How media defames people for daring to criticise a journalist. This is what India Today did to me

It is fairly common these days for “mainstream” media outfits, especially Congress-leaning ones like India Today, to subject social media users to pejorative labeling. I offer proof once again that most of such malicious “journalism” is a product of journalistic mediocrity, which is endemic in India. In fact, what I am going to narrate to you is a first-hand experience of the infamous Indian journalistic non-application of the mind.

India Today TV did a story on its favorite bugbear, the “troll”. The general plot of such stories is by now firmly established and is as formula-driven as are Bollywood movies: the villain of the piece is a BJP-supporting troll, and the victim-hero is a Congress-leaning journalist. No variations are permitted. The gripes of the victims are also a standard-issue laundry list: victims are abused; threatened with rape, death; called anti-national; asked to go to Pakistan; etc, etc. The only touch of ingenuity to this drama is the trick it employs to achieve its objective of tarring all criticism of Lutyens journalists with the same broad stroke of the brush: it deftly lumps legitimate criticism with examples of abuse. But of course, “How to Deligitimzie Your Critic” is a skill that Lutyens journalists are vastly better trained in than “How to Do Journalism Well”.

India Today’s Troll Story flatters me by citing me as an example of a troll, and right in the beginning of the segment too. I lead the cast of characters, so to speak. Now, in my time, I did lose my temper on a few occasions and there are tweets of mine that I am not proud of. When I heard that Troll Story trolled me, I was dreading they found one of those tweets. I need not have feared, for as I said earlier, intelligence is not an attribute that the Lutyens journalist is richly imbued with. So, this is all they could find.

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India Today story on trolls referring to @auldtimer as troll

Some background is in order. First, let us dispense with a little piece of information.

Anna Vetticad, the film critic referred to in the tweet above, is a Catholic. An activist Catholic to boot. She spoke at at least one event of the association of the upper crust of the Catholic priesthood (see here). In theory, a Hindu film critic who is friends with VHP is not necessarily incapable of delivering prejudice-free reviews of films, but what if VHP is also keenly interested in manipulating media to “manage” the portrayal of its image? The Catholic church in India is very touchy about its image, and it did demand censorship of, as well as succeed in enforcing it on, several films that it did not approve.

Getting back to the point, India Today’s hatchet job begins with victim-hero Anna Vetticad telling her sad, gut-wrenching victimhood tale. She has just dispensed with the generic list of gripes listed above (“I have been called anti-national, boohoo…”) and is now moving on to specifics. It is at this point, in connection with her review of the Bollywood film Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, that she mentions my murderous tweet. (In which I presumably also issue disguised rape-threats and invisible death-threats). She says I accused her of panning that film on the orders of the old man in Vatican.

I wasn’t doing anything of the sort. In fact, my tweet had nothing to do at all with her review of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo! I bet this revelation doesn’t shock you at all, what with you being very accustomed by now to the fact that Lutyens journalism in general, and India Today in particular, can never be accused of possessing an abundance of scruples. Check my original tweet, reproduced with context:

@auldtimer’s tweet in which he criticised the reviewer

As you can see, my comment is a response to Ms Vetticad’s Bahubali review. Click here to read it in full if you have the stomach, but quoting from it what I was specifically commenting on should suffice:

There is so much else that is troubling in Rajamouli’s worldview: for one, the undisputed right of the Kshatriya to rule. If there is a question here, it is only: which Kshatriya – the good guy or the bad guy? And either way, it has to be one of the guys. All the spectacle in the world, the Durga-esque positioning of Sivagami and Devasena, and the emphasis on Mahendra/Amarendra’s virtues cannot camouflage Baahubali’s disturbing romanticisation of social status-quoism.

(Emphasis mine).

Let us for a moment set aside India Today’s slimy sleight of hand of clubbing my (unrelated) tweet with her accusation. Let us focus instead on how journalistic mediocrity unfolds here. Both Vetticad, and India Today’s consulting editor Sujay who must have reproduced that tweet with the approval of Vetticad, show no signs of comprehending what the tweet was trying to tell. People of normal intelligence should not need the explanation that follows, but alas, we have to explain stuff to journalists here, even if that should put us at the risk of getting accused of “Lutyensplaining”, maybe.

Bahubali is a (fictional) period drama, harking back to the (unstated but ancient) times when Kshatriya clans ruled Hindu kingdoms. Though the film does not depict what might be typical of its assumed era (warrior queens, not unknown, were rather the exception than the norm) it is set way too back in history to make “progressive” statements of the kind that Vetticad demands, for that would knock it out of character. At any rate, the flick aims to thrill with the adventure (and to entertain with the romance) of a fantasy world set in a bygone era; its objective is not to deliver a profound message of social reform for the 21st century from the mouths of Maurya dynasty characters. That was the point I was making.

If I was addressing our simple-minded Catholic journalist-critic, I’d’ maybe have said: “Your criticism makes no sense. How would a Hollywood adventure film set in 13th century Rome sound if it went off on a tangent to depict a conflict between a white pope and a black contender?”. The answer of course is that such a film would be ridiculous; there were no black contenders to the papal office then and there aren’t any to this day (though a non-Kshatriya, OBC PM is ruling India). But I wasn’t even addressing our complexity-challenged victim-critic. So I did what I love most: I used sarcasm.

Sarcasm often draws a picture of exaggerated contrast to bring out the absurdity of the point it is ridiculing. Sarcasm allows me to go farther than a black pope. Though sex scandals galore in the Church, its priesthood is in theory celibate. Sex is the original sin. So, I can aim even “higher” than an African pope: a black, sexually active pope! But wait a minute, I don’t have to stop my imagination at a black, forni… err… love-making pope either. More reform is possible, since the Catholic church is also opposed to same-sex relationships. Let us teach it liberalism by asking for a black, lesbian Pope. And so on. Thus, making the final leap, we arrive at: how about a film set in 13th century Rome that shows a villainous white pope defeated by a black, female, lesbian, pregnant Pope? Surely, the revolutionary message of social reform that it delivers will receive standing ovation from a 2017 audience comprised of CBCI and its favored film critic, not to mention the delight it would subject the laity to, though the laity may have thronged cinemas to watch the spectacular feats of the black, female, lesbian, pregnant pope?

That is what I was saying to the best of my ability within the then-prevailing 140-letter tweet limitation. Of course, my choice of pope as a film character to illustrate the point was not arbitrary; to succeed, rhetorical analogies have to hit closer home. But perhaps it is the keyword “pope” that triggered the insecurities of our talented film critic, so she ran crying “he attacked my pope! he attacked my pope!” to India Today, wholly oblivious to the point I was making.

What about the sanity of the consulting editor who picked that tweet to illustrate my alleged trolling of the hapless woman? Same story there too, it seems. A Lutyens journalist is distinguished by his innate inability to do any research related to the story he is working on. Had Sujay clicked on my tweet and followed it to the film review authored by the woman he is airing publicity for, he’d surely have noticed the folly of using it. But he too went by what his lazy, unthinking tribe do: satisfied himself with the keyword.

That is how the Sujay-Vetticad duo attempted to pin the label of “troll” on me. Do I attribute it to malice? Of course, it all starts with malice. But to concoct the foul-smelling ghoulash that Lutyenistas serve, it takes a special ingredient: incompetence.

If they ever label you a troll because they are too dense to understand you, consider yourself Sujay’ed, or Vetticad’ed.

(This article was originally published on author’s blog and republished here with permissions.)

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