Is there a New York Times moment which some Indian media houses face?

09 Jun,2020


By Ranjona Banerji


Last week, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Republican Senator Tom Cotton which argued that the military should be used to control the unrest in the USA following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

This created a huge uproar, not least within the New York Times. Several journalists felt that the opinion piece sent out a dangerous message to the paper’s readers and that “objectivity” does not mean giving space to fascist or hate-filled messages.

This is not the first time The New York Times has made mistakes nor is it the first time it has admitted to those mistakes and taken responsibility, even if you argue that it was forced to recant. Most media houses make the most egregious editorial decisions but not all have the courage to accept them, whether or not there is outrage around them. I give you, ladies and gentleman, the great Indian media trick: What you do today will be forgotten tomorrow so you can fool the people all over again.

This is from the Editors’ Note:

“The basic arguments advanced by Senator Cotton — however objectionable people may find them — represent a newsworthy part of the current debate. But given the life-and-death importance of the topic, the senator’s influential position and the gravity of the steps he advocates, the essay should have undergone the highest level of scrutiny. Instead, the editing process was rushed and flawed, and senior editors were not sufficiently involved. While Senator Cotton and his staff cooperated fully in our editing process, the Op-Ed should have been subject to further substantial revisions — as is frequently the case with such essays — or rejected.”

The link contains the rest of the argument as to how and why the newspaper made a mistake in carrying Cotton’s essay the way it appeared:

Part of the argument as you can see is that the USA is going through a tumultuous time. That hatred and violence against African Americans remains a clear and present danger and that racism is institutionalised. Much of the violence comes from politicians and society leaders endorsing and promoting racism, not least the President of the United States. American society cannot ignore the context in which these protests against racism have sprung up and


NYT knows it cannot either.

The Opinion editor who carried the piece, James Bennett has since resigned from the newspaper:

This column from the New York Times provides perspective as well as the impact of the anger within.

How do we compare this to India? Should we ignore the absolute hateful bilge that spews out of most of our “news” channels every day, whether in English or other languages? For some of these channels, to provoke reaction and keep the long traditions of social hatred boiling seem to be their main intention. The fact that a Hindu majoritarian country can consistently run with slogans like “Hindu khatre mein hain”, (Hindus are in danger) starkly underlines the bigotry that passes for journalism in India. Of course, there is no mirror that anyone can lift to these channels. They love what they see.

Then there are other media outlets which are neither here nor there. They can criticise the Hindu supremacist government in a mild manner, they can make excuses for the various transgressions and incompetencies of the Narendra Modi administration. They try to be all things to all people.

But is there a line beyond which you cannot transgress? Is there a New York Times moment which some media houses face?

Evidently not.

As we discussed last week, in spite of all the anger against the Islamophobic and misogynist tweets by its columnist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, and he’s not a first-time offender either, there has been no response at all either from The Print India’s founder Shekhar Gupta or from any senior editorial staff. Several Print journalists and columnists did object on Twitter but there has been no public acknowledgement of their viewpoint.

Given our standards when it comes to journalism, now completely exposed ever since the BJP led by Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre, perhaps we should not be surprised. Although from the old days of those proverbial ivory towers where editors ran their little dictatorial fiefdoms, media scrutiny has increased, as we see the brazen nature of the bully has not.

The loss is to us all, if even reputed news organisations continue to endorse outright Islamophobia, misogyny, societal hatred and prejudice. All for a few crumbs and selfies from the BJP’s high table of low standards.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are her own



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