The "A" Spotlight: Bradley Hope
Before that, he spent six years as a correspondent in the Middle East, where he covered the Arab Spring uprisings from Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis and Beirut.
He is the co-author of “Blood and Oil,” a look inside the royal family of Saudi Arabia and its powerful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and the New York Times bestseller Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World, about the global 1MDB scandal and Jho Low.
Anuvada: When did you decide that you wanted to jump from writing articles for Wall Street Journal to write books?
Bradley Hope: I think most journalists start out thinking they want to be a writer. I was always a book worm as a kid and loved being transported to other worlds or taken on adventures. I loved stories. But it wasn’t until I went to university that I realized that journalism was by true calling – true stories. As you work on bigger articles, a natural craving arises to go even bigger. Now that wI’ve written a book, I’m always looking for my next one. There’s no going back to small articles.
A: You have been always connected with financial articles and in “Billion Dollar Whale” you were able to discover Malaysia's Biggest-Ever Corruption. How was the process of writing this book? How long it took you?
BH: The book was the culmination of two years of investigating at the Wall Street Journal, aided by an international team of reporters, and then a further year of Tom and I digging even deeper on our own for the book. So the process of getting the details for the book was long and complicated. The writing we mostly accomplished over the course of several months of intensive and focused work.
A: I would like to understand how you as a writer feel when you are managing such as confidential information. Do you understand the risk that involves writing something like Billion Dollar Whale? How is the verification process of confidential information?
BH: Confidential information and sources are really important to investigative reporting. We always take special precautions around cybersecurity and how we store our notes and reporting. And we use encrypted communication systems to maintain our relationships with sources and making ourselves findable by those sources – that’s mostly to protect them from retaliation or worse. Verification of material is also tricky, but it’s a crucial part of the process. You always try to triangulate things in as many ways as possible to make sure you’re reflecting the truth.
A: Cryptocurrency is a big topic right now. Do you think it is the perfect place for money
laundry or corruption?
BH: Money launderers will use any innovation they can and, in many cases, they are the people innovating. I don’t think cryptocurrency is any better for money laundering than using shell companies in the offshore world. In fact, in many ways cryptocurrency is worse for money launderers because the entire transaction history is public on the blockchain (in most cases). All law enforcement needs to figure out what’s happening is finding out who owns a wallet. With a dollar-related money laundering case, they have to file mutual legal assistance treaty requests around the world, subpoena banks and other time-consuming tasks.
A:You spend 6 years of your life covering the Arab Spring. Could you tell us how it is work in such an environment?
BH: It was a thrilling time to be a journalist. There was so much hope and excitement in the early days of Egypt and Libya, followed by fear and sadness as the pendulum swung back toward disfunction and authoritarianism. As a journalist, every day was simply fascinating and I look back on it as the most foundational period for me as a journalist – where I learned to get places that are hard to get to and talk to people from different backgrounds and cultures.
A: In February, the US has carried out an airstrike targeting Iran-backed militias in Syria. What do you think is next In Middle East Political Situation?
BH: I don’t have any crystal ball on what’s happening next, but I’m always watching with great interest how the Gulf countries in particular are developing. What happens now in Saudi Arabia and the UAE has big reverberations across the whole region. Just look at what happened with the UAE-led normalization with Israel – overnight the whole feel of the Middle East changed dramatically. With Iran, it’s one of those situations where things move forward and backwards but never too far one way or the other. I tend to think it will stay that way for a long time.
BH: I think the plan is to always look for the next, biggest story that I’m passionate about and devote myself to understanding it and telling the world about it in the best way possible. I love reporting and writing books. As I said earlier, the Middle East and the Gulf is a part of the world I’m always interested to observe and learn more about, so it was a natural fit for me to dig into MBS’s rise to power.
A: A US report said that Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) order to kill Jamal Khashoggi. After describing him really well in your book. Do you think he is really worried about this case or the perception that the world would have about his country? What do you think is going to happen next?
BH: The global backlash to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi undoubtedly has hurt the reputation of Saudi Arabia and MBS. It’s one of those problems that is incalculably expensive – no billions of dollars can really cleanse that problem away. But it doesn’t mean they won’t try. I think everything MBS does now is to prove to the world he’s not a bloodthirsty tyrant, even if he acts decisively and sometimes recklessly. His hope will be that his actions over time will tell a better story.
A: We are worried about how much news or social media are dividing people instead of bringing them together with a lot of fake news everywhere. How is the ideal solution for this topic?
BH: For me it’s all about trying to read things in a balanced way – you can go on Twitter and Facebook, but you should also visit a number of newspapers directly every day and keep an open mind. Often you can learn a lot from reading the same news story in multiple newspapers – it prevents that polarizing effect you might get if you read just one incendiary version.
A: As a writer, what do you think about Twitter bans on Ex-President Donald Trump? It is not the only one but it seems that the line of the freedom of speech has been crossed with those bans.
BH: I’d say I’m against any kind of ban on freedom of speech, including in this instance.
A: What is your advice to young journalists that aims to be at the top like you?
BH: The most important thing is to get reporting and writing, no matter how small of an article you start out with. And the second most important thing is to always be striving for something bigger – a more impactful investigation, a longer narrative with character development and good writing, a smarter essay. You can’t be a journalist if you’re not writing and you can’t grow unless you’re always setting your sights on something bigger.
A: The last question is about your new project: “Project Brazen”, it seems exciting. Tell us a bit about what we will find there.
BH: Tom and I wanted to devote ourselves to storytelling full-time in any medium that makes sense. These days audiences are so dispersed. Some people get all their information from podcasts and others read books, while some just wait for the TV version. We want to be active in all those areas. And we also are loving being entrepreneurs and understanding how to make it work. We’re excited!