Breaking Down News: Courtroom Drama

Breaking Down News: Courtroom Drama

Irrespective of the dreams of TV personalities, a channel is just a medium of communication.

Donald Trump, Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff, Donald Trump Michael Wolff
Copies of the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by author Michael Wolff are seen at the Book Culture book store in New York, U.S. January 5, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

The only judicial revolution ever to be televised is still on our screens. Usually, such things are conducted sub rosa, in camera, but private consultations failed and we have been seeing the action play out in public view. There has been some discomfort over the ongoing TV show of a “rebellion” and what it spells for the stature of the apex court. But is this a rebellion? The chief justice is first among equals with his four colleagues in judicial matters, and no higher authority exists to rebel against. He is fractionally higher only in administrative matters, in the apportioning of cases, and even in that matter, he is bound by norms. So the rebellion, if any, is no more than a procedural drama.

Besides, to say that the four judges went to the media is to reduce not only them, but also the issue at stake. They went to the people, the final court of appeal in a democracy. The media were only a conduit. The singular, which has fallen into disuse, gives it away — medium. Irrespective of the mad dreams of TV personalities, a channel is just a medium of communication.

There’s Fire and Fury overseas, too. Michael Wolff’s expose of stupidity and worse in the Trump White House promised to hit a million copies in the first week. This was apart from fabulous ebook sales — which may taper off, since it’s become one of the fastest pirated books ever. Macmillan imprint Henry Holt, the US publisher, which has already sold lakhs of copies and has orders for lakhs more, was served a cease and desist notice by Trump’s lawyers. Instead of complying, it speeded up its printing schedule, arguing that the book is an “extraordinary contribution” to the global debate about the Trump presidency. Why US publishers have the confidence to resist attempts at censorship from the highest office, while international imprints in India with deep pockets buckle when they are threatened by the lowest cultural mobsters, bears thinking about. It may have something to do with the certainty that people who threaten physical violence will be dealt with.

The West Wing, where Michael Wolff had embedded himself, has a handout titled West Wing Reads. Not exactly what the West Wing is reading, but what they would like you to read. The latest hits: The New York Post writing about how a very little wall has protected El Paso from the minatory dangers of Juarez, just across the Mexico border, the Washington Examiner editorialising on Fiat Chrysler’s decision to move ram truck production from Mexico to Michigan, lured by lower taxes, and The Hill reporting that the White House has hired women in record numbers in high offices. Strictly promotional material, though the last is open to interpretation, given the president’s personal reputation.


Al Jazeera is leading the field in coverage of Trump’s decision to withhold almost half the US funding for the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), which will reduce funding for the Palestinian poor by at least 15 per cent. Other publications in the region, with varying sympathies, are also urging a rethink. Especially because the cut was proposed under the rather cheap logic that while Americans underwrite the lives of Palestinians, who do nothing for them in return. And also because this comes on the heels of Trump’s controversial acceptance of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and would overturn old realities. But The Jerusalem Post stands a little apart, asking, ‘Is it time for a hostile takeover of UNRWA?’

Perhaps the most thought-provoking interview this month was barely noticed in India — Fareed Zakaria spoke to Sebastian Thrun, the father of the self-driving car, who now proposes to take to the skies. The flying car has been a staple of science fiction, from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Blade Runner, for a very good reason — air travel is easier to deploy and safer than ground transport because there is one more dimension to steer in. Thrun, the industry leader in robotics, has been offering joy-rides on a personal aircraft which anyone who can play Space Invaders can fly safely, and he believes that personal air transport is years rather than decades away.

And finally, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has carried a tremendous headline, following 38 minutes of local terror and international hysterics following a false incoming missile alert in Hawaii. In letters tall enough to cover a third of the tabloid page, it spelled: ‘Oops!’ Global headlines may have been rather different if the great powers had taken the alert seriously for more than a few minutes. With the Cold War history, perhaps alert systems are getting a bit rusty. Maybe they should be dusted off, because recent technological triumphs in North Korea make false alarms much more credible than they would have been a decade ago.