Tom Friedman is writing about India again. Oh dear

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 30, 2017

What I’m about to say has nothing to do with my being Indian. It does have to do with my being in India in 2009, when The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman visited and wrote a piece on renewable energy and its sunshine possibilities. (There’s a link to the article in the previous sentence, if you want to read it.)

More specifically, Mr Friedman contrasted the US Embassy in Delhi with the Chinese Embassy, “both located on Panchsheel, directly across from each other.” He described looking at the rooftops of both embassies, at the urging of the two young American women who were ferrying him around in their plug-in electric car that was additionally powered by solar panels.

Here’s what Mr Friedman saw, in his own words:

“What do I notice? Let’s see … The U.S. Embassy’s roof is loaded with antennae and listening gear. The Chinese Embassy’s roof is loaded with … new Chinese-made solar hot-water heaters. You couldn’t make this up.”


You can, however, check the facts.

With the US Embassy in Delhi, in fact. The US Embassy compound has had  heaters out back for decades. Much before the Chinese. That’s what its facilities managers etc said in surprise when Mr Friedman’s piece appeared. I remember the consternation in US Embassy circles well. For, Mr Friedman had not called to check. Essentially, he had gone with just one source (the young American women, one of whom was a close friend of Mr Friedman’s daughter.) Perhaps he asked the Chinese too about their solar credentials?

So here’s what the Tom-Friedman-in-India-in-2009 story says. A recognised curse of being an old (or older) journalist is hubris and an unwillingness to check and double-check what you’re told.

This time round, with Mr Friedman in Mumbai and writing very complimentary things about India, let’s hope he’s doing a little better with double-checking the facts. I fervently hope so.