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Media Shy No More
I am glad the prime minister has taken my advice! Now, before I am stoned to death, let me read that again. I am glad Narendra Modi has decided of his own free will to resume normal relations with the fourth estate. As readers of my columns and this page know, I have been banging on for the past four months about a worrying situation: an informal information blackout, initiated and implemented by the PM himself. As a result, newspapers and TV channels have had to survive on handouts from the Press Information Bureau, which in turn is controlled by the Prime Minister’s Office. It became more scary when sources in the government revealed that this minimalist approach was going to be the media policy of Modi’s NDA.
So, when last Saturday (October 25), the PM’s Man Friday, Amit Shah, invited 400 hacks (Outlook got invited, I didn’t) for high tea to meet the Boss, it turned out to be a gala event, with middle-aged editors falling over themselves to shake Mr Modi’s hand and, if lucky, click a selfie. Eyewitness accounts confirm that Shahrukh Khan could not have received such a thunderous reception!
While the ground rules for the Modi Meet were clearly laid down—no questions to be asked—the unfailingly reliable Pioneer reported, “Bridging the gap (that) inadvertently crept in between him and the media since he took charge, the prime minister said he was looking for ways to expand his relationship with it.” Mr Modi added: “Some way will be found to interact with the media directly. By interacting directly, not only does one get information, but also vision, which is very valuable.”
The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating. If the prime minister invites me for a one-to-one meeting, then one can say he has kept his word (just joking!).
Drunk on Insult
I don’t know whether to feel offended or elated but my parody accounts are quite a hit. One is called @DrunkVinodMehta. The responses are routinely abusive, something I can live with: If I can dish it out to others, I should be able to take it too. In fact, I enjoy being lampooned if the lampooning is intelligent and witty. With a few exceptions, my mockers are decidedly unfunny and concentrate on the sole occasion I was caught on a live TV programme sipping single malt. Since then I have become a ‘drunkard’ for folks on the social media.
Now, I am an occasional tippler. The last time I had one too many was in December 2012 when my memoirs were published. Usually, I drink a glass or two of wine in the summer and two small whiskies in the winter. Whether that intake makes me the perfect model for Vijay Mallya’s Bagpiper whisky, a constant refrain of my traducers, is debatable.
All this I accept. What irritates me are the fabrications. Most of last week, the twitterati kept insisting, “Vinod Mehta tried to warm up to Modi. He was denied an appointment. He is bitter.” Or this info, “Rajdeep Sardesai lost 23.75 in Teen Patti to Drunk Vinod Mehta.”
Let me repeat. I do not tweet. I do not blog. I am not on Facebook. Social media and I are strangers.
Tit for Tat
The passing away of Washington Post editor, Benjamin Bradlee, persuaded me to go back to the autobiography of Katharine Graham, the owner of the paper. The two reporters, Bernstein and Woodward, who broke the Watergate story, telephoned the attorney general in the Nixon administration, John Mitchell. Bernstein read to him on the phone the first two paras of a story scheduled to be published in the paper. “JEEEESUS,” Mitchell exploded. Bernstein thought he might die on the telephone. “All that crap, you are putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied,” protested Mitchell. “Katie Graham’s going to get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”
A stunned Bernstein called Bradlee at home to read him Mitchell’s quotes and sought permission to include them in the already prepared story. Bradlee told Bernstein to use all of it except the specific reference to Graham’s ‘tit’. Nevertheless, Bradlee decided to check with Graham. She agreed it was too good a quote, it had to be used.
The quote, in the original, somehow leaked and became the talk of Washington. Art Buchwald, the NY Times satirist, presented Graham with a tiny gold breast which she wore round her neck when she went to meet Nixon at the White House.
These days my mornings usually begin with listening to M.S. Subbulakshmi. Although I am a card-carrying agnostic, there is something almost divine in her singing which leaves me calm and tranquil. Editor, too, is mesmerised as he sits besides me listening.
I remembered Claud Cockburn’s warning: Never believe anything until it is officially denied.
Vinod Mehta is editorial chairman, Outlook, and its founding editor-in-chief; E-mail your diarist: vmehta [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com