While the rest of India observed Kargil Vijay Divas by remembering the soldiers who fought the high-altitude war, Arnab Goswami observed it by remembering his competitors. In a paranoid preamble to his prime time discussion show hashtagged #ProPakDovesSilent, he raved about “a section of pseudo-liberals [who] should ask themselves whether they have a right to comment, to speak, or to write one word on the Kargil bravehearts, when many of these pseudo-liberals have been vilifying our army, abusing our army, and pressurising our army and our paramilitary forces operating in the most hostile of circumstances in Jammu and Kashmir nonstop, day after day and week after week.”
Goswami’s specific target in TV media was former colleague Barkha Dutt, who responded with a withering Facebook post. But his Goebbelsian diatribe was framed as a call to public action against a whole class of citizens, from television anchors to students who do not share his views: “In the guise of backing Kashmiris, this section including sections of the media are doing everything possible to support Pakistan sitting here in India and they call themselves Indian liberals, Indian media. They are Indian pseudo-liberals and certainly not real Indian media. They’re supporting Pakistan, directly or indirectly they are supporting the ISI, supporting Rawalpindi, supporting Hafeez Saeed…”
Isn’t there a law against instigating a mob? But on second thoughts, it’s just the familiar gang of trolls out there. And the idea of putting the screws on journalists lets the air out of what could have been a high-minded nationalist narrative. It is so bizarre, culminating with the threat of a striptease on the sets of Times Now, that it must be quoted in full: “Do these people compromise our national security or not? Your and my security? And if they do, which we know they do, why do you think we let them get away? Why don’t we take on these people? Why don’t we start exposing, one by one, bit by bit, part by part but in a thought-out manner?”
Superhero comics, which anticipate reality with frightening accuracy, thrive on the stock figure of the malevolent clown — the Joker and Two-Face in Batman’s Gotham, for instance. Following a few setbacks in recent months, such as batting for the losing side on JNU, and doing a poodle-tame interview of the Prime Minister, has Goswami finally become that malevolent clown, for real? Or was the trigger the realisation that he can never go to Pakistan, where all important journalists seem to wander at will?
Good heavens, even Rajnath Singh is going to Pakistan, but the moth-eaten Pakistani generals who appear on Times Now to be thrashed for money, who owe him, would never dream of inviting Goswami over. Not the singlest, tiniest kebab will come his way. All the goodies are for the Track II-wallahs and human candelabras at Wagah. Honestly, it’s enough to send anyone over the edge. Goswami parted ways with journalism a long time ago, and now the transmogrification is complete. Paresh Rawal loved that show, you know.
Some kind of transformation is on at WikiLeaks, too. The Iraq war documents leak, the last big coup, had been made available under embargo to news organisations the world over — Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, the New York Times and so on. It wasn’t curation, but at least some third party filtering happened, in the sense that the papers tried to make sense of the cables. But the present leak of emails form the Democratic National Convention followed a very straightforward production line: alleged Russian hackers dump to WikiLeaks; WikiLeaks dumps to the world. Julian Assange has always fetishised raw data — and with good reason — but the total rejection of curation is rather pointless. In this case, do we know that all the emails which we need to see were dumped, and that the perceived bias of the campaign managers in favour of Hillary Clinton is real, and not a statistical illusion? It’s an important question, since Clinton had taken a dim view of the Iraq war logs, and Assange doth mislike her.
Speaking of illusion and reality, fake travel bills are the stuff of legend in journalism, filed by correspondents who were not precisely where the dateline stated they were. The most extraordinary in the annals of Indian media concerned a bill for rum for an elephant. The only mode of transport in the remote parts where the correspondent claimed to be, it was fuelled exclusively by Hercules and Old Monk.
A particularly fine travel bill surfaced this week, and it’s real. Filed 47 years ago by Buzz Aldrin, it claimed $33.31 for incidental travel expenses incurred in the course of an extremely important journey. The itinerary read: Houston, Cape Kennedy, Moon, Pacific Ocean, return to Houston. Modes of transport included military aircraft, an Essex class aircraft carrier and, of course, Apollo 11, in which Aldrin had piloted the lunar module, Eagle.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘The Birth of Two-Face’)