The limits of journalism under fire are being probed in the US. Donald Trump made droll headlines the world over with a press conference in which he attempted to defend his embattled candidate for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, by pointing out that all the charges against him refer back to his distant past. In those remote times, it appeared, he drank a little deeper than his peers.
In contrast, Trump claimed, he did not drink at all himself. Several photographs, some fairly current, militate against this assertion, but that’s beside the point in a post-truth society. “It is one of my only good traits,” he said, and tried to imagine the mess he would be in if he did drink. That caused so much hilarity that few noticed that at the same press conference, he also had a go at a journalist who had asked too many questions: “Hey, you! Yes, you, you’ve had enough.” Just like a bartender hustling off a drunk.
Trump also found the time to attack Cecilia Vega, senior White House correspondent for ABC News. “She’s shocked that I picked her,” he gloated. “Like, in a state of shock.” “I’m not, thank you, Mr President,” began Vega, and was quickly cut off by Trump: “That’s OK, I know you’re not thinking. You never do.” In more civil times, it would have taken the White House months to weather the storm that would have followed this wilful confusion between ‘think’ and ‘thank’. But in this case, a little tweak sufficed to make a difference. Wisely, the official White House transcript had the word ‘thinking’ changed to ‘thanking’ in Trump’s response.
Vega was not the only person mocked by Trump. Consider this baldly accusing CNN headline: ‘White House denies Trump was mocking Kavanaugh accuser after Trump mocks Kavanaugh accuser.’ And all this is happening close on the heels of the entire UN General Assembly bursting into peals of laughter as Trump claimed to head the administration with “the most accomplishments in US history.” Trump earned more laughter by commenting, “That’s not the reaction I was expecting.”
Here at home, the most stirring story was the farmers’ stir, which sought to bring its grievances to Delhi and was stopped at the border with water cannon by the Delhi Police, while the chief minister demanded to know why they should not be let in. Maybe because in the race memory of the city’s politicians and administrators lingers the image of Mahendra Singh Tikait camping at the Boat Club and refusing to be dislodged.
His son Naresh Tikait, who is leading the present agitation, travelled lighter. He brought 25,000 people victualled for a siege with bananas and plastic packs of water. His father’s troops were better provided for, with kitchens feeding them, and had lasted the course. In his press conference, Sambit Patra declared: “Those who are trying to enter Delhi are not farmers but traitors.” Thirty years ago, no one had the temerity to invite the animus of farmers.
Looking ahead to the next week, two issues will definitely rise above the ground clutter. First, the Centre has announced a cut of Rs 2.50 per litre on fuel prices, which have been skyrocketing, and have been reported day to day with the fidelity that is usually reserved for the onset of the monsoon. A tiny rebate after a dramatic rise is not calculated to please.
Rather, it will invite speculation on whether fuel prices are fixed, or market-determined, or election-determined. Another story which should command attention is the deportation of seven Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. It marks a change of course, in a nation which has been traditionally committed to providing a safe haven to refugees, TV studios could serve next week as a sounding board for public opinion.
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