Yes, I think Barkha Dutt did a good job defending herself the other day on NDTV. No, I don't think the tapes show any evidence of corruption, in the sense of money exchanging hands, in the sense of paid news. Yes, as I said before in this space, ethics are sliding in every respect in every sphere, journalism no exception. When we wink at plagiarism, for example, when it is not even grounds to pull up a perpetrator, well, that's the slide I'm talking about.
Yet, despite what I said in that earlier post, something gnaws at me. What?
In the end, I think it is this. However political journalism works, however close you get to your sources, however influential and famous you become, in the end you are a journalist. Period. Your job is to sniff out what's news and report it. If you're not up for that, you should look for another career.
My own nose tells me that a PR professional making calls and negotiating political matters is news. It's something I would want to write about, if I found out about it.
Of course individual perceptions about what is and isn't newsworthy may vary. After all, I think that the marriage of two film stars is no kind of news. Yet clearly a lot of people think quite the opposite.
But I cannot imagine any journalist, seasoned or not, politically clued in or not, thinking that what Radia was doing -- from talking to journalists to discussing the use of the Shiv Sena to attack business rivals -- was not worth reporting. Sources must be protected, sure, so if that's the issue, report what she was doing while keeping her anonymous. But report it.
That's what's gnawing at me. That some eminent, experienced journalists apparently did not think this was a story worth reporting.
At least from where I look out on the world, this is the question the Sanghvis and Chawlas and Dutts must, at some point, answer. Because this is a question about ethical and professional standards, nothing less.
(A previous essay prompted by something Barkha Dutt did is here: The outrage-mongers).
Postscript: The more I think about this, the more tangled up I get. I've also been worried about the legality of this taping in the first place. Gautam Patel addresses that issue and continues into several other themes that are troubling too: All We Hear is Radia Gaga.
Postscript #2: Dammit I have to admit this is the most conflicted I've felt for a long time, about something in the news.
Is an error in judgement -- about what constitutes news, about who you speak to -- grounds for the loud campaign against Barkha Dutt? Because in the end, that's the substance of her involvement in this whole business. It may serve to underline your particular grievances against her, but the more I think about it, the surer I am that there's nothing more serious than this that these tapes say about her.
Why isn't there more of an uproar about the tape where Radia speaks about using the Shiv Sena against business rivals? (Let me remind you, she uses the phrase "go after"). Why doesn't this set off alarm bells among corporate types, among journalists, among bloggers/tweeters, even among the Sena's faithful? Is Dutt an easier target?