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Thursday, December 2, 2021

Half truths, obfuscation and lies : a case study on Wall Street Journal’s reporting on Bharat

On June 14, 2020, the Wall Street journal published an article by its Bharat based correspondents Shan Li and Vibhuti Agarwal. The article titled “Covid-19 Punctures Narendra Modi’s Aura as Some Supporters Sour on India’s Strongman” gives the impression as if PM Narendra Modi has become very unpopular in Bharat. The fact is that the article is riddled with half truths, obfuscations, biased opinions and outright lies.

Before we come to the article though, let us take a look at the authors. According to WSJ Shan Li has “previously covered the coronavirus pandemic from New York and China’s tech giants from Beijing.” On her Twitter account, she can be seen canvassing for news in Bharat by randomly tagging dozens of people. Many of these people were openly spreading fake news. In any case, she seems to have little idea of gathering news online and has no actual sources.

The byline also mentions Vibhuti Agarwal, who has been associated with WSJ in Bharat since 2007. She has been caught spreading fake news earlier too through her articles. In a article published in 2020, she had claimed that IB officer Ankit Sharma was killed by Hindus while chanting “Jai Shri Ram“! For this she had cited the interview of Ankur Sharma, brother of the murdered officer. However, the quoted person claimed that he had never made any such statement.

Now that we have established the competence and intentions of the reporters, let us see how they have presented their case to show that PM Modi’s “aura” is “punctured” due to CoVID 19 handling. The first paragraph has something that has no real relation to the issue at hand. It mentions the “Hindu nationalist politics” of the Prime Minister and then his demonatization and agricultural reforms for no discernible reason.

Anyways, the article then comes to the topic at hand and gives a number of statistics about the pandemic in Bharat. Curiously, it does not mention the statewise breakup and how of the ten most impacted states with maximum number of cases or deaths, only two- Karnataka and UP- were BJP ruled, which again managed their crisis significantly better.

It is amusing to note that of all the persons quoted in the article, two are from UP, one from Bihar, one from Karnataka, one is a US based academic and lastly one is a BJP spokesperson. A grand total of four common persons from all over Bharat are enough to support their claim that PM Modi is losing popularity. Curiously, of these four, two supported Modi, one was ruing the lack of choices and only one is actually going to vote against him.

Our intrepid reporters then quote unknown “veteran political experts“, no doubt of excellent quality, to declare that CoVID 19 has “sparked the kind of vocal public criticism that his government has tried to muzzle“. Probably these political experts might not be on social media or yet introduced to news channels of Bharat, where criticism of PM Modi is quite common, without any negative consequences. Possibly, these experts mean that those criticising Modi should be immune to all legal proceedings, even in matters where they have violated the laws. However, as far as one knows, such a generous law is not in existence in any country of the planet.

The journalists then mention two Twitter hashtags -#ModiResign and #ModiFailsIndia – against PM Modi, that have apprently gone viral after or during the CoVID crisis. The reporters will profit by using the advanced search function in Twitter to search these hashtags from 2014 to 2019, when there were no CoVID, and find that these hashtags were regularly trended by usual detractors of PM Modi even before CoVID.

The only named expert they quote in the article is one Irfan Nooruddin, based in Washington and employed with an American think tank. The good scholar gave BJP 220-250 seats during the 2019 elections. After the results of 2014 elections, he emphasised on the fact that Modi had received “only 31%” of the vote, knowing full well that Congress had 28% in 2009 elections and no party had ever received more than 50% votes in national elections in Bharat ever! In any case, our scholar thinks that coming UP elections would be the barometer of Modi’s popularity and perhaps he is right. He has also mentioned that media houses “have aggressively covered the breakdown of India’s healthcare system” and that “the Supreme Court has also harshly criticized the government” , both of which actually go against the narrative of a tamed media and pliant courts.

As our reporters want to imbue their article with more authority, they quote the data from an agency. The only thing is not only do they quote wrong statistics, they also support their narrative of “collective anger” against him based on these statistics. To quote from the article “One recent survey showed that Mr. Modi’s approval ratings have sunk to 31%, the lowest level since polling began in August 2019, according to Morning Consult, a data intelligence company that tracks a dozen global leaders.

Morning Consult maintains the tracker at its website that the reporters refer to. The fact is that Mr. Modi is the only leader whose approval ratings have never sunk below 60% among all the 12 world leaders being tracked. On June 14th, when the article was last updated, Modi’s rating stood at a solid 66%! This was the highest among all those leaders. One could assume that the reporters mentioned “Net Approval Ratings” i.e. the difference between approval ratings and disapproval ratings. But here too, Mr. Modi stands tall among all the world leaders, with the highest 38% of Net Approval Rating. Not a single leader comes even close to Modi in popularity. Yet, how many articles do we see on erosion of popularity of other world leaders? Anyways, where the 31% figure comes from remains a mystery, however one could speculate that it came from the same place the Ankit Sharma quote came : from the fertile minds of our reporters, manured by bias and nourished by incompetence and hubris.

As we saw, the whole report is based on half truths, obfuscation and outright lies. Any serious and reputed media house will not tolerate such blunders in reporting, yet for years these reporters have been working for the WSJ. This speaks a lot about not only the integrity of the reporters, but also the quality of journalism done at Wall Street Journal.


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Pawan Pandey
Pawan Pandey is an Educator based in Dehradun, currently working as Senior Staff Writer with HinduPost. He is an Engineer by training and a teacher by passion. He teaches for Civil Service Exams as well as for Common Law Admission Test. He has deep interest in politics, economy, culture and all things Bharatiya. He fancies himself to be a loving husband and doting father. His weakness is Bharatiya food, particularly sweets. His hobbies include reading, writing and listening to Bharatiya music.

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