Why Arnab Goswami lied, and used Rajdeep Sardesai's story, about covering Gujarat riots
Journalists ideally speak truth to power, poor Goswami can't even speak the truth.
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Some things in journalism are non-negotiable - firstly, never let down a source even if that means going to jail to protect the identity of the source. Secondly, if you start inventing facts you are a fantasist not a journalist. Truth and facts are what we live by. So is Arnab even a journalist any more? Or just a TV entertainer?
I know Arnab Goswami and have had several encounters with him, one where he betrayed extreme pettiness, but I was truly shocked when senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai clinically unmasked him as a fantasist passing off what happened to Sardesai while covering the 2002 riots as his own (Goswami's) experience while giving a speech in Assam.
Wow! My friend Arnab claims his car attacked next to CM Res in Guj riots! Truth:he wasn't covering Ahmedabad riots!! https://t.co/xOe7zY8rCp— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) September 19, 2017
Fekugiri has its limits, but seeing this, I feel sorry for my profession. https://t.co/xOe7zY8rCp— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) September 19, 2017
So, why did Goswami, who has always been an armchair warrior going to battle from the comforts of his studio against tame Pakistani generals whom his networks pays lavishly to take the punishment, make up such a whopper?
Clearly, we live in a post-truth world when a senior editor can brazenly pass off the experience of a former colleague as his own. While Freud would have delighted in Goswami's obsession with Sardesai (of such Herculean proportions) that he practically wants to be Rajdeep, it's still astonishing what he did.
Yuval Harari, author of bestseller Sapiens, would suggest, in this context to understand such blatant lies, look at the fault lines in the culture of journalism... the tussle between the duty to speak the truth and the comfort of opting for patronage.
This actually explains what Goswami did pretty well. When the incident happened, Goswami had still not morphed into Modi's little right-wing megaphone providing comfort and succour to the BJP night after night from the Republic TV bully pulpit. What it does reveal is Goswami's extremely elastic belief system and an extremely problematic relationship with the truth.
I asked Dilip Cherian, image guru and a former journalist, why he thought Goswami had come up with his fantasy. Cherian said: "Lies are sometimes a product of when an image that's crafted, often for corporate purposes (TRPs) gets confused for reality. In individuals this is called delusional, in organisations it's even more detrimental."
But with Republic being the organisation Goswami runs - which is owned by a select clutch of Modi supporters - this embarrassment is likely to bounce off him lightly having no consequences, unlike Jayson Thomas Blair, who was forced to resign from The New York Times in 2003 after the discovery of plagiarism and falsification of his stories.
Closer home, a former Hindustan Times editor had to quit after it was revealed that his entire column with his byline was plagiarised. However, HT has not acted against an editor found to have close links with an arms dealer.
Sardesai called Goswami's claims "fekugiri" and after the speech was pulled down by YouTube yesterday (September 19), it's pretty much an evidence of guilt by Goswami. But the man who rails against the Lutyens' establishment and the "cosy cabal" of journalists has still not felt the need to offer an apology. An explanation at this point might be beyond even the veteran shape shifter that Goswami is. If somebody else had been exposed, Goswami with his ever wagging finger would have been conducting marathon debates whipping himself up in hysteria. Now he's as silent as a mouse even as fellow journalists heap ridicule on him.
Goswami is a telling study. A journalist who was never a reporter, but turned into a sort of televangelist bully with an instinctive sense of which way the public wind was blowing. No attempt at balance, at the facts and that every story has two sides, he is symptomatic of the crisis of the TV insanity industry in India.
Under the guise of "news", easy targets are picked and hatchet jobs done every night with viewer nodding approvingly. The viewers think they are getting "news" with endless tickers, the urgent flames at the bottom of the screen, the incessant slanging matches, the hounding of public figures in aircraft and then the pretence that the intrepid reporters ferreting out the "truth" were attacked. What the viewers who watch this Roman circus get is "biased opinion" which should be on a general entertainment channel and not passed off as news.
ABP's senior editor Abhisar Sharma, who has done extensive field reporting, says: "Arnab is the gentleman eulogised by the ruling party BJP and its supporters as the best thing that has ever happened to journalism. He keeps mum on the powers to be and still questions the opposition. It also reeks of opportunism as he even gets the clip deleted. He obviously never answers anyone. He provokes the extreme elements by branding some journalists as anti-nationals? This is the post-truth era as sycophants of the post-truth politics masquerade as journalists."
Sharma has a point. How do real news channels compete with a fake news producing entity?
As far as my own experiences with Goswami, I was interviewing Ajit Jogi, the then CM of Chhattisgarh, who did not like my questions and walked off. His security threatened me and wanted the tapes. Goswami was next in line to interview Jogi. As I refused to give away the tapes and my terrified cameramen were visibly shaking, Goswami did not say a word, or come to the rescue of a colleague. He watched in bemused silence as I fought and then walked out without handing over the tapes. The TV warrior was completely missing in action.
The second time was while doing a public service stop for a health company on walking. Goswami refused to air it on Times Now saying he could not promote rival anchors.
Editor Sagarika Ghosh described him as Billy Bunter post the unmasking, I would add quite a mean-spirited fantasist Bunter.
Journalists ideally speak truth to power, poor Arnab Goswami can't even speak the truth.
(Editor's note: This post was modified after it was published.)