I was going to use a harsher variant of ‘cuckoo’ in the title but my bad sense prevailed. Let’s get one thing straight. If someone tells you a conversation is “off the record” then you are ethics-bound not to use or quote it with attributions. This is more so if you happen to be a reporter or a journalist. If reporters break that code, half their ‘sources’ would never talk to them and feed them information, juicy gossip or tips. But in the recent episode concerning Barkha Dutt, Pak PM Nawaz Sharif and Hamid Mir the “off the record” story is not the entire truth. If you intentionally lie or cover-up and then get exposed it is better to admit it with a decent reason for the cover-up. Whining and defending is like quick-sand. The more you extend the lie, the more it drags you in. There are situations when “off the record” simply cannot apply, as we shall see. In the age of internet and communication even words in private meetings can damage an entire campaign. Watch the video (1.03 mins):
There you go! That statement by Mitt Romney that 47% of American voters who don’t pay taxes will anyway not vote for him cost him a lot. Those who tracked the campaign will remember the damage it caused Romney. So who is Barkha trying to fool?
This is a tweet by Numero Uno Rajdeep Sardesai from February 2012. Do you remember the context? During the UP elections campaign Rahul Gandhi suddenly invited editors of many news outlets to a ‘breakfast’ meet. Like a slave, Rajdeep rushed to it at 2.25am, as did the others. It was supposedly an off the record breakfast meet. Now, can a breakfast meet with a political leader with many editors be off the record? Nonsense! But the editors mostly chose to toe the line, become slaves and didn’t report much about what transpired at the meet. This is not journalism, this is absolute cronyism. In a lunch meet the same Rahul “complete nonsense” Gandhi told American Ambassador Timothy Roemer that Hindu terrorism is a greater threat to India than LeT. Is that off the record? Can RG talk crap to a foreign diplomat and claim off the record? It is just as well that Wikileaks exposed him for his stupidity.
So by what quixotic measure is a gathering of a politician and a bunch of media folks an off the record affair? This is the fallacy. An off the record conversation is meant to be one between two individuals. You cannot talk to a group and say it’s off the record because the assorted members of a group cannot be expected to behave uniformly. That is the stupidity of media assumptions. So when Pak PM Nawaz Sharif invited Barkha Dutt, Hamid Mir and some other reporters to a “breakfast” meet in New York on the sidelines of the MMS-Sharif talks there is no way it can be described as off the record. It so happened that at this meet Sharif was upset with MMS talking to Barack Obama about some Indo-Pak issue and called him a “Dehati Aurat” (Village woman) complaining about him. This simply cannot be off the record. Word got out when Hamid Mir told a Pak TV channel about this comment being made to him and Barkha. She denied Sharif made that remark to her. That started the whole problem. Do I trust Barkha? Absolutely not! What Hamid Mir said is quoted by Smita Prakash of ANI. By the way, the discussion on the Pak Geo channel also mentioned how MMS’s position stood eroded after recent events.
I don’t need to put up the video (Youtube) as it doesn’t need forensic experts to verify what Hamid Mir quoted. Cleverly, Barkha later tweeted there is no record of the conversation. Funny, she claims “off the record” and says there’s no record? Fact: There is no record that Nawaz Sharif told anyone that it was an “off the record” meet. Even if he did so, it is invalid. You cannot be PM and expect to gossip with a group and not be quoted. You WILL be quoted. Period! So Barkha goes on a sprint of denials of Sharif having made that “Dehati Aurat” remark about MMS. Here are some exchanges:
Okay, he didn’t say it to her she says. So people like Barkha and Hamid don’t gossip and compare notes on what Pak PM’s say? If you believe that, you can believe the earth is flat. Next she says Rightwing extremists are using a distorted report to abuse Pakistan. Abuse Pakistan? This is the stupidity to which Barkha has degenerated. Caught in mindless denials she even blames imaginary rightwing extremists for her stupidity.
And being asked more questions by many others her story suddenly changes from outright denial to “unethical to report on an off record conversation”. Where was the need to say “unethical” if the Dehati comment wasn’t made by Sharif? Then suddenly memory returns and Barkha drags herself further into the quicksand by stating there was some story about how a village woman settles her fight. So Sharif was narrating some stupid story without some context? Who is lying here? It is quite obvious isn’t it? If Sharif had a reason to narrate that village woman story the reason is pretty clear who was being called a “Dehati woman”. But Hamid Mir had already poked holes into her story since the video quoting him appeared on Youtube. So you see, now we have to fix Hamid Mir too. So I reasonably estimate that calls might have been furiously exchanged and poor Hamid was badgered into making some concessions. Here are some more exchanges:
So Hamid does a flip-flop to bail out Barkha and she claims victory. Only problem is that it doesn’t wash. The damage was done. Late night on Sunday Barkha used her home channel NDTV to do a “Radiagate” type defence once again where she claimed she was innocent and Sharif didn’t make the Dehati comment. But Hamid doesn’t alter the fact that Sharif shared a joke which Barkha calls a “village tale”. So that is ample evidence that Barkha was indeed there when Sharif narrated the story. Why all this fuss in the first place? Barkha could have simply said Sharif said something uncharitable about MMS and she didn’t consider it fit to report or quote and that would have been fair and ended the matter. But trust habitual bad drivers to crash over and over again. And blame the car!
Let’s go back in time a bit. When the Radiagate story broke Barkha claimed she was just “stringing along a source”. Anyone believe that? Okay, naturally the people who put out the tapes, Open Magazine, had serious questions that Barkha could never answer. If indeed Barkha was stringing along Niira Radia for a story then where was the story? That would have been a bomb of a story but where was it? Hartosh Bal of Open mag did ask the question:
“The context in which Barkha was talking to Radia is important. Negotiations were underway between the DMK and Congress for places in the Union Cabinet. Barkha makes the claim that Radia was a valid news source for the DMK camp. Among the portfolios on offer was telecom, and Radia was the top PR representative of the Tata Group of Ratan Tata, which has a major interest in the telecom sector via its firm Tata Teleservices Ltd, and also of the Reliance Group of Mukesh Ambani, which had a direct interest in the sector via Reliance Infocomm before the Ambani brothers split. For any political journalist worth her salt, the alarm bells would have gone off at this stage, and should have led to one of the biggest stories related to government formation in this country: ‘Tata telecom PR chief handles negotiations for telecom portfolio.’ Did you happen to see this story on NDTV?”
Well? Did you ever see that story that Cabinet berths are being brokered and lobbied for? So Barkha cannot claim innocence then and she cannot claim innocence now. This is not journalism, this is Cuckoo journalism. Oh wait! Memories are short. Barkha doesn’t tire talking “ethics” when she has demonstrated practice of precious little of that. Let’s go back in time again. Remember ‘To Sir Creek with hand-in-glove’? Since she claims “off the record” conversations are to be kept off the record I would like to ask her how she claimed that the Sir Creek Agreement was ready and then Pak PM Yusuf Gilani was just waiting for MMS to visit Pakistan to sign and announce it. Here’s the video (0.46 min):
In the panel discussions in the video above, Barkha claims Gilani told her about the agreement being ready to sign. Did he? Or was she fibbing? If Gilani tells her in “ishaara” (hints, signals) was it meant to be a clear on-record statement? And if that was the hint which he gave where exactly has Barkha reported this on NDTV or any of her articles on NDTV or mother goose Hindustan Times? Nowhere! So it appears that an agreement was clandestinely prepared; obviously implying GOI was aware and Barkha suppressed that from the public and boldly claims it on a Pak channel. Mind you, the text of the interview with Gilani has been posted on NDTV’s website but there is no mention of the “agreement”. Convenient ethics? It’s cuckoo journalism!
Barkha has a history of frequently interviewing Pakistanis like Imran Khan, Parvez Musharraf, even Imran’s Mom or any Paki of position. Her constant obsession with Pakistan is indeed beyond reason or explanation. I wonder how many “off record” conversations passed during those interviews. As fate would have it, on both occasions (Sir Creek and Dehati Aurat) the issues fell right into the lap of Narendra Modi. In the campaign for Gujarat elections in December 2012 Modi used the Sir Creek episode to slam MMS and Congress. On September 29 he used the Dehati Aurat slur to slam MMS and Congress again (coupled with RahulG’s complete nonsense rant on the Ordinance protecting criminal politicians). Modi also slammed the journos without naming Barkha but nobody missed it. For the 11 years that Barkha and others of her club have trolled Modi, he finally returned an unforgettable spanking that is not going to be drowned in a hurry by Barkha.
Predictably, the bimbo who can’t survive a day without uttering some nonsense jumped in gladly. Sagarika Ghose claims using the allegory of a village story was a low level discourse to slam the PM. It doesn’t occur to this Cagetory5 moron that the same media which is crying foul not only distorted but for days misused and abused an ordinary analogy of a “Puppy” by Modi to claim he abused Muslims. The practitioners of gutter journalism are having a bad time. No matter how much Barkha tries, this is humiliation she brought upon herself with her mindless denials and cover-up attempts. This is not the first time either. NDTV should have sacked her long back.
The Cuckoo does not build its own nests. The female Cuckoo uses nests of other birds to lay her own eggs and leaves the parenting to the other birds. Quite a species, wouldn’t you say?