Intellectual Prostitutes

John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the NEW YORK TIMES, was asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press Club in 1953. Below is his candid confession [it’s worth noting that Swinton was called “The Dean of His Profession” by other newsmen, who admired him greatly].

“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an independent press. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.

“If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell the country for his daily bread. You know it, and I know it and what folly is this toasting an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull strings and, we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

The heading for this blog is not selected by me, but I have used it from a small article above that my friend Sathe sent me, about thoughts of John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff of New York Times. I have produced this article verbatim. This article came to my mind when all our great newspapers, the intellect of India were busy covering Yakub!
Us dumb creatures who do not write for newspapers were “eagerly” awaiting to know the details about final moments of Yakub. And lo were we satisfied!! We had more than our stomach full of information on the event. How does the newspaper system decide to give importance to an event and to what extent? Is there a cartel out there? How come ALL the newspapers gave extremely high importance to this event? And did extremely heavy coverage? Vis a Vis this event, Abdul Kalam burial was a non-event, but by mistake, the newspapers gave a couple of columns on half a page for his funeral, on the front page!!
Such clarity of thought from Newspaper Editors and Owners! This gang failed a bit; I assume, that there was no ball by ball description of all the events during the night when Supreme Court was deliberating over Yakub’s appeals. What an opportunity to miss! A la Hindi movie “Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani” there could have been actual video shooting of hanging, had these guys planned in advance and got the right permissions! What went wrong? Did any heads roll (no pun intended)? Have these guys lost the urge to sensationalise the event?

On a serious note, what is really going on!! On a day when one of our outstanding presidents is to be buried, and we have a proven terrorist hanged. The media was almost glorifying the hanging as if the person was a martyr. A newspaper had a headline “They hanged Yakub”! What is the meaning of “They”? Papers are not part of society! Does TRP, Business angle and all such things make these so-called intellectuals blind & deaf? That it makes them Dumb is a given! What can justify such treatment of the news items? The hanging and allied coverage covered five to six pages in the so-called National Newspapers.

According to my hanging or no hanging is a fundamental question and there should be a healthy debate on the subject. Many countries have adopted “No Death Penalty” for any conviction. This is fine as long as the majority thinks that way or in our case, the Parliament passes such law. (That again is a subject for major discussion because current fashion is “Not to Let Parliament Function”) Both the Death Penalty and No Death Penalty have their pros and cons! But when “No Death Penalty” thought process started becoming more acceptable, terrorism was not a serious problem! During modern century terrorism has reached new lows starting with 1993 riots, 9/11 and 26/11 just to name a few. For this dastardly act, I am not very sure if “No Death Penalty” is the correct way of thinking. 1984 Delhi riots and Gujrat 2002 riots are similar events, I would call them local terrorism.

But our so-called intellectuals mixed these two things. On the one hand, the due legal process of Indian sovereign state had decided that the person was a proven terrorist. The law of the land has provision for hanging convicts in rarest of rare cases. These intellectuals are of course experts in everything in this world!! They started saying that judge A would have decided “No Hanging” whereas judge B said, Hang! Now, the law is a matter of interpretation, and rarest of the rare case will definitely be a matter of interpretation. This particular case involved many steps at different levels, the interpretation by ALL was “rarest of the rare case”! So how can one say that hanging is wrong! All of them had amnesia, while this case dragged for years together. Suddenly, when the date for hanging was declared everybody woke up! Are these people going to start a sustained campaign for “No Death Penalty”! No, they are not when such campaigns are taken up, things become routine, and then you don’t get to give your “expert” views on TV and write TRP based articles. Such campaigns are a long drawn struggle and become mundane at some stage, but current TRP based scenario get to be discussed over a glass of “Chivas”! Guys will you start a campaign, start a chain satyagraha at Jantar Mantar till No Death Penalty” becomes law. Duh, what are you talking! Such campaigns are for zolawallas, and AAP’s not the “Chivas” wallas!

Coming back to John Swinton! If that was the scene in 1953 which way would you think today’s scene be? Up, Down, flat god knows! When I was much younger, a corporate house used to give away suitings and sarees to reporters! What do they distribute currently? It must be something really so strong that this fraternity collectively gives away its thinking process! Are so-called smart people so much afraid of their jobs? Is that the only career option available to them? Is this the reason they are scared to behave normally? I am not saying one has to write nasty things about Yakub. Yakub was an educated human who had taken the wrong path in life and suffered legally, because of his deeds. But six pages (I am writing six pages as a metaphor, there could have been 10 pages or 2 pages devoted) of writing on such an event when on the same day a gem of person was being buried and got almost no pages!

Swinton may have used word prostitute as a derogatory term, but I am not writing in the same vein. Prostitutes are almost always helpless and continue to do the only thing they know, just to survive. But our friends! God bless our friends, they don’t know what they did!! Do they not have any other talents? Why even one of them was not thrown out for writing the truth? Why from next day Yakub vanished from these same pages? Is it that the “Owner” gave them a kick on the butt for the ugly coverage? What happened? We will probably never know. I am sure that such events will be repeated as long as so-called Business or TRP take over!!