few moments that he had not spent in this little ante room…Well, anyway. I’m getting off-topic. I’m sorry.

D. ANDELMAN: Yeah, my wife and I have discussed that as well.

MR. MEDIA: That’s funny. But I loved that. That was just wonderful color. So I have to ask. Just wrapping up on the Iraq comparisons, do we have any business in Iraq as a government, as a country? And can the adventure there be justified or grounded in history at all?

D. ANDELMAN: We got rid of Saddam Hussein. Now was it up to us to do it, or was it up to the Iraqis themselves to do it? The Iraqis weren’t very successful in doing it so we did it. What would be interesting is to say the first George Bush, did he make a colossal mistake in not finishing things by halting short of Baghdad and saying, “Oh, the Iraqis will take care of it,” or just going in and taking care of it then and then pulling out immediately? We might never have had a second Iraq War if we hadn’t had the first. So I’m not going to say that there weren’t…Huge mistakes were made at every turning point. There’s no question about that. But, again, these are mistakes that we’re now in a position, I think, to rectify in terms of how we deal with this country going forward and what kind of a country we would start to plan for as we withdraw and hope to leave behind. That’s what’s critical, I think.

MR. MEDIA: Up until 2001, I always thought we were the country where we would read books and see movies about how our CIA did these things quietly and behind-the-scenes, and then we would hear about them later. But in the last six or seven years, it seems like the kind of jobs that the CIA did, we’re just out front with them now. We don’t like this dictator. We kill this dictator. We don’t care for this country, Iran. Iran, you’re not doing things we like anymore. We’re no longer the country that talks to or that negotiates. We’re just gonna come along and bomb you. Next! Syria, are you next? It really has changed.

D. ANDELMAN: Well, it has.

MR. MEDIA: It doesn’t seem like there’s been an upswelling of saying, “Hey, we need to start attacking people.” We just started doing it.

D. ANDELMAN: The French have done that. In fact, when I was talking to Marenches, my co-author in the last book, he used to have this thing where there would sometimes be actions, especially in Africa, that he felt it was necessary to be done by the French. It may be a small invasion. It may be assassinating a national leader or whatever. And he’d go in to see the French president. He had an arrangement with every French president. He worked for about four of them. And he would say, “We have to do this and that and this and that,” and he’d say it was a question of raison d’etats. “We have to do this.” And he would then pause, and if the French leader didn’t say anything, he had a go-ahead. But he had to have that 20-second moment when he could say, “No, you can’t do that”. He said it never happened. He was always allowed to do whatever he felt was necessary, often bloody.

MR. MEDIA: Wow. As a writer, I’m always interested in where other writers find details in events that happened in the days before electronic recording and, to some degree, reliable newspaper reporting that we would consider reliable. Can you share a little bit about your research methods and how you decided what was truth and what was fiction from 1919?

D. ANDELMAN: Well, there was a lot written about that at the time, a lot of diaries that were kept. In those days, people didn’t have blogs. They didn’t have emails and whatever. They wrote diaries, and a lot of those diaries were never even published. Some were published in small editions in the early ‘20s up to the early ‘30s, and those I managed to find. Those are pretty easy to find. But a lot of them went into archives, and their papers were deposited in libraries like Columbia or Yale or Princeton or some of the presidential libraries. The Internet was an enormous tool in being able to find these resources and saying to a librarian in some distant archive without having to actually go there, “Listen, I think there’s a diary by William Westerman,” who was the chief advisor to Wilson on the Middle East in the inquiry. And he was a Columbia professor. He kept a very detailed diary. He typed it every night on a little typewriter in his hotel room. And he never published it. It was deposited in the Columbia archives with his papers, and I found that. And it was extraordinarily, extremely detailed. You could cross-reference a lot of these different diaries. People were at the same meeting, different perspectives and so on. And if you did that, you came up with a pretty good portrait of what had actually gone on there.

MR. MEDIA: Let me change gears a little bit, and then we’ll wrap up in a moment or two. You worked for CBS News, I believe, during the Dan Rather era.


MR. MEDIA: Part of that. Do you have any good Dan Rather stories to share? This is Mr. Media, after all.

D. ANDELMAN: I’ll never forget the first time when I was going overseas for CBS. I’d been hired from The New York Times. I’d never really done television or radio very much. I kind of learned it at CBS. So I spent about two or three months in New York before I went overseas. And the week I was leaving, I went in to see Dan, personally, cause I would be on his show a lot. And I said, “Do you have any words of advice?” Sitting there in his inner sanctum with his fish tank behind him and whatever, and he said well, he said let me think. I thought I was going to hear some grand thing about the nature of reporting or the kinds of stories he guesses I was looking for. And he said, “The one thing you should always keep in mind,” he says, “when you’re doing your sign-off, take a little beat pause between the end of what you say and your name. So if you say something and then it’s beat, pause, David Andelman, CBS News, Paris, they’ll remember your name better that way.” That’s my favorite Dan Rather story.

MR. MEDIA: That’s so off where I thought it was gonna go. Wow. Alright. And then let’s talk about Forbes before we run out of time here.


MR. MEDIA: I think this is your first online…

D. ANDELMAN: Yes. I worked briefly for a company called SmallCapCenter.com. I was editor-in-chief during the height of the dotcom boom in 2000, and I saw us balloon up to about 30 editorial people and back down to two, me and another person. And that was a very rapid trajectory, but this is my first real online experience.

MR. MEDIA: How does it differ from your experience at print and broadcast outlets?

D. ANDELMAN: Not that much, believe it or not. I think if you’re a good journalist, a good communicator, you understand what makes a news story, and you can tell a good tale and tell it objectively and quickly and rapidly. If you can write well and really understand what will be interesting to people, I think you can learn to do it in almost any medium. I guess the most difficult transition is print to broadcast or broadcast to print. But the Internet really combines all of those, which is great. We have a video network. We have print and so and so. My experience in that has been perfect for along the entire spectrum. If you’re a good journalist, can tell a good story, know how to ask the right kinds of questions, and then structure it into something that’s understandable and compelling, you can do it in any medium.

MR. MEDIA: During your panel discussion earlier today, you discussed your lack of political affiliation. Why are you not registered with one party or another, and how do you square that with working at Forbes, which is pretty blatantly political in the same way that The Wall Street Journal is political?

D. ANDELMAN: Well, there are parts of Forbes that are. Certainly, Steve’s column is. And Forbes’ title is, the magazine’s title, is the capitalist tool. But one of the things I run is our opinion and op-ed section. And I like to pride ourselves on having really the entire spectrum of opinion on that site. And they’ve been very understanding in doing that. They understand that we are a global website. We are the largest business financial site in the world. We’re in virtually every country. We have a huge readership in India and China and overseas. And we need to really present the news factually and a broad spectrum of opinion, or we’ll never have that kind of a readership. We have 16.5 million readers in an average month. You can’t do that if you become a niche-player. We’re many times, many-fold larger than The Wall Street Journal and WSJ.com, who are our competitors. I don’t usually like to talk about them, and they’re fine. They do a good job, and they’re very objective, for the most part, in their news coverage. They do have an opinion site also which is not so much. It’s more geared toward the right. But we really have prided ourselves on maintaining our objectivity across the whole spectrum.

MR. MEDIA: Finally, what changes and improvements lie ahead for Forbes.com? Will you hire more reporters? Will you break more stories ahead of your print cousin? What’s the future there?

D. ANDELMAN: It’s a great relationship that we have with our print cousin. Recently, a substantial chunk of our equity was bought by Elevation Partners, which includes Bono, the rock singer. What they really want to do is they want to expand us in so many different kinds of ways. They want us to, and they’re starting to buy different kinds of…We just bought Investopedia, for instance, different kinds of websites and so on to sort of bulk up on all that. A lot of our expansion is going to be overseas. We have a Forbes.pl in Polish right now. That was our first beta site overseas. Eventually, we’re going to have Forbes China, Forbes Russia, Forbes Arabia, Forbes Israel, and all the countries with our magazines, there will be websites in that language. And that’s going to be a big part of our growth.

Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great, Albert J. Dunlap, Chainsaw, Mr. Media Interviews
Order ‘Mean Business: How I Save Bad Companies and Make Good Companies Great’ by Albert J. Dunlap with Bob Andelman, available in print, e-book or digital audio from Amazon.com by clicking on the book cover above!

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