Rebuttal to Time Warner Board about CNN-Aslan Denigration of Hinduism

 

On March 18, we wrote an Open Letter to Time Warner Board of Directors about the willful & horrific denigration of Hinduism we saw in the CNN-Aslan show titled Believers. Like others, we had first written to Jeff Zucker, Worldwide President of CNN about our outrage. Predictably, Mr. Zucker did not respond.

So we took the next step and wrote our Open Letter to Time Warner Board of Directors. Apart from the natural escalation to the people who had appointed Jeff Zucker, we addressed what we perceived to be the core problem at Time Warner – “the Board of Directors of Time Warner, Inc.,” had “failed to achieve & maintain the necessary oversight of CNN, a subsidiary unit of”  their “company” and by doing so, the Time Warner Board had exposed themselves, “collectively & individually, to the charge of failure of” their “fiduciary responsibilities to the shareholders of Time Warner, Inc.”.

To their credit, Mr. Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman of Time Warner Board of Directors, wrote back to us with their response. The response was expeditious & detailed. But it was both inadequate and ill-conceived. So we wrote back with a detailed rebuttal to Mr. Bewkes & the Secretary of Time Warner within a day. We told Mr. Bewkes that “the content of your response actually helps the case we made in our letter” and supported this statement with a detailed analysis & rebuttal of the points made by Time Warner.

We think the points & counterpoints made in this written discussion are important and will prove relevant in future discussions about what Time Warner did and what they as well as other US media companies might do in the future to denigrate and/or defame Indian Dharma & Culture.

1.Why Now?

This is an important weekend for two of the world’s important religions – Christianity & Judaism. Based on a quick examination of the Time Warner Board, it would seem that the preponderant majority of the Board are followers of either Christianity or Judaism, the word “followers” being used both in a religious & secular sense.

We think in this important weekend of their own religions, they should ponder over how they allowed their employees to gratuitously & willfully denigrate & defame the oldest religion extant in the world, the Dharma from which their own religions drew inspiration & instruction based on historical treatises.

Secondly we felt it was important to let heat of the moment pass to enable a more calm & rational discussion of why & how Time Warner behaved.

Thirdly, the recent spontaneous national outrage that followed the improper, insensitive & intolerable behavior of another US multinational is relevant to the behavior of Time Warner & the failure of the global Hindu community to make Time Warner listen.The outrage that burst out about the Pepsi-Jenner ad forced Pepsi to apologize & withdraw the ad.

Isn’t this a stark contrast to the pusillanimity of Indians as a community? The Indian twitter community is not small but they still are imprisoned by the enormous damage to their psyche over 1,000 years of foreign occupation. To this day they fight viciously among themselves but are so afraid to fight the controlling foreign masters like CNN & US media.

Any one who watches both the CNN-Aslan show & the Pepsi-Jenner ad can see the enormity of difference between the two. In our opinion, the CNN-Aslan was an hour long willful denigration and the hate of CNN-Aslan towards Hinduism is not just visible but hits you in the face. Yet, the global Hindu community was unable to create a powerful movement on social media to get CNN to listen.

2. Our Rebuttal to Response from Time Warner Board

What is good about the response from Chairman Bewkes is the line near the end – “we will review this recent experience to determine whether any further steps should be taken in the future.

This shows that the Board has listened & has, at least, indicated an awareness of what they created. Yes, that limitation of their goodwill seems pretty sad but what else can a pathetic pusillanimous community like Hindus expect? But there is a positive aspect to this commitment from Chairman Bewkes on behalf of the Time Warner Board. The next time CNN denigrates Hinduism, we have a right to ask the Board about this review they have committed to undertake.

Below are three important points & counterpoints from our written discussion with the Time Warner Board. The discussion is longish but important. It is presented below for the edification of both CNN staff & the global Hindu community.

Note that the response from the Time Warner Board was not marked “private” or “off the record”. In our opinion, the response was so constructed as to enable public discussion/dissemination of that response to our own Open Letter.

2.1 Responsibility of Management & Board

Below is Section 2 of our rebuttal letter titled Statement of responsibility of CNN’s and Turner’s management.

Para 5 on page 2 of the Bewkes letter – “At the same time, however, CNN’s and Turner’s management are responsible, under the general oversight of Time Warner, to help ensure that the proper procedures and other controls are in place to preserve CNN’s journalistic independence, to safeguard its reputation for high standards of journalism, and to protect the value of its brand.”

Our Questions & Observations –

This is a proper statement and one we hope is true in general. But does the word “responsible” go to “intent” of Time Warner or does it refer to “outcome”? And what is the measure of the appropriateness of the “general oversight” and the measure of the adequacy of the executive actions taken to “ensure that proper procedures and other controls are in place”?

The answer is simple – the Outcome is the main determinant of whether the oversight was appropriate and whether executive actions were adequate.

Consider, for example, the case of a Nuclear Energy corporation. If there is a nuclear accident in such a company’s reactors, then the Corporation is deemed of not having appropriate “oversight” & of having been negligent & guilty of ineffective procedures & controls.

By this well-followed outcome-based standard, Time Warner failed to exercise appropriate oversight and CNN/Turner management  was at least grossly negligent in ensuring proper procedures & other controls in the CNN/Aslan show that has been widely condemned as contemptuous of Hinduism.

The next question is whether CNN & by extension Time Warner has an adequate level of “competence” to establish adequate procedures & controls regarding shows about Hinduism?

Specifically we ask who at CNN/Turner was competent enough to judge whether the content of the CNN/Aslan show was anti-Hindu at its core, whether the show’s description was accurate or filled with assumptive contemptuous bigotry against the founding principles of Hinduism? Did CNN have any one within CNN with the true ability to decide whether the show’s assumptions, assertions were correct, erroneous or totally made up? Or did CNN/Turner and by extension Time Warner simply assume that an Iranian Muslim with a colonial-British influenced education was a competent authority in a religion that he is completely unfamiliar with. To be clear, familiarity with Hinduism means knowledge of foundational principles as enunciated in the original Sanskrut texts & not in colonial commentaries from Christian & Jewish commentators.

We think everybody at CNN assumed that Aslan was a competent authority in Hinduism, perhaps based on their own ignorance about Hinduism. Do note that the majority of Americans have heard lurid & false statements about Hinduism that were inserted into western consciousness by colonial British. The reality of the horrific bigotry of colonial British is summarized in Section 5 below. That should demonstrate that any one trained in British views of Hinduism is prima facie bigoted against Hinduism.

This issue of necessary “competence” is central to determining whether Time Warner, via CNN & Turner, was negligent in “general oversight” of the adequacy & appropriateness of the “procedures and other controls” of CNN & Turner.

The above should suffice to demonstrate that the Bewkes statement – “We believe those [proper] procedures were followed in this case” is wrong & false.”

2.2 Bewkes Letter, Aslan Facebook Post & HAF Facebook post

Below is Section 4 of our rebuttal titled Reliance of the Bewkes letter on Aslan’s self-serving Facebook post 

A few summary points to begin:

  • Every anti-black racist in America says ” I have may black friends” in his or her defense; every anti-Jewish bigot usually says “ I have many Jewish friends”. Please note that Aslan uses the same justification in his facebook post by referring to his good Hindu friend “Varun Soni”
  • Aslan called this “good friend” as “America’s first Hindu-American chaplain” in the Facebook post you quoted. This is utter nonsense & make-believe. First there is nothing like a “chaplain” in Hinduism. Secondly how can someone alive today be called America’s first “Hindu-American chaplain”?  Thirty years ago we knew Indian Purohits, or prayer priests, who were in their eighties back then. This blatantly false exaggeration should serve as a warning to Time Warner about the utter lack of honesty we see in Reza Aslan.

The Bewkes letter uses the Facebook post of Reza Aslan to make the case that a Hindu-American Foundation found little wrong in Aslan’s description of Hinduism. The Bewkes defense is without merit because the Executive Director of that Hindu-American Foundation has torn apart that assertion of support by Aslan.

That statement is reproduced below. The emphasis is ours and is used for your ease of reading.

Suhag Shukla As the Executive Director of the Hindu American Foundation, I emphatically deny on behalf of the Foundation any endorsement or approval of Believer. Reza Aslan, we urge you to stop misrepresenting the one meeting you had with an HAF staff member. During that meeting, you were informed of the many concerns we had from the trailers alone about errors and gross misrepresentations you had made about Hinduism, in addition to the damage and harm that could come to Hindus as a result of your program’s stereotypical and sensationalized presentations. We also questioned you as to why you were not covering your own religion, to which you said that 1) you could not find a company to insure the filming of the episode in Pakistan; and 2) when you finally did, CNN Originals refused.

Live tweets from myself and other members of HAF during the first episode make clear our shock, disgust, and frustration with your shallow and erroneous portrayal of Hindu teachings. Religion News Service also published this critique by cofounder Aseem Shukla a day later: http://religionnews.com/…/reza-aslans-believer…/.

Contrast Believer to the Finding Jesus program which preceded yours where multiple scholars of Christianity were privileged to speak about a religion they practice. You, instead, arrogated for yourself the exclusive authority to make pronouncements (and judgements) about a religion of which you are neither a scholar nor a practitioner. There are scores of articulate and brilliant scholars of Hinduism with whom any Hindu could have connected you with, had you had the journalistic integrity to seek them out. 

 The Hindu American Foundation is working on a comprehensive response and action plan to remedy the serious harm that has been caused by your program. And I trust that you will engage in this necessary conversation. For now, I would refer anyone interested in seeing more detailed critiques, to visit the twitter feeds @HinduAmerican @SuhagAShukla @aseemrshukla @rajiv_pandit @matmcdermott and many others, and the RNS article.

The fact that this foundation found it necessary to publicly call Aslan untruthful should demonstrate to you the utter incompetence of Aslan to do any show on Hinduism. What does this do to Time Warner’s reliance on support of the Aslan position by this foundation?

Please note that the above Facebook post of HAF director is ONLY used above to refute the claims made by Aslan, the claims that were used by Chairman Bewkes as defense for CNN/Turner.  We wish to state firmly that the Hindu American Foundation is either neither competent nor capable of passing judgement on what is Hinduism or what is Indian social system. Each such organization is motivated by its own interests and reliance on any one such organization would be unwise and dangerous for Time Warner.

2.3 CNN’s preference for provocative & controversial programming

Below is Section 6 of our rebuttal titled Provocative & Controversial programming at & by CNN

Provocative & Controversial is one thing and sheer hate-based false programming is another. For example, Iranian & Saudi Mullahs have made highly provocative & controversial comments about Jews recently and in the past. We can’t remember a single CNN show that is based on those comments. We cannot remember any CNN shows on Christianity based on any such bigoted Anti-Christian descriptions. And it is our bet that today’s CNN will NOT broadcast a show that is based on provocative & controversial comments about Muslims made by some sections of American society.

But as the Aslan show demonstrates, CNN/Turner & by extension Time Warner is happy to produce a rabidly bigoted show that uses a false narrative to denigrate the entire foundation of Hinduism as Caste-based.

Provocative & Controversial is one thing when it is uniformly applied and completely another when it is used ONLY in the case of one religion, Hinduism. What Time Warner has demonstrated that CNN/Turner follows a Religious “Caste” System in American Media which establishes Christianity/Judaism as the highest religious castes, Muslims as the intermediate caste, Buddhists as the lower caste and Hindus as the ultimate untouchable caste that any one in American TV & Print Media can denigrate with impunity and lack of fear of any consequences from Senior management.

2.4 Summary

Below is Section 7 of our rebuttal titled Summary:

We hope we have pointed out the various inconsistencies & inaccuracies in your response, Chairman Bewkes. The above, in our judgement, goes to refute the veracity & applicability of the generalities on which the Bewkes response rests. 

We, therefore assert again that the Board of Directors of Time Warner failed to maintain adequate oversight of CNN & Turner, failed to ensure adequacy of proper procedures & controls in & of CNN and, by allowing the broadcast of anti-Hindu bigotry filled CNN/Aslan show, failed to protect the value of the CNN/Turner & Time Warner brands.

3. Now What?

Ok! Time Warner Board failed in their fiduciary responsibility. But so what? What damages have the Time Warner shareholders suffered? This is the central question on which the eventual response of & by the Time Warner Board will rest.

Have global Hindus protested with vehemence with any measurable effect? Have any major advertisers pulled ads from CNN in response to pressures from the global Hindu community? Has CNN been banned in  India, the country with the largest Hindu community? Of course not. After all, it would take another Mahatma Gandhi to get the pusillanimous Hindu community to protest in size.

What about lawsuits against CNN? You can’t sue CNN in most countries. But what about India with its laws against offending religious sentiments? Recall the lawsuit filed a few years ago by a now 87 year old retired headmaster named Dina Nath Batra against Penguin, a global multinational publisher. Penguin settled that lawsuit “by withdrawing the offensive book and agreeing to destroy all remaining copies of the book in India“. Is there another Batra in India? Has any one in India filed a suit against CNN? Not to our knowledge.

So why should the Time Warner Board care about CNN-Aslan show’s denigration of Hinduism? Even God only helps those who fight to help themselves. 

 

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