There’s fake news, and then there’s Magsaysay-level fake news.
Yesterday, the internet had been abuzz with a video that showed NDTV’s Vishnu Som with what looked like an Osama Bin Laden statue on his desk. As the internet had wondered why a senior journalist would keep a statue of the world’s most notorious terrorist on his work desk, Vishnu Som had issued a clarification — he’s said that he indeed kept a Russian Matryoshka doll of Osama Bin Laden in his office. “This is a Russian Matryoshka doll, widely available online, that I picked up on Red Square, Moscow several years back. I found it utterly bizarre that the world’s No 1 enemy would feature on a doll being sold right outside the Kremlin,” he tweeted at 6:31 PM yesterday. He also added that he used the doll as a paperweight.
— Mikku 🐼 (@effucktivehumor) February 29, 2020
While one might question why an Indian journalist would want to have the leader of the world’s largest terror organization starting at him all day as they worked, it became abundantly clear that the video and the pictures of the Osama bin Laden doll that were floating on the internet were indeed genuine. But that didn’t stop Magasaysay award winner Ravish Kumar from jumping in and claiming that the pictures were photoshopped.
” आई टी सेल की मशीन हर सुबह जाँच करती है कि उसके चंगुल में आए लोग होशियार तो नहीं हो गए। इसके लिए वो मूर्खता की जाँच करती है। हमारे सहयोगी विष्णु की मेज़ पर रूसी गुड़िया बाबुस्का रखी है। इसे फ़ोटोशॉप करके दिखाया जा रहा है कि आतंकी लादेन की तस्वीर रखी है। कल से यह फ़ोटो पचासों बार घूम कर आया है। (The (BJP) IT cell keeps a check on people that it opposes. That’s why they wait for them to slip up. Our colleague Vishnu had kept as Russian Babushka doll on his desk. It was photoshopped and made to look as though it’s a picture of terrorist Osama bin Laden. This (photoshopped) photo is now viral),” Ravish Kumar wrote on his Facebook at 12:04 pm today.
Even though Vishnu Som had issued a clarification that it was indeed an Osama bin Laden doll on his desk more than 18 hours prior, Ravish Kumar, with no basis or fact, claimed that the pictures were photoshopped to his 17 lakh followers on Facebook. His post was shared several times, before he seemed to realize his mistake, and made edits to his original post. Now instead of claiming that the pictures were photoshopped, he merely defends Som for having the doll on his desk. Both versions of his post can be seen here.
The absolute comedy of errors not only completely exposes NDTV and Ravish Kumar, but also raises several questions. Visnhu Som claims that he picked up the doll from Moscow on his travels, and the doll is widely available. Buying something just because it is widely available doesn’t make it right — pirated movies, drugs and arms, and pineapple on pizza are also widely available, but buying them doesn’t make them right. Also, one might make an impulse purchase, but to give it the pride of place on your desk for years, as Som seems to have done, is a wholly different matter. Most people keep pictures of their friends and family or their gods, but NDTV’s journalists clearly have slightly different tastes.
Which brings us to the second part of this train-wreck — Ravish Kumar’s defense of his colleague. Without clarifying with Vishnu Som, or verifying if it were really true, he went ahead and claimed the pictures were photoshopped, before realizing that Som had already admitted to the pictures being real a whole day prior. If these are the reporting standards of India’s award winning journalists, imagine what the rest of NDTV — and India’s mainstream media — is like.