The visit of Prime Minister Modi to America was spectacularly successful. His welcome by the Obama Administration and the American Foreign policy establishment was genuinely gracious & festive. We cannot recall another visit that created so much excitement and that was so well received by the Indian-American community.
But there was a discordant note among the festivities. The American media is very particular about behaving properly with foreign dignitaries they respect. Consider, for example, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. She pronounces her name very differently than the way “Angela” is pronounced in America. But every American TV anchor & foreign policy expert pronounces Ms. Merkel’s name exactly as she does & not in the traditional American fashion. Similarly, every American TV anchor and foreign policy expert pronounces Hollande, the name of the French President, exactly as he does and not as the common American pronunciation like the country of Holland.
In contrast, many foreign policy experts and TV anchor-reporters mispronounced Prime Minister Modi’s name. Instead of the soft “d” as in “मोदी”, they invariably pronounced the name with a hard “d” as in मोडी. The best way to explain this, one reader wrote, is to pronounce the “d” in Modi as the soft “d” in Fareed. After all, every American foreign relations expert & TV anchor knows how to pronounce “Fareed”, perhaps because they want to appear on Zakaria’s CNN show. But none of these experts & TV anchor-reporters bothered to pronounce “Modi” correctly.
It seems that the privilege of getting their names pronounced correctly is reserved for leaders of “white European” countries.
This bothered us greatly. One because of the racially differentiated treatment of Prime Minister Modi vs. that of Chancellor Merkel & President Hollande. And secondly because the last foreign leader whose name was deliberately mispronounced with a harsh “d” was Saddam Hussein.
So we wrote to some foreign policy experts & CEOs of a few TV networks about the “Saddam”-like mispronunciation of Prime Minister Modi’s last name. All, except one, responded either with a written note of regret or changed their practice via notice to their TV anchors-reporters.
The solitary exception has been CNBC.
2. Should we be surprised about CNBC’s behavior?
Frankly, No. Because CNBC as a network has engaged in offensive & defamatory behavior towards Indians/Hindus for years.
- Last week, a CNBC anchor mispronounced both the first & last names of Dr. Raghu Rajan, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. She actually pronounced “Raghu” as if she were pronouncing the name of the Italian spaghetti sauce “Ragu” and she laughed as she did so.
- Last year, a veteran CNBC anchor disparaged Indian-Americans as only being good at “7-11″s after an Indian-American woman won the Miss America title.
- In October 2010, a couple of CNBC anchors denigrated Hinduism (& other Asian religions) by relegating Hinduism to a “minor” status.
- Back in May 2008, two CNBC anchors engaged in a “funny” conversation with one of them threatening to eat a Hindu “Sacred cow” if he felt hungry while visiting India.
Mispronouncing names of Indians has been a “funny” past time for CNBC anchors. When we complain, the practice stops for awhile. Then it begins again. CNBC anchors seem to feel it is their “white privilege” to butcher Indian names just as TV anchors felt it was their “white privilege” to make fun of African-Americans in the 1950s & 1960s.
This “white privilege” of mispronouncing Indian names & denigrating Indians/Hindus has continued despite changes in management in CNBC’s corporate parents. Stephen Burke has taken over as President of NBC from Jeff Zucker who moved to CNN. Comcast Corporation is now the corporate owner of CNBC having bought NBC from General Electric.
The one constant through these changes has been CNBC President Mark Hoffman, the man who runs CNBC on a day-to-day basis and the man to whom all CNBC anchors report. Based on our empirical observations over the past 6-7 years, Mr. Hoffman runs a very loose ship. There is virtually no “compliance” at CNBC under his reign. He may rebuke an anchor after an incident but both he & his anchors know that rebuke is just for appearances. How do we know that? Just look the list of anti-Indian acts by his anchors. This kind of persistent behavior only happens when the anchors know their president doesn’t really care.
So we should not have been surprised when we heard CNBC anchors mispronounce Prime Minister Modi’s last name. But we were because this is the one nasty act that kept getting repeated week after week, month after month. It is as if someone at CNBC is determined to insult Prime Minister Modi by pronouncing his name as if it were Saddam Hussein’s name.
3. Why do we feel so?
In our innocence, we tried to educate CNBC management & anchors. The following is the list of emails we sent to Mr. Hoffman:
- April 8, 2014 – Email to CNBC President Hoffman with cc to Managing Editor Nik Deogun politely explaining how to pronounce the last name “Modi” of Narendra Modi. Five different You Tube clips were attached to show Mr. Modi pronouncing his name & anchors like Barkha Dutt, Rahul Kanwal pronouncing his name.
- May 12, 2014 – Email to CNBC President Hoffman with cc to Managing Editor Nik Deogun about CNBC’s chief international correspondent butchering Mr. Modi’s last name.
When Mr. Hoffman proved unwilling or unable to impose journalistic accuracy on his TV anchors, we alerted his boss, President Stephen Burke of NBC. The following is the list of emails we sent to Mr. Burke:
- May 15, 2014 – Email to NBC President Stephen Burke with cc to CNBC President Mark Hoffman & CNBC Managing Editor Nik Deogun escalating the problem to NBC level.
- June 9, 2014 – Email to NBC President Stephen Burke with cc to Hoffman/Deogun about CNBC chief international correspondent once again butchering the pronunciation of “Modi”.
- August 13, 2014 – Email to NBC President Stephen Burke with cc to Hoffman/Deogun about CNBC’s chief international correspondent repeatedly butchering pronunciation of “Modi”
- August 14, 2014 – Email to NBC President Stephen Burke with cc to Hoffman/Deogun re CNBC Chief international correspondent deliberating & emphatically mispronouncing “Modi”
- October 6, 2014 – Email to NBC President Stephen Burke with cc to Hoffman/Deogun about CNBC chief international correspondent butchering “Modi”.
The same pattern repeated with President Burke of NBC. There would be a short lived improvement and then CNBC anchors would start pronouncing “Modi” as they used to pronounce “Saddam”. The most persistent offender has been CNBC’s chief international correspondent.
Frankly, we are confused by these deliberate & determined acts of contempt towards Prime Minister Modi by this CNBC correspondent. She does have a history, in our experience, of being inaccurate, flamboyant, and generally over the top in her reports. But why would she, a Hispanic woman, exhibit so much contempt towards Prime Minister Modi? And why would NBC President Burke & CNBC President Hoffman be jointly unable to impose phonetic accuracy & verbal discipline on this correspondent?
We wonder whether her expressed contempt of PM Modi was not just condoned but actually encouraged by NBC President Burke & CNBC President Hoffman. But why would they do so? Yes, Mr. Hoffman has tolerated anti-Indian behavior on his network for the past 6-7 years. But he has not, to our knowledge, demonstrated contempt of any one specific Indian. And we can’t think of any reason for Hoffman to be so rabidly contemptuous of Prime Minister Modi as his chief international correspondent seems to be.
So what could be the source of this uniquely personal campaign to express contempt of Prime Minister Modi?
4. A Uniquely “Brindian” Contempt?
When you talk to middle class or rural Indians, you hear a common complaint – “the British went away but they left the brown sahebs behind“. This is such a common expression that it has become a Bollywood staple. This expresses the reality that nominally independent India has been governed in the past 67 years by people who were nurtured & trained by the British and who still want to talk & act like the British. These “Brindians” tend to look down on ordinary Indians, especially those who are proud to be core Indians.
These Brindians, as a class, hate and despise Mr. Modi. He did not go to a British-like school, he does not speak British English as they do, he doesn’t have advanced degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or Columbia as they do. These Brindians poured vitriol on Narendra Modi during his campaign. And they continue to be viciously contemptuous of him even after his stupendous mandate from the Indian people. This is the same contempt we see in CNBC’s deliberate determined decision to mispronounce PM Modi’s name.
Therefore we are led to wonder whether the source of CNBC’s contempt of PM Modi is Nik Deogun, the managing editor of CNBC and the number two at CNBC. All CNBC anchors report to Deogun and he exercises control over what CNBC anchors-reporters are allowed to say or not say on air. Is it then possible for CNBC’s chief international correspondent to engage in deliberate, determined, persistent mispronunciation of PM Modi’s name without at least the tacit tolerance of her boss, Nik Deogun? We don’t think so.
By the way, Mr. Deogun graduated from Doon School, the school specifically created by colonial British rulers to train high born Indians to behave exactly as the British wanted them to. And his real name, we are told, is pronounced as “Nikhil Devgun” (निखिल देवगण). But he prefers to use the anglicized “Nik Deogun” ( निक् दियोगन).
Is it reasonable to assume that a man who has anglicized his own name would see no problem in anglicizing the pronunciation of PM Modi’s name? He may not but we see a big problem. Mr. Deogun can do whatever he wishes with his own name but he has no right to impose his anglicized preferences on Prime Minister Modi, if that is indeed what he has done.
We do not wish to be unfair to Mr. Deogun or overly speculate about his involvement. On the other hand, we were told by CNBC that they “have an Indian managing editor” and they “follow his directions about things relating to India“. Doesn’t this statement clearly point to Deogun’s involvement?
We do not really know why CNBC exhibits such deliberate, determined, and, persistent contempt of PM Modi. Frankly the “why” doesn’t matter. What matters is that CNBC does so and that the contempt expressed by CNBC anchors-reporters is tolerated, authorized & at least tacitly encouraged by the management team of CNBC President Hoffman & CNBC Managing Editor Deogun with the full knowledge & approval of NBC President Burke.
5. Responsibility of Comcast Corporation & its Board of Directors
CNBC is owned by NBC and NBC, in turn, is owned by Comcast Corporation. If there is one company that has hundreds of thousands of Indian-American clients, it is Comcast. The customers of Comcast include individuals, families, and small businesses such as retail stores, medical & legal practices, Dunkin Donut franchises, & 7-11 franchises.
These are precisely the Indian Americans who have tremendous respect and affection for Prime Minister Modi. They are the ones who came to greet PM Modi with a rockstar reception at Madison Square Garden.
Treating Prime Minister Modi with Saddam-like contempt is tantamount to being deliberately offensive, racially & ethnically offensive, to this large bloc of Comcast Customers and to the Indian-American community. Today’s American society imposes standards on American public corporations, standards that are now deemed to be the fiduciary responsibility of their CEOs & Boards of Directors.
It is the express responsibility of Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, and of the Board of Directors of Comcast to put an end to the anti-Indian contempt expressed on CNBC, a Comcast property. That is our opinion and we intend to express it directly to the management of Comcast.
6. Final Responsibility for CNBC’s contemptuous treatment of Prime Minister Modi
Recall the case of a TV anchor of a major American network who insulted a prominent media personality of another faith & made comments about that religious community. That TV anchor was fired by that network that very day. Yes, fired for a single act of religious & ethnic contempt on air.
In contrast, CNBC TV anchors have repeatedly expressed religious & ethnic contempt of Prime Minister Modi, RBI Governor Rajan, the Indian-American community and Hinduism in their arrogant assumption of “white privilege”. And they are not even reprimanded, let alone fired by Comcast management.
Whose responsibility is this in the final analysis? Of the Indian-American community, in our frank opinion.
There is no doubt that our community has achieved enviable financial success. There are prominent Indian Americans in almost every professional and business field. Despite this success, the Indian American community has remained quiet, supine, and afraid to raise a collective voice. It remains a community whose members live and fight only for themselves & their families as Indians have done for the past 1,000 years.
This is why 100,000 Britishers were able to defeat, occupy, and subjugate 300 million Indians in the words of Mahatma Gandhi. This is why CNBC management & anchors feel perfectly safe in laughing contemptuously at Indian feelings and deliberately defaming Prime Minister Modi by treating his name like that of Saddam Hussein. This is why every CNBC anchor will pronounce “Fareed” Zakaria perfectly while butchering Narendra “Modi” every time. After all, they know that expressing phonetic contempt towards one single CNN anchor will get them fired while expressing the same phonetic contempt towards Prime Minister Modi, the beloved leader of 1.2 billion Indians, will cost them nothing.
And because they know that the Indian-American community has no collective pride.
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