Ranjona Banerji: When newsmedia went nuts about Tharoor

17 Jan,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

And so we reach our most ridiculous news headlines via Twitter – so far. A bizarre and somewhat corny marital spat between Union minister Shashi Tharoor, his wife Sunanda Pushkar and a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar. Tharoor is not new to Twitter controversies. He has got into trouble for a jokey tweet about travelling “cattle class” to please the “holy cows” of his parties. His involvement in the shortlived Kochi IPL team and that of Pushkar was revealed by Lalit Modi on Twitter and cost him a ministry position.

 

But this was something else. Tharoor, who has over 2 million followers on Twitter, was suddenly found to be tweeting odd messages from Tarar, claiming undying love on whatnot. Then he issued a tweet saying his account had been hacked. Then his wife popped up saying the account was not hacked and that she had put up those tweets, based on messages sent on the Blackberry messaging service to her husband. Then Pushkar gave a series of interviews claiming that Tarar was an ISI agent who was stalking her husband, then she denied some of them, then she didn’t. Tarar jumped in, defending herself and threatened to sue Pushkar.

 

All in all, another fine mess for Tharoor and a hilarious day for the world of Twitter and the media. Getting into the personal lives of celebrities is normally the domain of film publications and even they pussyfoot around our precious film stars (for fear of being denied the next interview) or upsetting some PR person. But for the Economic Times to put this Twitter fight on the front page is certainly unusual. Thursday’s ET had this headline, above the fold: “Tharoor gets into a Border Love Row”.

 

By Friday, every newspaper had the story. The Times of India dedicated a whole page to the matter – and this when there was one more horrific rape in the national capital, the AAP was involved some questionable form of vigilante justice and Rahul Gandhi was or was not going to be the Congress nominee for prime minister. Now we all know all about Pushkar, Tarar and Tharoor – or at least I know far more about them than I ever wanted to.

 

What to make into news… Journalists use the term “judgment call”. So how much news was in a spat between a husband, a wife and another woman? Yes, the husband is famous, the wife is high profile and the other woman was a great admirer of the husband. But was this front-page worthy for anyone, apart from the salacious nature of the story and the fact that the wife made it public? It is difficult to make a value judgment here but it is easy to see that this will not be an exception. It is likely to become the rule.

 

Once again, social media is changing the equation as far as the traditional media is concerned. I am holding back from using a cliché like “interesting times” but I do concede that this particular story is quite funny, proving that other cliche that the truth is much funnier than fiction.

 

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The media spotlight on the Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal is turning out to be a curse as much as it was a boon in the movement’s formative days. The vigilante actions by two AAP ministers in Delhi and their run-in with the police, Kejriwal’s need to hold a press conference every two minutes, the revolt by a vocal member – all these have only increased the scrutiny and the more the scrutiny, the more the trouble up ahead.

 

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The only person weeping right now (apart perhaps from Tharoor) is Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi who will have to pull off something staggering to become the media’s foremost darling once again.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: When newsmedia went nuts about Tharoor”

  1. Guest says:

    Tragic denouement. It has eclipsed the day’s events.

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