Beware! ZakariaGate is closer than Indian celeb editors think
At the time of writing, “people editors,” ordinary folks like us who create a “trend” on Twitter, have forced Fareed Zakaria to the top of the India feed.
Curiously, and not-so-curiously as well, Zakaria is no longer on Twitter’s US trending list. He isn’t even on the city-specific list for Washington, presumably Yankee-land’s most politically-literate city.
Zakaria is missing from the UK list too.
Lesson 1: Beware! We, the Indian tweeps, are just as wired to a global story. And heaven help this celebwith an increasingly remote Indian association like attending Mumbai’s Cathedral and John Connon School.
If we were quick to rejoice, claiming this former Mumbaikar just for being this year’s commencement day speaker at Harvard; we’ll now shred him just as quickly, now that he’s caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Suddenly, he’s that slimy, over-smart poodle of Barak Obama, the man who forced Holy Yale into bed with authoritarian Singapore.
Perils of celebrity hood, celebrity editors might say. But don’t even try letting us hear you say, “unfair.” Yes, sire, the world has never been about equal treatment. Sure, we would have let a lesser journalist get away with worse. But Zakaria! No way. [Or you, for that matter, our desi suspects, spoiling our week nights with the cocktail of Manish Tewari and Suhel Seth].
Lesson 2: Beware! With twitter under our thumbs, it’s hard now to deny ourselves the pleasure of writing your professional epitaph in 120 characters. And, btw, this imposter called “balance” doesn’t fit in this sort of space count. And in the event it does, it doesn’t get us retweets (RTs). So, when you goof up, come out upfront before we catch you.
Among other social media that we follow, Facebook posts of some editors and columnists in India confirm their deep interest in ZakariaGate. Not everyone has eschewed the I-told-You-So.
Zakaria is, without doubt, India’s best known journalistic export (Hopefully, Raju Narisetti of the Washington Post is happy to make way here). Zakaria certainly is the only one who has a Harvard PhD, a Yale degree, and editorships at Foreign Affairs, Newsweek and Time in his CV.
Lesson 3: We like journalistic jealousy. It’s confirms what we suspected all this while. That the only difference between you and us isn’t intellect. It’s just about who has the platform!
NB: Our’s, ie, twitter, potentially at least, is a hundred times bigger.
Lesson 4: We don’t like holy cows any way. If we can bring down Obama and Oprah; Anna or Sonia. Can Zakaria (or Orknob Goswami or Shri Sardesai) expect any better?
Lesson 5: Beware, also, the editor spreading himself a little thin. Zakaria was! Even for a supremely talented writer, we thought he was writing too many columns, speaking at too many public functions, engaging too much in the social media, giving too much gyan to Presidents and Popes (not to mention Columbia Journalism Review’s input that what really kept him busy were cheques of $75,000 apiece for speaking to Baker Capital, Catterton Partners, Driehaus Capital Management, ING, Merrill Lynch, Oak Investment Partners, Charles Schwab, and T. Rowe Price.)
This to us leaves very little doubt that some very talented seconds were doing the donkey’s work. Just this time, they used the ^C^V option much too blatantly. We doubt, therefore, if Zakaria any longer read every word of what went under his name. And even if he did read every word, he was far too often on television.
Aha, now that’s the big one.
Lesson 6: Whoever is pontificating to us via TV, needs to be brought back to earth.
This dishonest juggle, we know, is true for some Indian editors. These bundles of ambition run around three days of their working week canvassing, travelling, shooting, transcripting, and editing their TV shows. It works very nicely for a very long time.
Until disaster strikes.
Here’s how it did for good old Dr Zakaria.
The good doctor reads The New Yorker, and (perhaps) cut-pastes it in a file. Some days or weeks later, he sits down to write his column in Time on the same topic, ie, gun control. Amidst a dozen $75-k distractions in between, he forgets that what’s showing up on his screen isn’t his own writing, but Harvard professor Jill Lepore's lengthy piece from The New Yorker’s April edition!
Minus the social media this might have passed. But media watchdog group Newsbusters (alerted by media blogger Jim Romenesko) aren’t nice guys at all! They x-ray the paragraph from Zakaria's "The Case for Gun Control," from Time's August 20 issue (itals mine):
“…Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man."
To their delight, this is a ^C^V of Prof Lepore's "Battleground America," which ran in The New Yorker:
“…As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”
Lesson 7: Straight lifts like the one above are suicidal. But as we talk, the world’s media bloggers and the self-appointed one’s who sometimes ask blunt questions won’t even let you get away arguing, “Adam Winkler,” the UCLA historian did get his credit. They’ll say,Prof Lepore deserves just as much, for her phraseology.
Nothing should have stopped Zakaria from attributing to two sources. Editors who’ve published me, Sanjaya Baru, Amit Goel, Tarun Basu, and BV Rao right here in Governance Now, have never cut my sourcing out. Only in the pre-internet days would a reporter or columnist try to write an “exclusive” quoting nobody, generate mystery where none existed and get away!
Silly, if Zakaria was trying such a dated trick, when he could have simply used his prodigious talents to say Winkler’s facts differently.
Lesson 8: Cite every source you have touched. It won’t make you look very clever, but besides not being shreded on Twitter, curation sites like storify.com might even get you automatic traction from the original author’s twitter!
Lesson 9: Finally, welcome to global benchmarks where folks like Time expect you not even to quote yourself. So does The New Yorker itself. They just fired columnist Jonah Lehrer for it. (^C^V Friends of NiiraRadia may note that!) The way to stay on track therefore is never to copy paste. With “rogues” like us, ably assisted by spoil sports like Romenesko and Newsbusters, Indian writers including one with 1.4 million follows are vulnerable as never before.
Lesson 10: This is more of a tip, a decent technique shared by Rajesh Kalra, The Times of India’s man for digital content. Rajesh reads and listens and thinks, but writes his “Random Access” only at the eleventh hour, basically when it just can’t be postponed. That’s when he sits down and writes in, say, 5-10 minutes, whatever his brain has organized, processed and remembered. It apparently works. If only Zakaria knew. Or at least his seconds and those ghost-writing for our own Zakaria-wannabe’s did.
(Twitter @ the rohitbansal)