From India's anchor to embarrassing self-parody: How Arnab Goswami lost the plot

It’s ironic that Arnab Goswami has gone into outrage overdrive with the hashtag #NirbhayaInsulted. Ironic because night after night, Goswami makes his living and ratchets up the TRPs by insulting all kinds of people – many of them his own guests on his show.

The pros and cons of the documentary India’s Daughter have been discussed threadbare. But Goswami, no longer content with just being a journalist in that debate, has gone and inserted himself as a player in that fracas.

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Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami. Image courtesy: Facebook

“If this is journalism then God save this profession,” he thundered as he opened up the phone lines for more outrage while flames licked around the Burning Question ticker on the screen. It’s one thing for Goswami to personally have problems with the India’s Daughter documentary. It’s another thing for a journalist to sit there and demand that the government prevent a fellow television channel from airing it.

Abhinandan Sekhri spells out the inherent problem in Goswami’s fulminations on NewsLaundry:

No matter how well-meaning and crazed, courageous and hysterical his earlier role as a combatant for the aam aadmi causes was, his attacking free speech on air and asking the government to go after a competing network is as low as a journalist can sink.

You can’t stand for free speech as all journalists must, you can’t stand for a free and fearless media as all journalists must, you can’t stand up in opposition to Section 66A of the Information Technology Act as all journalists must – when you have run a campaign pretty much asking for an official clampdown on another media organisation, on air.

That’s when you begin to wonder if Arnab Goswami has completely lost the plot and swallowed his own bombast. Goswami is a unique feature of Indian journalism. Love him or hate him, he has redefined the evening talk show, moving it out of the decorous template of Gymkhana Club debate into something more rambunctious, colourful, noisy and yes, Indian.

Argumentative, interrupting, opinionated and know-it-all, he is someone we all recognize. And honestly, he’s more fun than most of his lower-blood-pressure peers. When a great scandal breaks, thousands of Indians relish the thought that that night, Arnab Goswami will be in full bloom. And in a world where news is infotainment for most viewers, he rarely disappoints. They might learn nothing and even get a headache for their pain but he always delivers on the adrenaline rush.

No wonder Goswami is the subject of memes and parody rap videos. No wonder when Comedy Central did a segment on the Indian elections they chose the irate Goswami for a clip. He is a cultural phenomenon while his competitors are mere journalists. In listing all the reasons why Goswami is the meme of our times Venkat Ananth writes in Mint that his shows are a meme factory and his takedowns legendary. Krish Ashok of the Chennai-based Parodesy Noise parody music band tells Mint that what sets Goswami apart is a “curious lack of hypocrisy which doesn’t change as per situation.” He might be as Ashok says “borderline sane” but his audience knows what to expect and for one hour he delivers it like a “daily fix of cocaine or nicotine.”

But the problem with every drug is that higher doses become necessary for that same fix. Arnab Goswami is lurching into that lock-me-in-rehab territory and his guests know it. They smell blood in the air. That’s why even a relative nobody like Mahua Moitra representing the Trinamool Congress appeared to give Goswami the middle finger on national television for not allowing her to finish her sentence. “Arnab, keep talking,” she said as she seemed to offer up her middle finger. “This is a one-man show.”

Except it isn’t.

Goswami without guests is like a boxer without a punching bag. And the guests realize it. Recently some of his show’s regular guests like Vrinda Grover, Kavita Krishnan and Aruna Roy signed an open letter announcing they would be staying away from his panels because he routinely brands guests as "anti-national" or "terrorist" or "unpatritotic" just because he does not agree with them.

Dr. Subramanian Swamy has taken the fight a step further. He decided to boomerang the patented Goswami-takedown on its own creator.

Ignoramus. Liar. Laughing stock. Dumbo. Mentally retarded. Why don’t you use your brain?

As Swamy shot off insult after insult at his host, a gobsmacked nation wanted to know if the sky would fall now that the insulter-in-chief had been out-insulted in his own backyard. It didn’t but the show tipped over right at that moment from cartoon into caricature.

The point is there is something still lovable about a cartoon -- even a cartoon villain -- because his blustering heart is largely in the right place. While the viewers might tut tut and shake their heads, as Sekri points out “attacking Arnab on his style by entrenched journalists was a pathetic attempt to hide their own inadequacies.” Goswami’s great talent was he could tap into what his audience was thinking and then literally amplify it.

But a caricature is self-parody, which bares the emptiness behind the larger than life bluster. It takes itself, as opposed to the issues, way too seriously. It becomes not just judge but also a tone-deaf executioner demanding that a government crack down on another television station.

Yet just when you think all is lost and Goswami has been eaten up whole by his own monster, he goes and writes an eulogy for Vinod Mehta which is so deeply generous and devoid of bluster that it’s hard to believe it’s the same person.

No grudges, no hard feelings, no ill will, no politics, no agenda, and nothing to hide. Just terribly honest and very hungry for a good story…. Vinod was neither judgmental nor preachy nor defensive. He was just himself.

One wonders if Goswami reads his own words and sees the irony. Perhaps not. Irony was never the strong suit of his show. But it’s reassuring to know that somewhere behind the amped up doses of bile and vitriol, another Goswami is possible. And as Arundhati Roy, someone the likes of Goswami loves to hate, might say, on a quiet day you can hear him breathing.


Published Date: Mar 10, 2015 04:37 pm | Updated Date: Mar 10, 2015 04:40 pm