A critique of the consistently racist coverage of India by the New York Times and why it cannot reform itself
In 1897, one of the rarest specimens in the world of journalism—the spiritually-rooted and conscientious idealist—the legendary William Thomas Stead travelled from England to America to meet the multimillion-dollar buccaneer of journalism, William Randolph Hearst. One of the first things Stead said to Hearst’s face was this: “I want to see you because I want to find out if you have got a soul.” That was Stead’s maiden meeting with Hearst on his own turf. Not stopping merely at this verbal slap, Stead skewered him and his New York Journal pitilessly, with the precision of an accomplished surgeon. To his credit, Hearst took it well and sort of reformed himself. Fifteen years later, W.T. Stead would meet a glacial end in the Atlantic ocean as a passenger of the doomed liner, the RMS Titanic. His body was never found.
However, throughout his spotless life and distinguished career devoted to the service of Saraswati, starting out as a humble copy boy, then journalist and iconic editor, Stead had also earned an unlikely Ekalavya disciple and a lifelong admirer in faraway India, then a colony of imperial Britain. The admirer’s name was Devanahalli Venkataramaniah Gundappa, a.k.a. D.V. Gundappa or more fondly, DVG.
DVG wrote perhaps the best obituary of W.T. Stead, a tribute that emerged from the all-encompassing depth of feeling that animates all his writings. It is an extraordinary litany of profound insights on an impressive array of topics gift-wrapped as an obituary. On the meaning of true spirituality, public service, the incalculable value of the written word, and…journalism. In one place, DVG movingly acknowledges his debt to Stead who, “owes not a little of this writer’s education, both in general and journalistic, to the publications of Stead.” Indeed, DVG titles his obituary as: W.T. Stead: Our Journalistic Ancestor. Equally, another measure of the esteem in which DVG held Stead is available in the very name that DVG gave to one of his own publications: The Indian Review of Reviews modelled afterStead’s acclaimed, Review of Reviews, in which “there was not a line that was dull, not a sentiment that was unworthy and not an observation that had not a message.”
In what can be considered as perhaps the finest expositions on journalism and the media, DVG dips his pen in acid searing the paper with a rare viscosity that is imbued with fearless integrity:
And then, more gently but with the same strain of integrity that enlightens, persuades and convinces:
The words “New York Times fans in India” are what prompted this piece. To that extent, I extend my thanks to this trashy cauldron of the worst excesses of Left-Liberal insanity that it continues to purvey at a speed unrivalled by even the best ISPs of the world. The truth is that there are no New York Times fans in India unless you as an Indian are blind or deracinated or its bedmate or are its employee. The fact that Vindu Goel, its tech correspondent, tweeted the word “fans” by itself is a self-declared revelation of its continuing cluelessness about all things India. Cluelessness. And superciliousness. Though, for want of better knowledge, it’s a tad unfair to apply the same adjectives to Sri Vindu Goel who’s perhaps duty-bound or contract-obligated to promote his employer.
However, as far as India is concerned, the New York Times continues its stellar record of being ignorant, biased, racist, Hinduphobic, anti-Hindu and all of the above. Although unsurprising, it’s nothing new. It is a continuation of the notorious colonial phenomenon, the White Man’s Burden, a cloak-and-dagger excuse to justify industrial-scale plunder, mass murder, oppression and exploitation by a bunch of unscrupulous but glib-talking pirates who used science and technology to expand their blood-soaked empire.
The New York Times still lives in that era.
In fact, a fat tome covering the NYT’s dung-heap called India reportage is waiting to be written by a media studies scholar or an independent researcher. For starters, Prof Sumit Ganguly’s pithy but extremely sharp critique of the New York Times, still a delight to read. Wikipedia, the latest ammunition in the Left-Liberal arsenal, has devoted an entire section titled Anti-Indian Sentiment of the New York Times. However, by far, the most comprehensive coverage of the NYT’s anti-India corpus is available on the pages of the media watchdog, OpIndia.
But those who are too busy to read all this are directed to the bilious poison spewed by the ultra-racist Gardiner Harris to get a flavor of the NYT’s “coverage” of India. Remember that in the seventh largest country in the world inhabited by 125 crore people who are the inheritors of a profound civilization that has resurged with remarkable resilience on countless occasions, all that Gardiner Harris can detect are pollution, filth, squalor, “Hindu militancy,” and open defecation.
And how does he “prove” his doomsday case of pollution? By citing the example of the Maoist Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal who “had to leave the city for 10 days in March to cure a chronic cough.” Of course, Harris conveniently omits the fact that Kejriwal is an asthma patient. Perhaps the most repulsive piece from the venomous pen of Gardiner Harris is his insinuation that India’s open defecation problem is due to the rules laid down in “ancient Hindu texts.” And which city does he chose as the representative of this problem? Kashi, the most sacred city of Sanatana Dharma. It appears that Gardiner Harris watches racist Hollywood movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Slumdog Millionaire on loop after snorting a kilogram of cocaine and then writes his India pieces. Even in such non-political pieces, he somehow manages to find a link to PM Narendra Modi as the source of the problems. Harris’s pieces were deservedly thrashed by multiple people multiple times. It appears that the top honchos at NYT finally woke up and banished him to some other desk.
Narendra Modi-bashing is central to the New York Times’ “coverage” of India. Contrast this with its reportage during the Manmohan Singh era to know what I mean. Unless it’s not already obvious, the only reason for the NYT’s inveterate aversion towards Narendra Modi is because it sees him as a Hindu political leader who dared to become Prime Minister for two successive terms. Like the Congress party here, the NYT had for the longest time assumed that such a thing was not even in the realm of probability. But not only has it happened twice, but the NYT is now forced to confront the reality of a Hindu Prime Minister who not only doesn’t hide his Hinduness but openly celebrates it.
Thus, the racist and lazy habits about India that the NYT has accumulated over long decades have transformed into a millstone around its own neck making reform impossible. However, the torrent of criticism its India coverage routinely faces is also something that it can’t ignore or brush away. Equally, PM Modi’s astute international diplomacy has also forced the NYT to deepen and broaden its focus on India. Perhaps this is the reason behind offering subscriptions at a cheap price: ₹ 25 a week or ₹ 100 a month, roughly around the same price point as that of an average Indian English mainstream newspaper. Its earlier India-centric project titled India Ink culminated in a spectacular flop after running for just three years. Its team included the familiar breed of deracinated and anti-Hindus and white-skin appeasers such as Vivek Dehejia, Sonia Falerio, Naresh Fernandes (now heading the notorious Scroll.in), Dipankar Gupta, Nilanjana S. Roy, and Somini Sengupta.
However, in light of the developments over the last two or so years, three points are plainly obvious. The first is the fact that the NYT is slowly adjusting itself to the changed reality that it can no longer treat India as a filthy third world country. The second is the crisis it faces on multiple fronts: snail-paced revenue growth but most importantly, its plummeting credibility (this is a good read on the topic). It naturally wants new markets and what better than India, the world’s second-largest market for mobile phones indicating substantial spending power. The third is perhaps the most dangerous: the maniac George Soros who has invested three million dollars in the New York Times. With that, it appears that Soros has purchased a dedicated desk devoted to defend, promote, and sanitize him. Here is a partial screenshot of a Google search using the terms, “George Soros investment in New York Times.”
This has to be read in conjunction with Soros’ recent declaration of open war against what he calls “nationalists,” and mentions PM Modi as a target. What’s the bet that he won’t use the NYT in India against India and against PM Modi?
Which brings us back to the fundamental point: gargantuan media buccaneers like the New York Times and Bezos Washington Post today are the best representatives of not only everything that’s wrong with journalism but are also the embodiments of an all-encompassing decay that simply cannot be fixed. They have to implode with the powder-keg of the corruption of their own making. And they will. The rise, popularity, and credibility of small digital media outlets and truly independent publishing initiatives will only hasten this implosion.
It will be the fatal consequence of not heeding W.T. Stead and DVG’s early warning that big “business” houses “live for circulation…for the power of teasing the statesman and toying with States. They live to tell the people not what they ought to be told, but what they would like to be told. Sensation, slander, gossip, or whatever else may be wanted by the whim or passion of the hour, they would readily supply as the price of their popularity…They thrive as giants, having crushed or absorbed into themselves all smaller individualities endowed with talent still germinal and with independence still potential.”