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WaPo Simon Denyer’s Zakaria moment

UPDATE: Firstpost has been in touch with Washington Post’s India Bureau Chief, Simon Denyer, on the contradictory statements being made in the context of his article on Twitter and the media. This is what, verbatim, Denyer says on email:

I emailed Sanjaya Baru on June 18 and asked if we could chat, as I was writing a profile on the PM.

He said he was on holiday in Italy.

Then I raised the Caravan quotes which I thought were lovely and asked him if he could freshen them up.

He said I could use the quotes but gave me his mobile number in case I wanted to talk.

I called him up. We chatted about the PM's record. He said the first half of the PM's second term was a "disaster" and "completely wasted." He also said PM "could have made use of the opportunity he got in 2009. He chose not to."

Why, then, does Dr. Baru say, on Facebook, that “Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year.” ?

The original story we published this morning follows:

 

Yesterday, in the context of his article in Washington Post criticising the Prime Minister, Simon Denyer was all bluster and bombast. At the centre of the criticism hurled at Denyer, was the Congress’ assertion that the quotes in the article credited to Sanjaya Baru, were not made to Denyer. Denyer stuck by his story repeatedly during appearances on prime time news television.

Early this morning, the Washington Post updated his story with the following introductory disclaimer:

“Correction:

An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.” While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks.

The article has been updated.”

The updated version can be read here.

Neither Denyer nor Washington Post offers a semblance of an apology for the fact that the article ‘failed’ to credit the Caravan.

Screen grab of the amended Washington Post article.

More importantly, the correction is, in itself, a diversion. The issue is not one of attribution or the lack of it. The issue is that, on reading the original version, the sense a reader would have got is that both Baru and Guha made these comments to Denyer in a recent exchange, not statements that they had made in 2011.

If Baru and Guha has been asked by Denyer whether they had indeed made these statements, where is the question of either saying that the attribution was inaccurate? These words have been acknowledged by the two since the publication in Caravan. The issue isn't whether the quotes from the Caravan are accurate -- i.e. Caravan quoted them accurately -- but why Denyer didn't acknowledge these quotes were taken from the article, and not from anything either man said to him.

The Post pretends that there is at least some reasonable basis for Denyer's omission: While “both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks .”

That's like saying a journalist can use quotes from any publication as long as he goes to the person quoted and asks them for permission. But the copyright here belongs not to the person quoted but the journalist and publication that did the original reporting. The idea that either Guha or Baru could give "permission" to use their old quotes as original to the Washington Post is ludicrous. On Sanjaya Baru’s Facebook account, this is his update on the issue: “Simon Denyer quotes me in WashPo without talking to me. He has merely rehashed what I told Caravan last year.”

This is far, far worse than what Farid Zakaria did in Time. Denyer has passed off the conversations that Caravan’s editorial team had with Baru and Guha as his own, to bolster the superficiality of the rest of the story. This morning, Denyer said on Twitter, “Would only stress that I spoke to both Guha and Baru. And that I continue to stand by the story.”

Sure, you spoke to them. What is important is not whether or not you spoke to them; what is important is what they said to you in the conversations.

Mr. Denyer, your story is shot to pieces, and there is little that you can stand by. It’s time to acknowledge your failed attempt at deception; apologise to Caravan magazine, to the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister.

Manmohan Singh may or may not be all the things Baru and Guha have said about him, but they were said, Mr. Denyer, to someone else.