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Is a dishonest liberal still a liberal?

Author: Shashi Shekhar
Publication: Niticentral.com
Date: September 19, 2013
URL: http://www.niticentral.com/2013/09/19/is-a-dishonest-liberal-still-a-liberal-134577.html

Before we get around to answering these questions, consider the below statements all of which have appeared in op-ed columns and news analysis reports across the English language media.

Exhibit A

“Not coincidentally, mass rioting broke out last week in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically important state.”

Exhibit B

“And what followed the mahapanchayat, a similar meeting after Friday prayers, and various mislabelled viral videos and altered photos of newspaper headlines?”

Exhibit C

“His journey to the top has been paralleled by a similar rise in the frequency of communal incidents, especially in north India. As reported by Mint, between 2009 and March 2013, Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest number of parliamentary seats (80), witnessed 482 incidents of communal violence, “the highest for any state in the country—resulting in 105 deaths”.

Now let us put each of these exhibits to a truth test.

Exhibit A claims that “mass riots” broke out in Uttar Pradesh last week. The reality of course is that rioting in the Muzaffarnagar region of Uttar Pradesh has been going on for many weeks now with multiple flare-ups between mid-August and the first week of September. It is a different matter that it was not until the death of a journalist that the English language media woke up to the riots.

Exhibit B claims that “a provocative meeting at friday prayers” followed the “mahapanchayat”. The reality of course is that the mahapanchayat took place on a Saturday — September 7. The “provocative meeting at Friday prayers” referred to in Exhibit B took place a full week before that, on August 30 — a Friday.

Exhibit C claims that Narendra Modi’s rise to the top is correlated with “communal incidents” in “north India” from “2009 to 2013”. The reality of course is that Narendra Modi got re-elected as Chief Minister of Gujarat, a western Indian State, only in December of 2012 and got to lead the BJP’s campaign only in June of 2013 and got declared as its Prime Ministerial candidate only last Friday.

So it appears that all three of our Exhibits have failed the truth test.

Now one could dismiss these away as stray comments in non-descript media entities written by non-serious individuals. But alas, that is hardly the case here.

Exhibit A is from a news analysis report titled Campaign for Prime Minister in India Gets off to a Bloody Start that appeared in the New York Times written by its India desk head, Gardiner Harris.

Exhibit B is from an op-ed column titled Divide and Campaign that appeared in the Business Standard, written by Mihir Sharma who is associated with the Business Standard in an unstated capacity going by his Twitter profile.

Exhibit C is from an op-ed column titled What BJP’s PM-aspirant stands for – Development or Riot Politics that appeared in The Mint written by a G Sampath whose columns routinely appear in that newspaper.

What is also common to all three of these exhibits that have failed the truth test is that they have all appeared in media outlets that routinely pride themselves as being ‘liberal’ and have been written by columnists who perhaps stand second to none in laying claim to the ‘liberal’ label themselves.

Which brings us back to the question we started with at the top of this column — Is a ‘dishonest liberal’ still a ‘liberal’ and whether being liberal with the truth is what makes a media outlet — “a liberal media outlet”?

Respect for the truth, it appears, does not rank very high in the list of principles that go into the making of a ‘liberal’ these days it seems. Rather than get into a sermon defending Narendra Modi’s record and into a harangue on how all of these so called ‘liberals’ have distorted and misreported on the Uttar Pradesh riots, let me conclude this column with a story and a moral at the end of the story.

There was once a newspaper that stood for the sentiment of the people against the status-quo represented by the establishment. Over the decades, that newspaper lost its way and its identity as its celebrity chief editor became an apologist for the establishment. So deep down the abyss that newspaper slid over the years that its editorials didn’t think twice about peddling naked lies. So deep in denial was the editorial desk at that newspaper that it repeated the same lies twice on the same topic despite being called out on it every single time. Then its celebrity chief editor went on to do something curious — he took the liberty of writing an open letter on a first name basis address to the one person who was the target of all of those lies over the years on an unrelated issue. Unfortunately for that newspaper and its celebrity editor, who had forgotten that public memory can be elephantine at times, its transgression was not only caught but was also widely exposed with hard facts.

Thus, we had earlier this week a nine year old video re-surface mysteriously on the website of a television news channel. Soon thereafter, we also witnessed mysteriously a full transcript of that nine years old video reappear in print in that very newspaper featuring its chief editor in conversation with the object of all of those editorials. The video and transcript stand testimony to the lies peddled by that newspaper in its editorial columns over the years.

So dear Gardiner Harris, Mihir Sharma and G Sampath and dear New York Times, Business Standard and The Mint: The moral of the story, let us just say, is that you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people sometimes but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
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