Twitter went into a veritable meltdown after journalist Rajdeep Sardesai called out his ex-colleague and Republic TV editor Arnab Goswami for ostensibly fibbing about being present in Gujarat during the Godhra riots. Sharing a link to a YouTube video (which has subsequently been taken down) titled “Arnab Goswami talking on Gujarat Riots”, Sardesai tweeted: “Wow! My friend Arnab claims his car attacked next to CM Res in Guj riots! Truth: he wasn’t covering Ahmedabad riots!!”.
A string of journalists attested Sardesai’s contention that Goswami’s claims were bogus.
A volley of tweets was fired his way, asking for a clarification which, unsurprisingly, hasn’t been forthcoming. But evidently, the pugnacious Goswami seems to have given his media colleagues a discernable kick in exposing his bald-faced attempts at stealing a journalistic experience that was perhaps not his.
“The pudgy little Billy Bunter with the soprano shriek turns out to be an utterly brazen liar!,” tweeted a gleeful Sagarika Ghose, Sardesai’s wife and Times of India Consulting Editor, as the story gathered steam on social media.
It’s not just in a burning Ahmedabad of 2002, Goswami, one of India’s leading news personalities, has made a career out being an absentee reporter on conceivably every important national story that’s unfolded over the last 10-12 years.
Editors don’t go out on the field every day. But during important news breaks, they fight to step out and get their feet dirty. We’ve seen all of Goswami’s contemporaries hold forth from ground zero; during wars, terror attacks, floods or the election cycles. But barring his initial years as a reporter, Goswami has marked his attendance to stories, singularly from the safety of an air-conditioned news studio in Mumbai.
The tragedy of our times is, he’s owned the national agenda on every big story despite this utter failing; whether it was 26/11, the 2012 Delhi gang rape, or the 2014 elections.
Arnab’s brand of bellicose in-studio journalism driven by theatrics, name-calling and pre-fabricated agendas has triumphed. In an era of hashtags and gold-fish attention spans, where viewers don’t have the time for nuance and complexity that a story reported from the ground brings, they are only too happy to lap up the instant binaries he lets fly.
A reporter who’s toiled in the sun trying to piece together a story by hearing all sides and digesting conflicting insights will have an impossibly tough time pronouncing pop verdicts in the manner that Goswami does. Impartiality, accuracy and presenting all sides of a story are journalistic tenets best honed on the field. A studio armchair locks one into an echo chamber, where stripped of the ability to hear multiple narratives, one self-propagates views that support one’s own limited judgment.
Arnab has let himself be afflicted by this malady and thrived as it spread across his every thinking pore.
But the tumor has now turned malignant, and unbearably toxic. Nothing other than relentless pressure from a pushy editor, hopelessly out of sync with the realities of reporting from the scene, can explain a Republic TV employee’s appalling behaviour with the grieving parent of a dead child recently. Nobody, other than a journalist who has never covered the horrors of a humanitarian tragedy from close quarters would dare spew venom like: “Let them [Rohingyas] be floating around a boat in the Indian Ocean…yeh hamara problem nahin hai [it’s not out problem].”
If Sardesai is indeed right about the Gujarat episode then it is clear that despite the fantastic popularity Goswami commands, from staging high-pitched dramas every evening, there is perhaps a frustrated reporter hiding inside him, yearning for that authentic field experience.
Journalists are a self-obsessed lot, forever looking for opportunities to regale anyone who cares to listen, with anecdotes and backstories of how they reported a landmark story. Despite all his sensation and nearly two decades in the business, Goswami’s repertoire of tales from the field is so slender, that it appears he has had to fabricate one. That’s enough reason to step outside the studio and start afresh.