First of all, I am glad that Mr. Vedantam has entered this dialog on Sulekha, where nobody gets home turf advantage. Below are my responses to his article:
Vedantam: “Sulekha.com did not seek my response before providing a forum for Mr Malhotra.”
Rejoinder to Mr. Vedantam's column
My response to Mr. Vedantam:
First of all, I am glad that Mr. Vedantam has entered this dialog on Sulekha,
where nobody gets home turf advantage. Below are my responses to his article:
Vedantam: “Sulekha.com did not seek my response before providing a forum
for Mr Malhotra.”
Malhotra’s response: Nor did WP seek my response before or after it posted
Mr. Vedantam’s article. Why was Sulekha supposed to get his okay before?
It is good that they gave him the chance after, is it not? Is he operating
under some presumed privilege, whereby he gets an advance chance to refute me
even before mine appears?
Vedantam: “I ran his quotes and the context in which they would appear
past him (via email) before publication.”
Malhotra’s response: What he was required to let me know was the quotes
he would use from our interview. What he was not required to do as per
his interpretation and did not do were two things: (i) He did not feel compelled
to change any items that I complained about pertaining to my quotes,
and he merely felt that he had to notify me of them – which does not
prevent being quoted in ways that causes misunderstandings. (ii) He made clear
that quotes he got from sources other than the interview were not subject to
being disclosed to me in advance, and these included whatever he picked up from
third parties and various materials on the internet. Given these two caveats,
his system of disclosure was not fool-proof the final article demonstrates.
Vedantam: “He was given lengthy opportunities to rebut his critics in
my story, and is quoted doing so.”
Malhotra’s response: Again, he did lip service by including a few items
from my side, after first ‘setting me up’ (by association) as potentially linked
with violent and being “dangerous,” and then letting me come across like a defendant
trying to cover his rear-end. What about my emails about the importance to contextualize
and frame properly – why did he ignore them?
Vedantam: “No PR executives ever contacted me.”
Malhotra’s response: PR is more than just what is done by “executives”
who are officially designated for PR, and nor would they necessarily call him
directly. To come out clean, Mr. Vedantam must disclose ALL contacts he or WP
had from all third parties, individual scholars with status, institutions including
SAJA (which gave him 3 or 4 awards and have a privileged access to him), etc.
Vedantam: “Mr Malhotra claims my story was strategically published on
Malhotra’s response: I did not say the timing was intentional. I said
it was unfortunate. We can never find what the intentions might have been, but
the consequences are the same on the readers: many devout Christian called me
and said that they had no idea I was linked to violent Hindus.
Vedantam: “Dr Doniger denies saying it” [that ”the Gita is a dishonest
Malhotra’s response: Naturally she would deny. But the Philly Enquirer
is no rag, and a quote from a prestigious paper should have held weight in the
mind of Mr. Vedantam, being a journalist himself. Did he bother to chat with
the Philly Enquirer’s reporter to get his side of the facts? On what basis
did he give Doniger the benefit of the doubt over the report of a prestigious
newspaper? Why did he not give me the same benefit of doubt over Doniger? Equivalent
treatment would have been for him to have printed Doniger’s quote in the Philly
Enquirer, along with Doniger’s denial. That would be similar to his quotes of
Doniger against me and then citing me as denying the charges.
Vedantam: He reported that “Mr. Sanu “charged that Doniger's article
perpetuated misleading stereotypes and asked for a rewrite by an “insider.”
Malhotra’s response: Stating it as Sanu’s “charge” does not have the
same weight as citing a few specific items where Sanu proves bias. Why
did Mr. Vedantam have to cite several specific examples of violent threats by
Hindus right at the beginning of his article, and why could he not simply have
generically alluded to “threats?” He knows very well that generic references
do not have the same dramatic impact as specific items. Just as “the Gita is
a dishonest book” arouses readers, so also many specific items pointed out by
Sanu in the Encarta would have undermined Doniger more than Vedantam wanted
to. His strategy: When the charges are against Hindus they are very specific
and dramatized, but when they go against the Doniger club, they are left vague
Vedantam: “My story does not blame Hinduism.”
Malhotra’s response: Ask a panel of neutral readers what they would think
of this guilt-by-association. To name “Sambhaji Brigade” is meaningless to American
readers unless one points out that they are opposed to Hindutva parties, i.e.
this attack was about Marathi pride and not religion.
Vedantam: “He [Malhotra] fails to mention that critics are quoted throughout
Malhotra’s response: Vedantam did not mention Hinduphobia at all as being
the issue, when that was precisely my issue. Rather, he framed it as “academic
freedom” being denied by Hindu fanatics, and once placed in this frame no amount
of nominal denials would be enough to offset the damage he caused.
Vedantam: “Mr Malhotra claims he is not involved in public relations.”
Malhotra’s response: Again, a slick manipulation of context here: My
championing India’s case on outsourcing kinds of issues is unrelated to the
issue framed by Vedantam’s article. My issue about academic scholars causing
Hinduphobia, is unrelated to India, Inc. as I explain that it is about an American
minority as well. If as he now claims, “improving the image of something” is
PR, then are he and the Post not basically doing PR a great deal of the time?
Vedantam: “Mr Malhotra acknowledges that his article 'censors' the Washington
Malhotra’s response: Another misquote by Vedantam. Readers may please
verify that my column says as follows: “In anticipation of any accusations that
this Sulekha article “censors” Washington Post, I wish to say the following...”
That this is being equated by Mr Vedantam with my “acknowledging” that my article
censors Post shows how inaccurate his reporting is, even when the hard facts
are sitting right before everyone’s eyes. Is this journalistic incompetence
Furthermore, Mr. Vedantam’s so-called response fails to even mention the core of my criticisms, which remain as follows:
1) He fails to acknowledge Hinduphobia by scholars and media (such as his article) as being my main concern – what I called intellectual corruption and media corruption.
2) He fails to address my criticism of Indian sepoys who work for this corrupt system, including many of his cabal at SAJA who give him awards, and how this resembles the way the British appropriated many Indians to help run the Empire.
3) He ignores the intense debate going on between Emory and a group called “The Concerned Community” consisting of eminent NRI professionals.
4) He ignores the criticisms of Doniger by many eminent academic scholars, some of whom I listed in my column. He ignores that Prof. Ramdas Lamb gave him concrete data in a telephone interview that would contradict his prejudices but that he entirely disregarded in his article.
5) He implicitly rationalizes Courtright’s “limp phallus” by calling it high-flown Freudian scholarship, while failing to point out the numerous experts in Freudian psychoanalysis who have criticized that work.
6) He fails to admit that conflating the issue with the Laine controversy was misleading to the readers, and was a device used to sensationalize the article at the cost of spreading Hinduphobia (so as to get another SAJA award???)
7) He ignores my points about how Muslims, Christians and other have made similar protests, which got treated more sympathetically by the press without pathologizing the protestors. I gave the concrete example of MF Hussein just from a week ago and yet he ignores this point of asymmetry.
8) He ignores my complaint about selective labeling. While some persons are tagged as “Hindu activists” and fundamentalists/militants, he fails to use consistent standards and tags. To be consistent, Mr. Prashad should have been tagged as a “communist activist” which he is by his own admission, and Ms. Flueckiger as having a “Christian fundamentalist” family background. He fails to disclose the axis between Indian communists and evangelists, and how it is impacting Indian politics and South Asian Studies.
9) He ignores my point about Hinduism as an American minority religion and not just about India.
10) He fails to appreciate my comparisons with Japan Studies, Pakistan Studies, among others, as ways to examine the state of India Studies.
11) He fails to note the important critique by eminent physicist, ECG Sudarshan, in support of my position.
12) He ignores my point about the correlations between Hinduphobia and the Dotbusters and others like them.
13) He ignores Richard Crasta’s deconstruction of Indian writers’ servility to the system even when it abuses their culture.
Washington Post should not think that Mr. Vedantam’s entering the debate on Sulekha absolves it of printing my side of the story in its own pages. Post’s articles have a readership in the millions whereas whatever we do here on Sulekha will get readership in the thousands only. There must be equivalent levels of distribution of ideas of all sides to have a level playing field.
I respect Mr. Vedantam’s freedom and he must give our side the courtesy of an equal amount of exposure through his paper.