Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, Mark Twain said. Some of the Indian news channels and social media gladiators took the advice literally in their hurry to ensure Kanhaiya Kumar gets an extended stay at Tihar.
On Wednesday morning, NewsX and India News, two channels trying to scream their way out of TRP trouble, had their 'nailed you' moment when they aired a video claiming it exposed Kumar, the JNU Students' Union facing sedition charges.
'Still innocent for Congress, Left?' NewsX asked with righteous vindication, showing a video where Kumar was seen demanding "azaadi."
India News also joined the hunt feast, claiming in bold, bombastic headlines that Kumar's fate was sealed because he was caught on camera demanding "azaadi."
Those baying for Kanhaiya's blood, jumped at the opportunity, thumping their chests with 'Í-told-you-so' glee.
Looks like they spoke too fast and too early.
Sherlock Holmes once famously remarked on the importance of first-hand evidence. He also warned against first forming a hypothesis and then looking for evidence to substantiate it. 'It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts,’ he advised.
But, some in the media seem to believe more in that adage about facts flying out of the window every time a story knocks on the door. So, the two news channels aired the video, only to be told it was doctored. And, this is the real irony of it, that their irrefutable evidence of Kumar's guilt may well turn out to be equally irrefutable evidence of his innocence.
In the video, Kumar is indeed demanding azaadi. But not from India, or for Kashmir. He is heard demanding freedom from poverty, hunger, RSS and the other 'isms' whose tyranny he, and many others like him, want to end. (Pity he did not demand azaadi from the media on steroids and hash-tags.)
Kumar may have gone on to become another instant victim of media's inability to adhere to the basic rule of journalism of facts being sacred, comment free. But the serendipitous happenstance of another channel, and a more prominent one, being at the right place and relying on first-hand evidence, left the two channels slurping egg off each other's face. And Kumar survived to fight another day.
Calling the video aired by NewsX and India News doctored, ABP News released another tape to set the record straight. "ABP News camera caught him (Kumar) raising ‘azadi’ slogans. He was shouting slogans with a lot of energy and scores of students were following him. However, he never said anything bad about the country. He said in his slogans that he wanted freedom from poverty, freedom for communal blood-shed, freedom from social disparity. He never even once raised any anti-India slogan.
The video is of 11 February. He was addressing students at the ad-hoc block of the university. This is the same day when he gave a stirring speech about how he loved the country and had complete faith in Baba Saheb Ambedkar and the constitution."
By then, the damage had been, less to Kumar's image and more to the ego of the twitterati that had announced the student leader guilty, hashtagged him to death.
The chatterati, twitterati and the TRPrati have got it horribly wrong so often that they have become a living embodiment of the saying, once is happenstance, twice a tragedy and then Saturday Night With Kapil. A few days ago, as Firstpost had pointed out, they generated a lot of mirth and sympathy by falling for a fake letter from Jawaharlal Nehru labelling Subhas Chandra Bose a "war criminal" of England that even a kindergarten student would have refused to accept as genuine. (You can read the full story here). But, such is the melee for TRPs that someone or the other always trips and falls headlong in the gutter of rumours.
It is difficult to believe that the mainstream media does this on purpose. In most of the cases, they are, like the intended targets, themselves the victims of rumours and doctored documents and videos; stupid spiders who get caught in their own web.
But, it doesn't absolve them of the guilt of peddling fiction, behaving like irresponsible trolls who compete with each other for spreading canards, distorting facts, inciting mob frenzy, ruining reputations and destroying lives.
In most cases their own and the mobs they cheerlead.