Tag Archives: James Fallows

Swamy and his media friends (and enemies)

In the latest issue of Tehelka magazine, Ashok Malik has a profile of the “irrepressible” Subramanian Swamy, the maverick economist-politician behind the 2G spectrum allocation scam.

The profile is occasioned by Harvard University’s recent decision to not renew Swamy’s teaching contract for a venomous column in DNA in July on “How to wipe out Islamic terror“:

“There’s an old story about Subramanian Swamy that even if apocryphal and probably untrue still merits retelling simply because it’s part of urban folklore in Lutyens’ Delhi.

“One day, a powerful editor with a blackmailing tendency walked into Swamy’s basement office in his south Delhi residence, and threw a sheaf of papers on the table.

“‘Dr Swamy,’ he thundered, ‘I have a file on you.’

“Unperturbed, Swamy reached out for a folder in his bottom drawer, placed them on the desk and said, calmly, with the chilling certitude so typical of his voice, ‘Mr Editor, I have a file on you’.”

Swamy, who is currently seeking to re-enter Parliament through the BJP, brought down the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 1998 by getting arch-rivals Sonia Gandhi and Jayalalitha to drink tea together; another matter of course that Sonia is now a prime target of Swamy and Jayalalitha’s recent court appearances are based on a Swamy plea.

“At the end of the day, Swamy is trusted by few but ignored by even fewer. He can plug into extremely diverse social groups — serious economists, the loony right, the Janata parivar, the TamBrahm fraternity. He can hold both Ram Setu and N. Ram [the Marxist editor-in-chief of The Hindu] close to his heart (or profess to).

“For all his right-wing politics, the Hindu has been a loyal platform and publisher. His dogs have come from N. Ram’s litter, as indeed have Sonia Gandhi’s dogs — but that’s another contradiction, for Swamy to spin another day.”

Elsewhere, Swamy becoming persona non grata for Harvard thanks to his newspaper columns provides occasion for James Fallows, the national correspondent of The Atlantic Monthly, to recount the role played by Swamy in his getting into journalism:

“In the late 1960s, I had been a freshman at Harvard, ready to study around the clock in preparation for medical school. To earn extra money I had signed up as an ad salesman for the Crimson, and during the unbelievably bleak and frigid January “reading period” of my sophomore year, I was in the newspaper’s office one night, laying out an ad dummy for the next day’s paper.

“All the regular writers and editors were gone, cramming before final exams to make up for the courses they had skipped through the semester. So when a variety of fire alarms and sirens started going off, for what proved to be a big fire at the Economics Department building, I was the one on hand to run out after grabbing a camera and a reporter’s notebook.

“I had seen snow only once in my life before going to college; and in my high school jobs, manning smudge pots in the local Southern California orange groves on “cold” nights, we would trade tales about whether human beings could actually survive exposure to temperatures that dipped below 32F. But at the Economics Department, it was so cold — well below 0 F back in those pre-warming days — that the Cambridge Fire Department had trouble putting out the fire: water from the hoses would freeze in the air.

“I saw an upset-looking gentleman alongside me watching the fire. I asked why he was there. He said that all the notes and research for his current book, inside that building, was literally going up in smoke. That was Subramanian Swamy, then a young economics instructor. I wrote up his story in the paper — my first story for the Crimson, and the beginning of my shift from the ad staff (and pre-med) to the news staff.”

Let the record show that Swamy’s daughter Suhasini Haidar is a journalist with CNN-IBN; his sister-in-law Coomi Kapoor is a consulting editor with the Indian Express as is her husband Virendra Kapoor, a former editor of the Free Press Journal.

Let the record also show that James Fallows had narrated this story in 1996 at a commencement address at the Meddill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Photograph: courtesy Shailendra Pandey/ Tehelka

Also read: Does Swamy‘s DNA column amount to incitement?

Is UPA hitting back at TOI, India Today, DNA?

Swamy & friends: a very, very short story


‘China Daily’ hands back occupied areas to India

Tongue firmly in cheek, James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly (a one-time resident of Beijing) calls it “the world’s finest daily”. Two weeks ago it began to appear on the streets of the United States.

Now, “China Daily” has spread its wings to India.

A 24-page edition of the weekly tabloid, printed in Hong Kong and priced at Rs 10, appeared in Delhi on the weekend, tucked into one of the business dailies (not The Hindu Business Line).

Barring a two-page spread of ads of serviced apartments in Hong Kong, the edition is almost completely free of any kind of advertising, except for an in-house ad (above) advertising its availibility in India.

The storylist of the inaugural November 25-December 1 is decidedly nationalistic. The cover story, headlined “Brand Global“, talks of Chinese brands likely to make up the next wave of household items.

Many of the other stories would warm the cockles of Pravda staffers. “Key gas pact signed with Turkmentistan” and “China, Brunei ink energy deals” are the headlines of news stories. There is an opinion piece on East Asia not being a US playground and another warning US against spying activities.

The only India components in the launch issue are an opinion piece by former Hindu and Indian Express analyst C. Raja Mohan on Indo-Pak ties, and a full-page profile of the PC-maker Lenovo’s India head, by a correspondent in Calcutta.

For a “Made in China” product, quality control in “China Daily” is still not cuting edge yet: two different stories on pages 4 and 5, one on China’s global brands and the other on intellectual property laws, carry the same intro: “China is bracing for a leap forward in marketing and promotion of its products across the world.”

No, wait, it is not a mistake; the stories are actually linked, just that the editors thought that a common intro would convey China’s much-renowned sense of uniformity better.

Indian nationalists and nuisance-makers might, however, like to take a second look at the map of India in the issue-ad (on page 6) in the launch issue, which only shows the parts of Kashmir as being occupied by Pakistan and not the parts occupied by China (as a New York Times map, above, shows) .

Surprisingly, though, unlike The Economist which repeatedly faces troubles at the hands of Indian censors for the “inaccurate depiction of India’s borders”, China Daily has sailed through.

Also read: The Hindu and the scribe who was told to shut up

How New York Times stumped Indian censors

Censored, but no copies of Economist have been confiscated

Can only people of Indian origin save journalism?

James Fallows, an instrument-rated pilot, onetime software programme designer, and a 25-year magazine veteran, has a important article in the June issue of The Atlantic Monthly on the efforts being made by Google™ to fix the news business after having played a stellar role in breaking it.

Google’s logic: we are all in it together. If news organisations producing great journalism wither away, the search engine will no longer have interesting stuff to link to.

In other words, Google’s initiative is part commercial, part civic.

Fallows talks to Google engineers and strategists and of the half-a-dozen people quoted in the article are three people of Indian origin: Krishna Bharat, the Bangalorean who founded Google News; Neal Mohan, who is in charge of working with publishers to develop online display ads; and Nikesh Arora, president of its global sales operations.

And to check whether Google’s efforts are beginning to pay off, Fallows troops down to The Washington Post and meets the company’s chief digital officer—Vijay Ravindran.

Read the full article: How to save the news

Also read: If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we…?

James Fallows‘ commencement speech at Medill

How US forces hunted down Reuters staffers

In July 2007, two employees of the Reuters news agency were among several killed in Iraq when US military forces opened fire on them. Saeed Chmagh, 40, a driver with the agency with a wife and four children, and Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22, a war photographer, were among those killed.

The US military claimed the victims died in battle between US forces and insurgents, and that the conduct of the pilots and guncrew was “in accordance with laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement”. Reuters filed for the video of the attack to be made public under the US’s Freedom of Information Act.

The full video, shot from the primary helicopters, is now up on wikileaks and it is blood-curdling for the casualness with which civilians are hunted down. James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine calls the video the “most damaging documentation of abuse since Abu-Ghraib”.

“As you watch, imagine the reaction in the US if the people on the ground had been Americans and the people on the machine guns had been Iraqi, Russian, Chinese, or any other nationality.”

From 2003-2009, a total of 139 journalists have been killed in Iraq in the line of duty.

Visit the site: www.collateralmurder.com

Media freedom is what separates India & China

No media debate on Asia is complete with0ut comparing India to China, or vice-versa. Even among middle-class media consumers, there is a barely disguised contempt for the slow pace of growth in democratic India, for all the “obstacles” in the path of progress and development, compared with the frenetic pace in The Middle Kingdom.

But is there a comparison to be made at all?

Is China really in India’s league, notwithstanding the growth rate, the forex reserves, etc? This is a CNN video of its Beijing correspondent attempting to go to Tiananmen Square on 4 June 2009, the 20th anniversary of the massacre, before being engulfed by umbrella-weilding “undercover” police.

As the legendary Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows, now based in Beijing, writes:

“This is the kind of thing that makes you hold your head and say: Rising major power in the world?”

And this, on top of a ban on Twitter and Facebook, and censorship of television stories which begin with “In China today…” or “Twenty years ago in Bei….”

Also read: James Fallows: The June 4 report

T.J.S. George in China: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

Does western media treat India with kid gloves?

The manner in which the “western media” covers India has, for long, been a pet peeve of patriots and expatriates.

Poverty, disease, death, despair, corruption, communal violence… these are the only things that capture the attention of the “arrogant”, “condescending”, “patronising” foreign correspondent based in India, is the setpiece argument.

Well, guess what, Chinese patriots and expatriates believe the western media is giving India a free ride while ganging up against their country.

On James Fallows‘ superb blog, an overseas Chinese correspondent wrote recently:

“They [western media] see India as a unique place with some nostalgia; they see Indian government as one of their own; they see India’s human rights problem with great tolerance and understanding; they seem never hesitate to acclaim India as one of biggest power in the world in spite of its economy is far lagging behind that of China.”

Another wrote that India got better treatment from the world media because of its democracy and transparency.

In response, and in contrast, an Indian expat Shreeharsh Kelkar writes that he rarely sees pictures of back-breaking poverty from China in the western media’s coverage of that country unlike India’s; all the photographs are of the huge factories, the magnetic trains, the Olympics.

“It was funny for me to read that your Chinese correspondent actually wanted his country to be treated the way India is treated in the media here.  There are hordes of Indians who would wish that India was treated in the Western media the way China is: with a mixture of fear and admiration rather than what they interpret as condescending pity.”

Also read: Anybody here been raped and speaks English?

The land of a thousand bad newspaper articles

If our reporters are sloppy, what about theirs?

Time to listen for the graduating class of 2009

# Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief, The Indian Express, delivers the convocation address to the graduating class of 2009, at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM), Bangalore, on Saturday, May 2. Time: 10.30 am.

# Kumar Shahani, film-maker and thinker, contemplates on ‘To Make Sense’ at the convocation of the class of 2009 of the Asian College of  Journalism (ACJ), Madras, at the Music Academy on TTK Road, on Sunday, May 3. Time: 6.30 pm.

Must-read: James Fallows‘ commencement speech at Medill

Ben Bradlee‘s commencement address at Columbia J-school

Steve Jobs‘ commencement address at Stanford

Jon Stewart‘s commencement address at William & Mary