Sean Plunket: Me, Mike Moore and 9/11

Sean Plunket 04/02/2020

By Sean Plunket, Magic Afternoons host.

Four days after 9/11 Mike Moore broke a date with me.

We weren’t catching up for dinner or a beer rather I’d arranged an interview with him on the shores of Lake Geneva at the headquarter of the World Trade Organisation where Mike was Director General.

It had taken months to arrange as part of an EU sponsored junket looking at the then burgeoning anti-globalisation lobby which has now morphed into the globalised climate change movement.

I’d arranged interviews in Brussels, Dublin, Berlin and London and amongst the luminaries I was due to meet was George Monbiot, now second only to Greta Thunberg in the rebranding of the movement. But first stop on Sept 14th, 2001 was Geneva for a catch up with Mike Moore.

As a gallery journalist in the late eighties I’d watch Moore do his part in the revolution that was Rogernomics, roll Geoffrey Palmer as PM, then run a frenetic but ultimately fruitless campaign in which he lost to Jim Bolger who formed the first MMP government.

He’d been a hell of Trade Minister and that most rare of politicians, someone you actually warmed to and liked. I called him Mike, he called me Tiny.

In the classic Kiwi vernacular Mike was a 'good bastard'

So, as I planned my European trip, I imagined a beer with Mike on the shores of Lake Geneva would be the ideal way to get a handle on my subject matter.

Osama Bin Laden had other ideas. After hosting an epic edition of Morning Report on the day of the attacks I found my flights to Europe (originally via the U.S.) rerouted east through Asia and I arrived in Geneva as the dark curtain of airline security and border control was coming down across Europe.

I checked into my Geneva Hotel the night before my scheduled meeting at the WTO and struck conversation with the international flight crew of the Sultan of Brunei’s private DC 10 who were forbidden to take off due to the fact that their captain was Lebanese. (I later discovered he was a Christian who’d flown for the U.S. Army in Vietnam.)

I was still confident I would get to see Mike at the appointed time of 10:30 the next morning.

Fat chance.

For those of you who haven’t experienced European officialdom first-hand don’t be in a rush to try. I turned up at the appointed time at the palatial WTO headquarters only to be told The Director General would not be available. Not just that, he wouldn’t now be able to see me at all.

It seemed that in the wake of 9/11 major disruption was expected to world trade and ambassadors and envoys were flooding into Geneva to try and figure out how to minimise the damage.

One particularly obnoxious flunky was an American who acted as if he was somehow privy to all of Mike’s inner thoughts and told me Director General Moore had asked him to pass on his apologies for breaking our date.

I called bullshit on that but to no avail and was politely told to go back to my hotel and enjoy my time in Geneva. I did manage to get the flunky’s name and title so I could hassle him by phone for the next three days of my visit.

It seemed I had struck out and I headed back to my hotel despondent.

I shouldn’t have been. I reconnected with my friends from the Sultan’s plane who were, like me, in limbo awaiting security clearance to take off. The had extremely generous allowances and took me under their wing to show me the sights.

It was a glorious two days with some remarkable people interspersed with increasingly angry messages left for my American nemesis at WTO hq.

Three days later I was due to depart for London but thought I’d give Mike one last shot. I got a cab to the WTO, unloaded my luggage in lobby and asked at the front desk for my oh so helpful American friend.

He turned up in short order and looked right pissed at me until Mike strolled through the lobby and saw me.

“Tiny what the hell are you doing here? I was told you didn’t make it.”

Well that created a whole change in attitude.

In short order I found myself in the Director General’s Office and Mr America was dispatched to get cheese and ham toasted sandwiches, cigarettes and Steinlagers.

What followed was a fascinating hour of conversation looking out on the serene beauty of the Lake. Somehow my trip was back on course.

But it had to end as the American functionary finally interrupted to say the Saudi Trade Ambassador really couldn’t be kept waiting any longer.

Mike shook me by the hand and asked his courtier to bring his limousine round so I could get to the airport.

“There’s a phone in the car Tiny, give home a bell.”

Thanks Mike

Sean Plunket is host of Magic Afternoons, weekdays midday to 4pm.