The Jack Reacher of Indian
Television & Anchor News Today
R. Sukumar, in Live Mint, 05/11/2016
Like Lee Child's muscular man of action, Arnab Goswami is judge, jury and sometimes executioner
(Note: Arnab Goswami has his friends and foes and admirers, but none of the English TV viewers can forget him. Nor can anyone say he/she could not hear him because he never stops shouting, even roaring at times, because he is aggressive to clinch his point of view, which some pundits in the Journalism business say that an editor or Anchor shouldn’t do.
One standing principle is journalism is; “Facts are sacred and opinions are free.” Sacred means, it should be same whoever reports them, but an editor can and should have his own views. Only he should not impose them on his readers. This scribe has strong views on many issues but equally he invites counter views, nay asks readers to do the service of a “devil’s advocate”.
CCV’s editorial notes are a case in point. It is meant to help readers to get at the central issue of the report or article fast, not to impose the editor’s view on anyone. It is not done in most publications because it is too time-consuming for the editor.
Arnab has proved himself to be phenomenon in Indian Television Journal and has changed its course for the better already and for the future. Central to robust journalism is its capacity to ask questions to the Powerful, who can fire you, that is, to politicians, ministers and the PM. For that one needs guts which most of the editors of political and religious publications don’t have. One need only to look at almost all publications, especially the Catholic Journals. They are all “caged birds” or “their master’s Voice”, unlike Jesus the questioner par excellence, whom they proclaim to be their leader, but rarely follow. That Guy from Galilee was both an “Angry young man in a hurry” and also “sweet Jesus meek and mild.”
In the news about Arnab – the “sacred” part of it — is that he resigned. Or was he politely relieved of his duty which was too tiring for him? It is not clearly stated. If he was fired, was he fired by the Jains who own the “Times Now” or by the political bosses in the Country? Coming in the wake of an order or advise to shut down NDTV for one day, one is temped to raise a question mark about the right word: resigning, quitting or firing. In any case CCV wish him better and more fruitful exposure in the field of Journalism itself.
Finally, “Circa 2016, Goswami is Times Now and Times Now is Goswami” concludes the writer of this article, which I readily endorse. It reminds me of what a saintly father figure, Fr. Balagur, who was the Vicar General of Cardinal Valarian Gracias of Bombay said some 40 years ago: “What is New Leader?(Catholic weekly of Chennai), it is james kottoor.” Many others must have thought differently. Also history can repeat itself. james kottoor, editor)
From Jack Reacher to Arnab Goswami, the 2010s belong to men of action who eschew the grey of nuanced positions for the black and white of certitude that can only come from certitude.
They know because they just know—not just the truth, but the popular muscular truth, majority opinions packaged as facts and strengthened by purpose, nationalism and righteousness.
The allure of Reacher, a creation of Lee Child’s—a new book, the 21st, is out next week and I can’t wait for it – was cleverly explained by Malcom Gladwell (yes, he reads the books too) in an essay in The New Yorker last year. “Our contemporary fantasy is about lawlessness: about what would happen if the institutions of civility melted away and all we were left with was a hard-muscled, rangy guy who could do all the necessary calculations in his head to insure that the bad guy got what he had coming,” he wrote.
Reacher makes sure the bad guy gets what he has coming. Goswami is neither hard-muscled nor rangy, but he does the same. Like Reacher, he is judge, jury and sometimes executioner, all rolled into one.
Reacher is the archetypal outsider—he lives off the grid, with no baggage other than what he has in his pockets. So is Goswami. His peers and rivals are all New Delhi-based journalists who rub shoulders with the men and women in power (and the men and women out of power). He is based in Mumbai. Many of his rivals are reporter-anchors with editor designations. Goswami is a true editor-anchor. What he lacks in knowledge, he makes up with stamina. What his team lacks in terms of depth or width of reportage, he makes up with choice of stories.
Many people and most journalists hate him. The middle-class, tax-paying, English-channel-watching Indian Everyman adores him. This is an audience that should be Exhibit A in any argument on why literacy isn’t always the same as education (popular Indian commercial fiction, as publishers term it, should be Exhibit B). It is an audience that believes in simple truths. It is an audience that feels hard done by, despite the relative privilege it enjoys in a country with hundreds of millions of poor. And it is an audience that would like someone to ask questions, the simple, obvious questions, loudly and repeatedly.
Why are our roads bad? Why do criminals deserve a fair trial? Why are ministers going on useless overseas study tours at our expense? How can you not like our prime minister? Why do you eat beef? Why didn’t you stand up while the national anthem was playing? Whose side are you on, anyway? What do you mean, Sachin Tendulkar is selfish? How can you say Aamir Khan is not intelligent? Why shouldn’t Sidin Vadukut’s books be considered for the Booker?
Goswami is that someone, the angry man who channels the anger every member of this audience feels. They’d like to shout and scream and rant and rave at politicians. They can’t, but Goswami can, and does. He isn’t as suave and smooth as some other anchors on other English channels and that works to his advantage—this audience may admire an anchor for his suaveness, but it isn’t going to trust him on that very count.
I do not know whether this approach to TV journalism was Goswami’s idea or that of the Jains who own and run the Times Group and have made a name for themselves by giving readers and advertisers what they want (as opposed to many others who believe in giving readers what they need and hoping that the audience they thereby aggregate will attract advertisers). It was unique. It was brilliant. It was Indian. And it worked.
Ahead of the 2014 general elections, Goswami was the only one to interview both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. Frost-Nixon it wasn’t. Goswami ran circles around Gandhi, who didn’t do himself any favours by being vague when he could have been forceful. Modi, man of action that he is, held his own. The interviews burnished Goswami’s image as India’s most powerful journalist.
Meanwhile, his style of journalism made him a pop icon. He has appeared in Amul’s riffing-the-news ads. His takedown of President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit Mukherjee, a Congress parliamentarian, who referred to women activists as “dented and painted” went viral and even inspired mash-ups such as this one. And even when the rare guest on his show out-Arnabed him, as the BJP’s Subramanian Swamy did, there was enough in the proceedings to inspire another mash-up. No other Indian anchor has inspired such spin-offs.
Goswami’s popularity ensured that he got anyone he wanted on his show, The Newshour, including journalists who didn’t particularly have a very high opinion of either the man or his style of journalism, but just couldn’t ignore his show’s popularity.
It isn’t clear whether his coming exit is a function of push or pull—it is usually a mix of the two—but it is surprising that the people who run the Times group have agreed to let him go. Circa 2016, Goswami is Times Now and Times Now is Goswami. Maybe this will give the group the opportunity to build a news channel similar to its newspapers—around a core of excellent reporters and competent, but invisible, editors.
As for Goswami, whom I do not know at all, I hope the public persona he portrayed on TV is what he really is—for it will be very difficult for him to be anything else now. (R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org)