The Washington Post article on prime minister Manmohan Singh, by its India bureau chief Simon Denyer, has stirred up yet another media tsunami, after Time magazine’s “Underachiever” cover.
The government’s media handlers have gone into a tailspin, demanding an “apology” from the Post, even labelling it “yellow journalism”, while the government’s detractors are celebrating another ‘new low’ for a government that plumbs new depths on an hourly basis.
The 9pm TV shows went ballistic on Wednesday and Simon Denyer appeared on several of them, forcefully arguing his case.
But there is a developing sideshow as well. Many readers have suggested some similarities in the Post report with a long profile of Manmohan in the monthly magazine The Caravan in October 2011 written by the magazine’s editor, Vinod K. Jose.
Now, one of the people “quoted” in the story, former media advisor to the PM, Sanjaya Baru, has “protested” on his Facebook account (below) that the WaPo reporter had lifted his statement from Caravan.
“Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year,” wrote Baru.
The prime minister’s media advisor Pankaj Pachauri too has broached the issue of rehashing Baru’s quotes in a letter to the Post.
Simon Denyer offers this response on Twitter (top):
“I spoke to Dr Baru personally on the telephone during the reporting for the story. He confirmed that these sentiments were accurate.”
One other worthy quoted in the WaPo article apparently allowed the reporter to use his Caravan quotes, but there is no suggestion in the Post article that the quotes had appeared elsewhere.
So, are the Indian intellectuals protesting too much, post-facto?
Or, is there more to the WaPo piece than meets the eye?
The Caravan: The prominent historian Ramachandra Guha, who has described the current administration as “inept and incompetent beyond words”, told me that he now regards Singh “increasingly as a tragic figure”.
“He’s intelligent, upright, and possesses all this vast experience of working in the government for over four decades,” Guha said. “But the timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty will make him a tragic figure in our history.”
Washington Post: “More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,” said political historian Ramachandra Guha, describing a man fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.”
The Caravan: “He is facing the worst situation in his life,” said Sanjaya Baru, a business journalist who served as Singh’s media adviser from 2004 to 2008. “In politics, it’s alright to be loved or hated, but you should never be ridiculed. And his problem today is that he has become an object of ridicule.”
Washington Post: “In the process, he transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life, said Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media adviser during his first term.”
The Caravan: “In a 2006 interview with the American talk-show host Charlie Rose, Manmohan Singh described himself, with ostentatious modesty, as a small person put in this big chair.”
Washington Post: “I’m a small person put in this big chair,” Singh told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006. “I have to do my duty, whatever task is allotted of me.”
So, lazy journalism, oversight, or is OK?
Update: The Washington Post has posted this correction after the sans serif piece:
Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks. The article has been updated.
Also read: Is slamming govt “yellow journalism”?
External reading: Why is India so touchy?