Real story of tragic PM and more tragic media management
Simon Denyer, the New Delhi bureau chief of the Washington Post, has been requesting an interview with the prime minister for six years. Not surprisingly, the PM has been too busy minding his silence.
What’s sickening, however, is that the prime minister’s office (PMO) has never quite rejected Denyer’s request. In the true sarkari style, a carrot remains dangled, assuming that Denyer will live in hope… and behave.
Also read: The Washington Post story
Underachiever Manmohan: Is Time saying anything new?
Our worthy PM’s communication advisor Pankaj Pachauri, a former anchorman with NDTV India, has admitted as much, now claiming in a protest letter to the Post, that Denyer’s interview request was declined only until the end of the monsoon session!
Can you make up your mind, Mr Pachauri? If such a request was made (and I have been walked through dates and details of the mails Denyer addressed to PM advisor TKA Nair and principal secretary Pulok Chatterji), why are you also claiming that a request to PMO wasn’t made and that how you wish it had?
The trick is inspired by the classic Yudhishthira-like gambit. That “Nair and Chatterji may have received emails, but I didn’t”!
Denyer told me that Pachauri, in their meetings, a happening confirmed in the PMO protest letter, discouraged the routing of interview requests through him. “My job is to advise the PM and not arrange individual interviews,” Denyer was advised.
If arranging interviews was indeed too menial a job for the cerebrally inclined communication advisor, could the PMO at least now spell out which officer journalists can go to?
It doesn’t require a genius at PMO’s command to figure out how frustrated Denyer or any self-respecting Indian/firangi reporter in his place would be, the blame falling inevitably on the PM himself.
I do not, for one moment, espouse the cause that all reporters, howsoever important their publication be, can demand one-on-one with Manmohan Singh. It should remain the PM’s prerogative to decide how deep he digs his PR grave.
I only seek clarity, candour and authenticity, not wishy-washy carrots and lollypops.
Carrots and lollypops don’t behove the high office of the Indian prime minister.
My related point is about ‘Sanjaya versus Simon’, that is to say, the verbal duel between the reporter and Sanjaya Baru, the first media advisor to the PM way back during UPA 1 who is quoted in a tone critical of the prime minister. Now, here I sense that Baru expected Denyer to have a face-to-face meeting with him before being dragged into such a high-visibility story.
All the jazz of emails, Denyer’s calls to a matrix phone while Baru was overseas in Italy some two months back, etc., are no substitute for a quick one-on-one that Denyer didn’t do. He thought Baru’s reply that the essence of his assessment of Manmohan is captured by a Caravan magazine piece nearly a year back, was good enough not to meet him. Bad move!
I think here Denyer goofed up on the way India works. Nothing stopped him from meeting Baru when he was back in India in end-June and even offer a replay of quotes. Instead, he merely referred to Baru without employing double inverted commas – or even single inverted commas and without even attributing the core content to Caravan, a correction the Post has had to make in a special blog post Thursday morning. By the way, Baru wasn’t just a footnote in the Denyer piece. He was the only person identified in the entire story other than historian Ramachandra Guha, who Denyer confirmed spoke on phone/email, not face to face. If there were others, as Denyer claims there were, they chose not to be identified. So, Guha and Baru deserved more.
Having pointed all this to Denyer and having been trolled a bit by #WaPo fans for “nitpicking”, I sense all this happened because Baru often is the only person on ‘the inside-track’ who is willing to speak.
Having known him since I was training in The Times of India 20 summers back, and then having been his Resident Editor in The Financial Express before he left to join Manmohan, I have also dealt with him from the other side. Asked the right question, I’ve often wondered why he doesn’t duck, even volunteers context and anecdotal stuff. He continues to do so even though more than one journalist got him into trouble squealing to Saifuddin Soz and before that to Renuka Chaudary. But given his zero interest in cultivating 10 Janpath, Baru’s style also won him goodwill, which during UPA-1 translated into goodwill for the PM. To be fair to Khare and now Pachauri, while on the saddle Baru was the first to admit that he has hardly any job, because “all I have to do is to sell BMW”!
This was easier said, because not unlike the blokes and minders now, Baru too was denying every single interview request. Remember, the ‘BMW’ wasn’t battered like it is today, but the reticence then was no different. The vital difference was that there was someone in the UPA-1 PMO an editor of consequence could turn to. And he spoke to us from the perspective of a fellow journalist, not a safari-suited babu with that give-away grin: ‘I know you’re interested in nothing more than a free scotch and a ride on Air-India One that I control.’
But here’s Pachauri thinking arranging meetings isn’t even his job!
That said, Denyer has spoken to me a few times over the last 12 hours explaining how he actually met Baru earlier (though not for this story) and he has email trails and phone records to support that they spoke. I don’t doubt that. What Denyer could have done was to simply seek face time and offer play back. Period! Particularly as he chose to hold the piece back for so long, “hoping things will look up after the PM’s ‘unleashing the animal spirits’ remark”.
Denyer’s errors are nothing compared to our home-grown Pachauri. The man hallucinated that Denyer and the Post are apologizing for the piece, when all that had happened was that the website was down and Pachauri wasn’t able to paste his not-in-my-backyard email.
Result? Denyer’s “sorry” for the limited fact that the Post’s site was taking time was spun into an apology for the piece! Friendly TV channels, eager to win their brownie points with the communication advisor, flashed the “apology” that never was.
It was several minutes after this on-air damage that someone noticed @SimonDenyer and a series of emphatic we-are-not-sorry from that handle on Twitter. By then, the world’s largest democracy had emerged as (a) an eager beaver for apology anytime someone said something negative and (b) a media and political class whose colonial hangover persists.
Every time a gora writes a truism on the PM as ‘tragic figure’, ‘under achiever’ or whatever and weaves the narrative with good copy and a colourful mélange of anecdotes and impressions that us natives narrated to them, must India drop everything else? Must the friendly foreigner regional registration officer demand an innocuous cup of tea with the writer?
Go home Yankee (and take me with you)!
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