Throwing shoes during news conferences is an extreme form of editorializing which professional reporters must refrain from, especially those who are a poor shot.
Jarnail Singh, a reporter working for the leading Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran, chose to settle his disagreement with India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram by hurling his sneaker at him. Standing barely five feet away from the minister, Singh still missed his target. While Singh's question over those involved in the 1984 Sikh riots was right on target, his shoe was not. Perhaps he will practice some more at a nearby shoe-throwing range.
On a more serious note, the line dividing professional journalism and political activism is not discernible but any journalist worth his or her salt would know when they cross it. Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who in a sense pioneered this practice of real time editorializing by hurling not one but both his shoes at former US president George W. Bush, clearly crossed this line. And so did Jarnail Singh.
While journalists have frequently blurred this line in the past as well, there is something particularly galling about throwing shoes. In the Asian cultural context, throwing shoes is more to humiliate than to hurt. However, a sneaker of the kind that Singh threw or the shoes that al-Zaidi did could be potentially dangerous projectiles. Had the shoe hit Chidambaram, there could have been a case of assault made against the journalist.
In the age of snap judgment and instant punditry on television, old-fashioned, professionally detached reporting may be losing currency in India and elsewhere. However, it is needed more than ever before at a time when the world has become so fractious. Throwing shoes is an act of rabble that may have a strong YouTube audience but it does not really help resolve problems as serious as bringing those guilty in the massacre of nearly 3,000 Sikhs to justice.
It is possible that in India's ever rancorous democracy such a form of protest could help focus on issues which are sought to be consigned to obscure corners of history. However, that still does not take away questions over the professional conduct of a journalist. Something about the incident betrays premeditation aimed at gaining attention. One could be wrong about Singh's motives but looking at the video and his subsequent comments the act does not appear to be spontaneous.
Weeks before the country's largest parliamentary election yet, such incidents provide tremendous opportunity for political theatre. An irate and emotional journalist hurls a shoe at the country's home minister. In return the home minister forgives him in manufactured magnanimity. In the midst of all this, the Shiromani Akali Dal has offered Singh Rs.200,000 in reward for his "courage and bravery". It is bad enough that Singh crossed that line. It would be even worse were he to accept that reward.
This may not be a trend yet but journalism schools around the world, if there are still any left, should introduce a specific course in shoe throwing. These journalism schools will have to invest in shoes of all varieties and develop a precise science based on their weight, shape and material. Trajectories will have to be studied based on the distance between the shoe-throwing journalist and his or her target. There is a whole science of aerodynamics waiting to be tapped on what material to be used in shoes so that they do the job efficiently. Schools will need NASA engineers who are able to calculate to the last inch where a probe would land.
Too many shoes are missing their targets. Of course, the Iraqi journalist would have landed his shoe right on target had it not been for the impressive reflexes of the man in question.
(The author is a US-based journalist and commentator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)