Through Wednesday and Thursday, I kept going back to Times Now to assure myself that I had not been seeing things. And every time, hovering over stock images of the AgustaWestland AW101 chopper, I found this logo: 'Times Now Expose in March 2012'. Sepia-tinted helicopters whirled about a sepia Navika Kumar. None of them were the AW101 which has become infamous. Rather, they resembled the cheerful little choppers that the Phantom (Lee Falk, not McDonnell Douglas) favoured for travelling between the Deep Woods and civilisation. Meanwhile, the ticker crowed: 'Opposition quotes Times Now report'. And demanded to know: 'Why was Times Now report ignored?'
Maybe the channel itself felt ignored and insecure. This desperate bid to take ownership of the VVIP chopper kickbacks story was absurd because along with it, Times Now was running an interview of former Air Force chief S P Tyagi, in which he clearly associated it with The Indian Express. Channels like Sahara Samay were routinely quoting Express newsbreaks. Times Now neglected to mention that in this story, as in many others, print had outpaced television. Since moving images are more memorable than words on paper, TV frequently gets the credit after the event. But if Express hadn't broken the story and stayed with it – ably supported by Times Now and other venues, no doubt – there would have been no excitement for TV to feed off this week.
In that light, this bid for ownership is as bizarre as daylight robbery. As is a dramatic ad that the channel is running, in which it appears to take full and sole responsibility for putting the screws on Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, Anil Bastawade and Agusta. It takes credit for having the chopper case "reopened", a case which was never really opened at all. Can any media brand take full ownership of any story these days, in such a crowded and fast-moving industry? Times Now's coverage seemed to be as much about the vindication of Times Now as the story itself.
About the Opposition quoting their report, it was actually just Ravi Shankar Prasad. And he duly credited The Indian Express though predictably, he was warmer towards TV. Spokespersons can be so weak. Next question Times Now asks is, why was "your channel" ignored? But every channel, print and TV, was ignored until the Italians moved decisively on the case. And they moved for reasons of domestic politics.
Meanwhile Zee News, which gleefully reported a triple barrel attack on the Congress from Prasad, Arun Jaitley and Prakash Javadekar, found a fresh issue. It reported that Barack Obama had shot down a project to tart up the same helicopter for his use. Should India have countenanced a chopper that the White House had shot down, Zee asked rhetorically. Equally, we may ask: so what if the CIA doesn't like it? Bond loves it. The AW101 stars in Skyfall.
Zee's story was needlessly sensational, since the US and Indian cases have nothing in common. The US project concerned the VH-71 Kestrel, a variant which was to be developed by Lockheed Martin, Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland from the AW-101. Obama had objected to budgetary overruns in this joint project, which has no connection with kickbacks. And anyway, Obama's current imperatives are quite remote from India's need to ferry George Fernandes to Siachen a decade ago.
And all the while, on Arnab Goswami's show, Subramanian Swamy smiled and smiled, like a man who is absolutely certain that some fine Italian food is coming his way. Does it really matter if it's a TV dinner, or if it comes wrapped in newsprint like fish and chips?