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Was the $200 Million Figure for Obama India Trip Supposed to Be in Rupees?

I actually thought this was reported somewhere, so I didn’t bother for a couple days. But I got enough of a response on Twitter that I thought I’d bring it here.

The first mini-scandal of the post-election, tea party-infused era in Washington concerned President Obama’s trip to India. A report from an English-language Indian news service claimed that the US would spend $200 million a day on President Obama’s short visit in the country. Needless to say, this bounced around conservative media and through the right-wing puke funnel, before becoming a full-fledged talking point, used by Michele Bachmann, among others.

A friend emailed me, someone who works for a website that has dealings with India, and he informed me that 200 million rupees would equal about $4 million dollars, approximately the cost of what it would take to move around an entourage of 3,000 people and protect them with high-level security. Sure enough, that’s pretty much the current exchange rate.

The initial report from NDTV uses the $ sign commonly attributed to dollars, and puts in parentheses (Rs. 900 crore), or 900 billion rupees per day. So it knew what it was doing. Still, it seems like something got lost in translation here. Perhaps the source for the Indian reporter thought he was talking in rupees when the reporter took it to mean dollars.

Now this charge, that the 200 million figure is probably right in rupees and not dollars, has been a feature of the comment sections in stories about the trip, but not in any story that I see. It seems like a simple enough mistake to discover, but nobody has picked up on it.

Normally I would let this go, as the charge is a week old. But it’s so mind-numbingly stupid, and so easily debunked, that the fact that it’s gone this long is damning all by itself.

Maybe this is part of that “currency war” we’re hearing about.

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David Dayen

David Dayen