The evil that men do…

On January 6, the day after a masked, armed mob ran riot in the JNU campus while its VC instructed the police to stand outside the gates, Arnab Goswami conducted his usual evening debate. This is what he said in his opener — and when reading that, remember that these are merely words on screen; to understand what he chose to emphasise, how he chose to escalate, you have to listen to him via the link above. I have, for convenience, underlined certain statements to more easily catch your eye. Here:

Many of you have been calling Republic and asking to know what my position is on what happened or what has been happening at JNU. And I am glad that I took my time to come up with my view. And ladies and gentlemen, while it is and it was extremely worrying to see the visuals of the masked goons in JNU yesterday, and what happened was terrible, without a doubt, most of the media once again came to a wrong and premature conclusion once again. And now that we have the proof, and now that we have visuals which show the extreme brutality of the Left, and now that we have videographed evidence of the barbaric, monstrous attack by Left student leaders, by Left student unions, leading bloody masked mobs a few days back, and now that we have the truth before us, pictures, of Left student leaders physically assaulting fellow students, whose only fault was that they wanted to appear in the examination, whose only fault is that they had entrance exams to give and they needed to qualify and sit for the examinations, we have pictures of how they were brutalised by the Left student leaders, and now that we have the evidence of how any student in JNU who wanted to be registered for the examination was the subject of bloody attacks by the Left, and now that all this evidence is out, and now that it is absolutely clear that it is the left which has not just been starting, but unleashing relentless violence on all those who want to follow the academic schedule in JNU, and now, now, tonight, this Monday evening, that those coming out in the JNU protests in Mumbai for example, with their own placards have been identified not as students but the pro-Pakistan groups, and now that these groups are also asking at the Gateway of India in Mumbai for Independence for Kashmir, and now that all this evidence is out, I am not just narrating it, I am going to show you the pictures, and now that all this hard-coded evidence is being broadcast on the Republic Media Network, the nation wants to know whether the idle mind called Anurag Kashyap will bother to tweet tonight, or whether once again he and his ilk will pretend like cowards to look the other way.

There it is, the art (if you can call it that) of the demagogue, in one easy lesson. Goswami suggests that the contemporary narrative in the media is wrong; that he has evidence to the contrary, and smoothly segues into a condemnation of the Left students and their unions, accusing them of barbarous physical assault. And not just accusing — he makes you believe that it is proven beyond doubt.

He then seamlessly links it to a Free Kashmir placard held up in Mumbai to drag in that never-failing red herring, Pakistan; from there he targets by name an individual who has been speaking out against the serial atrocities being committed across the nation.

Remember the date of this broadcast: January 6. The day after the murderous attacks on JNU. The day after the nation, in a state of shock, watched an officially-sanctioned and protected mob at work. 24 hours later, Goswami flips the story — while the attack is “extremely worrying, without a doubt”, the Left students and their unions are guilty of … “extreme brutality“… “barbarous, monstrous attack“… “leading bloody masked mobs“… “physically assaulting”… “brutalised“…

Listen to that monologue as a viewer of that channel would — passively, just taking in what is said. And think of what you would take away, what you would conclude:

That while a “worrying” incident did take place, too bad, so sad, the fault, dear Brutus, lies with the barbaric “Left”…

Remember that after Goswami “proved” that the Left had indulged in unimaginable violence prior to the January 5 attack — which was his way of amplifying the then official line that the attacks of January 5 were in response to acts of vandalism by the Left union on January 1 and January 4, an RTI inquiry revealed that in fact there was absolutely no instance of vandalism, by the Left or anyone else, on either of those days.

The RTI story appeared on January 20 — 14 days after Goswami had sowed the fertile minds of his listeners with his own patented brand of poison and moved on. That is how this works — plant the lie, move rapidly on to other things before the truth has a chance to catch up.

In passing, this is your periodic reminder that the police have CCTV footage of the violence (though they claimed otherwise), that leaders of the armed assault have been identified, and the identification acknowledged by the police themselves, and yet there has not been a single arrest in the case thus far.

But Goswami says it was the Left, Goswami says he has proof, and Goswami is an honourable man…

Two Davids, Edwards and Cromwell, founded and run the site Media Lens, which is dedicated to tilting at the Goliath of propaganda in mainstream media (You can follow the site on Twitter). In 2018, they released their third book, Propaganda Blitz, to break down the tools and techniques used by media to sell the official line. They set up the premise of the book thus:

A regular feature of corporate media manipulation involves the launching of what we call a propaganda blitz, attacking and discrediting the ‘Official Enemies’, often preparing the way for ‘action’ or ‘intervention’ of some kind. Propaganda blitzes are fast-moving attacks intended to inflict maximum damage in minimum time.

Here, watch the various stages of a propaganda blitz, as laid out by David Edwards and David Cromwell, in action. The sequential images are courtesy this excellent thread by Vasundhara Singh Sirnate, co-founder and director of research at The Polis Project:

Step 1: A propaganda blitz begins with the propagation of some dramatic new “evidence” to support an oft-touted conclusion. In this instance, the government and its water-carriers in the media have been touting the line that the protests in Jamia, in JNU and Shaheen Bagh are violent and must be ended. Republic starts off with this: a dramatic picture, circling the perpetrator with an arrow ominously pointing to him, and states as fact that a Jamia protestor turned violent, and “uses gun”. Think also of the Goswami “debate” linked to at the start of this post, and how it opens with full-throated claims of new evidence that is going to be shown to prove a falsehood.

Step 2: The tone adopted during a propaganda blitz is always vehement, even hysterical. “Claims of dramatic new evidence of alleged horrors committed by ‘Official Enemies’ are invariably followed by deep moral outrage,” say the authors. “The rationale is clear enough: in ordinary life, outrage of this kind is usually a sign that someone has good reason to be angry. People do not get angry in the presence of significant doubt. So the message to the public is that there is no doubt. Listen to Aishwarya Kapoor, political editor of the Republic TV channel, in the clip above. Below, the text:

“Will they fire gun? Will they brandish illegal weapons on the streets of the national capital of India? It cannot be allowed and it should not be allowed. That is why I ask those political leaders in this democracy… in this democracy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal should answer how they are supporting. Under which condition, under which kind of pressure are they supporting this kind of violent people? Because in the name of CAA, this is happening….”

There is more, in the same barely literate, hyperventilating vein, including a repeat invoking of Gandhi and Kejriwal, but you get the idea: The ‘Official Enemies’ are called out, to the accompaniment of deep moral outrage, and there is no ambivalence about what the evidence on screen shows.

On similar lines, listen to Goswami’s opener the same evening, where he opens by blaming the “over 40 days of provocation in Shaheen Bagh” for the terrorist’s actions. This is a journalist (allegedly), a man with a powerful megaphone, setting out his evening “debate” program with the suggestion that women peacefully protesting in a corner of Delhi is justification for attempted mass murder. In the interests of “balance” he says he has questions for both sides but then makes clear which side is right:

“Let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation.”

Those are the words that justify murder.

There are other tropes that are used to fan the propaganda fire. As the authors list them, these are: (3) The appearance of informed consensus (Note how convenient sound bytes from friendly politicians are used to further the various conspiracy theories); (4) Damning condemnation of anyone daring to question this consensus (Where is Rahul Gandhi? Will the tukde tukde gang speak up? Anurag Kashyap? Lutyens? The Lobby?); (5) Often generated with fortuitous timing (Remember that a few days before this incident, “dramatic new evidence” had surfaced that the PFI is funding the anti-CAA protests — an evidence, and accusation, that has quietly been buried since, but only after the damage was done); (6) Accompanied by tragi-comic moral dissonance — as, for instance:

See the chyron? “They wanted this to happen”. This is at the start of the “debate”, the screen is frozen at the point where Goswami says “We have questions for both sides tonight, but let me say this, this is a dangerous fall out and consequence of non-stop provocation”

See the whole package. In what is ostensibly the scene-setting for a debate, Goswami starts with his prefabricated conclusion: It is not about the terrorist, it is about the provocateurs — which, by the way, is a vast grab-bag that includes but is not restricted to Shaheen Bagh alone.

In his worldview, the terrorist has no agency — “They”, the ‘official enemies’, wanted this to happen, the terrorist was a helpless leaf swept along in the murky currents of a deep conspiracy.

The authors refer to this as “tragi-comic moral dissonance” — but when weaponised to the extent that Goswami and his ilk have done, it is neither comic nor even tragic; it is, pure and simple, the criminally irresponsible, deadly dangerous language of genocide.

The whole is overlaid with calculated cynicism; with the belief, based on the channel’s experience, that people can be fooled all the time. Having run with their prefabricated storyline for most of the evening (Vasundhara Srinate meticulously tracks the channel’s criminal distortions here), they then reclaim the high moral ground with an apology (Except there is no suggestion of an apology, merely a claim that it was “immediately” corrected):

In the heat of the moment, anyone can make a mistake, no? Anyone can, in the rush of events, mistake a terrorist for a protestor. Anyone can, when the adrenalin is flowing and lives are at risk, mistake the terrorist for someone who was sent on the mission with the personal blessings of Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, no? Oops!

The terrorist named himself as he was being taken into custody. Within minutes of that, his full identity was revealed. Yet, as Vasundhara Srinate outlines, Republic continued with their tissue of lies for over two hours before issuing an “apology”, the effect of which is nullified by the continued insistence — repeated in both header and chyron — that the terrorist was operating under extreme provocation.

In a thoughtful piece on Goswami, Kunal Kamra, and what contemporary incidents are telling us, Pragya Tiwari (follow) cites the German writer and playwright Bertolt Brecht — who, it is worth noting, had fled Nazi Germany to escape persecution for his views — on art and propaganda:

“Human beings go to the theatre in order to be swept away, captivated, impressed, uplifted, horrified, moved, kept in suspense, released, diverted, set free, set going, transplanted from their own time, and supplied with illusions” and warned against the dangers of art that enables this…”

“Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,” said Brecht.

That is what Goswami’s dark arts of demagoguery are all about — a hammer he wields every night to shape reality to the needs of his political masters. Here is the sad part, though: The damage he has done, and continues to do each night, is not restricted to the effect his diatribes have on his audience, but reaches far deeper.

An editor sets the tone of the newsroom he heads; whether they admit it or not, the rest of the editorial staff take their cues from the editor and, consciously or unconsciously, shape their work to fit the editor’s worldview. (It is one of the biggest challenges for an editor — to free the staff of this Pavlovian reflex, to ensure that individuality is not erased, because you have to fight human nature, the worker’s basic survival instinct).

Consider that piece-to-camera where Aishwarya Kapoor rants about the Jamia protestor having a gun, and drags in Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal — what is that but a manifestation of the Goswami influence on the next generation of newsroom leaders?

Consider Deepti (I am not sure of her surname; Goswami introduces her as his news editor at the start of the clip above), and her behaviour with Tejaswi Yadav. What is that but a direct consequence of the hectoring, heckling, privacy-invading, obnoxious style of “journalism” Goswami has instituted as the gold standard?

Consider too that in the intro Goswami refers to a politician as “Lalu’s brat”, and imagine the influence on impressionable young journalists when a newsroom leader institutionalises such language, not only in the privacy of the newsroom where it would be bad enough, but when facing the camera.

Consider the pressures on other channels — as, for instance, TimesNow. When Republic surged ahead in the ratings immediately after launch, TN was forced (not in the journalistic sense so much as in the financial sense) to follow suit, to mimic Goswami’s motormouth hectoring. And then to try and go one better: Thus, they split Rahul Shivshankar and Navika Kumar, giving them individual, back to back slots and thus managing to extend the chosen propaganda of the day; then they elevated Padmaja Joshi to get a third bite of the cherry.

See how the virus spreads?

Finally, consider this: Sooner or later (and it looks like it will be later), this circle has to end. This bigoted government will come to the end of its life cycle. And these channels and their reprehensible anchors will have to reshape themselves to fit whatever the new political ethos turns out to be. But it is not going to be easy to turn this ship around. A whole generation of young men and women are growing up in newsrooms shaped by the venomous propagandists who lead them; a generation that thinks this is the way journalism is done; a generation that knows no better.

They will in turn grow into the next lot of newsroom leaders and, knowing no better, will pass on this poison to the young ones who come to work with them.

That, in the ultimate analysis, is the damage the bigot, the fascist, does: He poisons not merely the air he breathes, but the atmosphere future generations have to grow up in; the damage he inflicts is lasting, and well nigh irreversible.

That damage, this image: A young man, part of a group of students commemorating the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, wounded by a terrorist empowered and egged on by the hate-spewing men who run this country and by apologists and enablers like Goswami, having to clamber over a police barricade so that he can get a gunshot wound treated.

Via a Faye D’Souza tweet

What do they — Modi, Shah, Thakur, Bisht and others of this hate-filled lot, and the likes of Goswami, Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Sudhir Chaudhary, hope to gain? What in this world do they think is worth infecting a nation, particularly its young, with murderous hate?

The nation wants to know.

A thought for our times

This morning, the first thing I did (after making myself a cup of coffee) was to put on my earphones and listen to Ravish Kumar of NDTV reflect on the events of yesterday.

Those events in their red hot immediacy fuel rage and despair in equal measure but, as Ravish says, they also merit — demand — a period of calm reflection. Ravish reflects so we don’t have to. Please take the time out to listen till the very end.

A personal note: In the midst of all this I managed to do my back some damage, so I’ll be resting it today. My next blogpost will therefore be tomorrow — and maybe it is a good thing, maybe this time is best used reflecting not on the immediate events, but on what lies beneath, and what looms ahead.

Take care, be well, stay safe.