Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Five days after publishing Part One of The Nepal Controversies, and after I contacted the Kathmandu Post's editor-in-chief, Anup Kaphle, directly and via the newspaper's social media accounts, I wrote via my Facebook and Instagram feeds:
Every Friday evening, a new update to The Nepal Controversies will be uploaded to michaelkobold.com.
Last week’s Part One featured an in-depth look at the time stamps of emails between the Kathmandu Post’s Anup Kaphle –the paper’s editor-in-chief-, his underlings and me, which prove that Anup Kaphle lied in an email to me when he stated that
“the Post’s reporters reached out to you well ahead of the publication of the story and requested an interview.”
In fact, the Kathmandu Post emailed me less than three hours before going to print with a story that according to its own version had been researched for a month (this, in itself, is a lie, which I will eventually expose as such).
Tellingly, neither Mr. Kaphle or the Kathmandu Post responded to my repeated requests to comment on this lie. In the past, whenever I have publicly corrected the Kathmandu Post’s many inaccuracies, and when I have accused its owner, editor-in-chief and its parent company’s senior management of being corrupt and using extortion to enrich themselves –an allegation I will prove as being true in a future update to The Nepal Controversies- the paper published official responses (“The Kathmandu Post’s response to Michael Kobold”). Will the Kathmandu Post or Mr. Kaphle respond to my request before this Friday’s publication of Part II?
As I expected, when faced with incontrovertible evidence of his duplicitous practices, which are in direct contravention of internationally accepted ethical standards for journalists, neither Anup Kaphle nor anyone else at the Kathmandu Post would publicly comment.
The Kathmandu Post’s smear campaign was not the first time a media organization had purposefully twisted information in order to present it as “truth” in an attack against me. On this occasion, however, I was prepared to mount a legal battle in order to fight back. Nepal has very strict defamation laws and I intended to pursue a civil action against the editor-in-chief of the Kathmandu Post, Anup Kaphle, through Nepal’s legal system. At the present time, a controversial media bill the Nepali government has proposed is causing a heated debate in the small Himalayan nation. If passed, the bill will see increased punishments against editors and publishers for libel. One of the bill’s provisions is a fine of one million Nepali rupees for publishing content that tarnishes the reputation of any individual. The original reason for this proposed legislature is not that the government of Prime Minister K.P. Oli wants to crack down on public dissent, although this is exactly what occurred in several high-profile cases even though the new bill was still being debated.
Nepal’s media houses are predominantly owned by Indian-born or Indian-origin entrepreneurs with close ties to the Indian government in Delhi and the Indian embassy in Kathmandu. “These people are here to spread India’s message, India’s propaganda,” a top advisor to Prime Minister K.P. Oli once told me. As I learned over the course of ten years of traveling to Nepal, a growing group of high-level government officials in Kathmandu feared that Delhi had long-term designs to destabilize Nepal politically and economically by causing social unrest. “If they can control the media, they can control the people,” the prime minister’s personal advisor told me. “We believe the blockade is designed to topple the current government [of Prime Minister Oli],” the official said. An American who has resided in Nepal for over 50 years was the first to tell me that India was behind all sorts of intrigues against Nepal’s sovereignty. “They are behind most of the changes in government,” he said, “and most of the Nepali officials play along because they know they can’t stand up to India. They just care about themselves and about getting rich. They’ll deal with India one day and the next go running to the Chinese for more money. Then they go back to the Indians for more, it’s been like that for ages,” the man told me.
“The Chinese are our real enemy, they are trying to take over the world, so we need the Indians as our friends,” an official in Washington told me over steak at Ray’s the Steak restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. “The Indians basically treat Nepal like their backyard, they didn’t even want the Nepalese king to have any embassies in Kathmandu. ‘Why do you need embassies in Kathmandu when we’ve got them all in Delhi,’ they told the king. And even though we have our embassy there and many other countries do, too, we still outsource a lot of our diplomacy with the respect to Nepal to India. It sucks but it’s the reality of the times we live in,” the U.S. government official said.
What makes all of this corruption so tragic, is that Nepal really is a heavenly place and most of its people are without rivals in terms of their hospitality, warm-heartedness and cheerful optimism, and that without so much foreign meddling, the country would live up to its former synonym of being a real-life Shangri-La. But the reality is very different today and Nepal very much remains under India’s strong influence.
Knowing that its embassy enjoyed free hand over Nepal’s internal politics, the Indian government privately delivered a strong message to Prime Minister K.P. Oli: resign or the blockade won’t end. As I would later learn, the Indian embassy has a point person inside the prime minister’s office whose job it is to allow the Indian ambassador to see the prime minister on short notice. Ambassadors of other nations, such as the United States and Great Britain, have to arrange a meeting with the prime minister by seeking an appointment through Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The process can take up to a week before a meeting is granted. Yet the Indian ambassador is able to see the prime minister with as little as half an hour’s notice, according to a top Nepal government official familiar with the matter.
“Most of our foreign service officers are in one way or another sponsored by India,” one of Nepal’s sitting ambassadors once told my co-producer and me privately. After a distinguished career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the ambassador was up for retirement in a few years and had been handed a final assignment in a plum outpost of Nepal’s government. “We know the Indians are behind the blockade,” the ambassador said “but my colleagues in Kathmandu will not speak out publicly because we need India in the long run. Who wants to be best friends with China? The Indians know this, so they treat us like a colony. They do this with all of the smaller countries around them, including little Nepal. Thank you for helping us, Mr. Kobold, you are true friend of Nepal. Anything my team and I can do for you, we will be at your assistance” the ambassador said, before pouring us more Nepali tea. What followed were the ambassadors’ personal thoughts on why India was conducting its blockade in secret, as opposed to doing so publicly, as it had done on three previous occasions. “They control the media, they know most outlets won’t report the way they would if India had no influence over them,” the seasoned diplomat said. “It’s not just a blockade but also a propaganda war,” he added.
By controlling the news media in Nepal, India’s government is able to influence public opinion. According to several sources, both within the Government of Nepal and representatives of foreign governments, India’s long term strategy is to split Nepal up along ethnic lines. One of its most useful allies in achieving its long-term and short-term ambitions is Kantipur Media Group, which is headed by a Nepalese citizen of Indian origin, Kailash Sirohiya, and has as a major shareholder the powerful Times of India newspaper, which purchased a whopping 20% stake in Kantipur. Times of India, like most Indian media houses, maintains close ties with the BJP party of the mastermind behind India’s blockade of Nepal, recently re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Originally from Gujarat, Modi is infamous for overseeing a pogrom against the state's Muslim population during the 2002 Gujarat riots. "The way Modi came to power is the BJP made the major media houses compliant," an Indian investigative journalist told me during the research phase for the upcoming documentary film The Nepal Connection, which documents Modi's crimes against humanity during the 2002 Gujarat riots and the 2015-16 blockade against Nepal.
As I will demonstrate, this nexus between Kantipur Media Group and the Indian government is of particular relevance with regard to its smear campaign against me and the fire truck expedition, since my actions in my unofficial capacity on behalf of the Government of Nepal would expose India’s secret blockade and cause substantial damage to the public image of Modi and his government. The Indian embassy’s efforts to undermine the fire truck expedition would take on almost comical dimensions, as emails and other first-hand evidence will show. But first, it’s important to understand India’s dealings in Nepal in more detail.
After emerging as the strongest candidate in the country’s first democratic elections following the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government was re-elected with a two-thirds majority. In one of its first actions, in a striking blow to media rights and freedom of expression, the powerful Oli government began unveiling new legislation designed to control the media, including a bill that proposes a 5-year prison sentence for making statements that undermine the sovereignty of the state. The media is only one tool in India’s wide-ranging repertoire of undermining Nepal’s long-term prospects.
The Indian government also undermines Nepal’s national sovereignty by fostering corruption, knowing that doing so will keep direct foreign investment from American and European countries at a minimum. A Nepalese foreign policy expert told my co-producer and me “when our people met with the Indian delegation, the Indians knew everything about them, their families, everything. So they told them the night before the official negotiations began that their kids could get free university education in India, their parents could get free medical treatment in the best hospitals in Delhi, and so on. What do you think happened the next day?” The official further asserted that India pays so much cash in bribes to Nepal’s officials that corruption will never be weeded out, because it benefits virtually everyone in Nepal’s bureaucracy. This incessant corruption is fueled by huge amounts of foreign aid poured into Nepal for decades. “We pulled out because we don’t see any progress. The local contractors triple the price for every single project and then build it in such a shitty way that a year or two later they can bid on the same project again. This place is so corrupt that we just working here. It’s Danish tax payers who are demanding that foreign development aid works,” Kasper Thede Anderskov, the head of DANIDA’s support program in Kathmandu said to me, “and here in Nepal it does not work.” The Danish embassy had recently closed its doors permanently and with it the Danish government’s development aid unit had left Nepal. Kasper These Anderskov was the sole Dane on the ground in Nepal, charged with seeing through the implementation of the last remaining projects still underway.
All of this easy foreign aid money, European, American, Japanese, Israeli and Australian, has contributed substantially to turning Nepal into one of the most corrupt places on earth. If the vast sums of money India and China use to buy the temporary loyalty of Nepalese officials is like opium, then foreign aid is like fentanyl in terms of its effectiveness to turn Nepal into a failed state. This directly plays into the hands of the Indian government’s ultimate plan to take over control of Nepal. The more corruption that prevails in Nepal, the less unlikely it is that it will ever transform itself into the healthy, self-sustaining Himalayan powerhouse it should be on account of its vast natural resources. “Best to keep the pesky Westerners with their novel ideas and their industrial might at bay, is what must have been going through the minds of the South Block bigwigs when they formulated their 50-year plan to gradually turn Nepal into a failed state,” a European diplomat said during the blockade. “If there is even a perception that corruption is a barrier to investment, we’ll see American companies not show up because they know they can’t play by those rules in the US, because that can come back home to haunt them,” Randy Berry, the newly-appointed U.S. Ambassador in Nepal told a team of Kantipur Media Group reporters.
The government of K.P. Oli is presently making attempts to reverse the progressive erosion of Nepal’s national sovereignty by shoring up control over the security apparatus and the media. In doing so, it has shown a willingness to take highly controversial, unpopular steps - including the introduction of its Nepal media bill. On the surface, the criticism is warranted. The freedom of the press should be protected and individual freedom of expression must be safeguarded constitutionally. Yet in the context of India’s vast influence of Nepal’s media houses, and in the greater context of Russia’s aggressive meddling in the 2014 U.S. presidential election and subsequently in elections in E.U. countries, the Oli government’s actions are more understandable. After spending considerable amounts of time one-on-one with Prime Minister Oli, I came away with a sense that the cheerful prime minister is a very decent man who has recently discovered his real purpose in life: to stand up to India within the confines of his office. Prime Minister Oli's government is as corrupt as past governments, but as Prithivi Pande, the country’s most successful investment banker once told me: “if every corrupt person in Nepal loses his job, there won’t be anyone left.”
Nepal’s existing strong defamation legislation was the reason I explored a lawsuit against the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur Media Group. A fine of one million rupees is a lot of money in Nepal, but in real terms it’s barely U.S. $10,000. Not much, especially for an organization like Kantipur that, according to well-placed sources, has extorted millions of dollars in its protection racket from corporations, politicians and foreign embassies. Under the existing laws, the monetary damages that could potentially be awarded are even less, so there was no financial motivation behind my plan to file a lawsuit. Rather, my goal was to publicly clear my name and force the Kathmandu Post to print detailed retractions for the many false or distorted statements made in its series of articles about the fire truck expedition and me. My attorney, Gyanendra Kunwar, in a telephone call, advised that mountain a legal battle against the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur Media Group would not be easy. “First, you must be present in Nepal, then you have to remember that they own the courts. These people pay off all the judges,” Gyanendra reminded me. Following the Kathmandu Post's fabrications and distortions I had received a number of death threats from incensed Nepalese readers and had decided to return to Nepal only once the fire trucks had arrived.
A Nepal supreme court justice and personal friend once told me the same thing when I spoke to him about a possible strategy to sue another high-profile individual for slander. The Indian ambassador in Kathmandu, Ranjit Rae, had knowingly been telling a lie about me when he warned several people that I’m a C.I.A. spy. By that time, I had grown used to people in Nepal distorting facts about my background. For example, one Nepali businessman continuously asserted (wrongly) that I’m a U.S. Navy SEAL. I’m not even American, and I repeatedly told this gentleman that I couldn’t possibly be a SEAL, that I had simply undergone physical training at the SEAL base in preparation for my Everest expeditions, and that he should stop spreading false information about me. As I later learned, the businessman continued telling this Navy SEAL tale. Yet to have the sitting ambassador of India knowingly spread a lie about me was a matter of a different proportion and I intended to go against it legally, especially as it harmed the prospects of signing up sponsors for the fire truck expedition. “Don’t even try, Mike, it won’t work. Not in our system. I can tell you many stories where people like you have tried and failed,” the supreme court justice told me. “In Nepal, the judiciary is as corrupt as the rest of the country, it’s sad but it’s a fact,” he added.
Charles Mendies, the prominent Canadian-Nepali activist for Christian rights in Nepal and the unsung hero of the campaign to break up India’s illegal blockade, said something similar over lunch one day. The highly controversial, supremely voluminous and impossibly cheerful Mr. Mendies is without equal in terms of his connections to the highest levels of politics in both Nepal and Washington, D.C. Few people successfully bridge the two vastly different cultures better than the itinerant Mr. Mendies. Moreover, Mendies’ insight into Nepal’s justice system carries special weight because he has fallen victim to its machinations on several occasions. “They’ve arrested me for all kinds of crazy stuff,” Mendies said. “In Nepal, nothing is ever as it seems on the surface. The courts and the media are all for hire. If you want to go after someone and put them in jail, all you need to do is give brown envelopes to people you know in the police, the press and the judiciary. Then the Nepali wheels of justice begin to move. I’ve been through it several times.”
Still hopeful that a lawsuit might produce the desired results, after going through each allegation with one of my U.S.-based attorneys, I emailed my attorney in Kathmandu, Gyanendra Kunwar:
February 5, 2019
From: Michael Kobold
To: Gyanendra Kunwar
I hope this email finds you well.
I would like to initiate civil litigation against the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur Media Group for character assassination.
As you will see below, I have carefully documented all incidents of incorrect reporting in the first article, dated December 20, 2018.
Please pay special attention to points 4 and 19, in which two individuals state that they were either completely misquoted by TKP or not even interviewed at all.
Please advise me on how to proceed.
I look forward to working with you on this matter.
Watchmaker promising fire trucks for Nepal has a series of dodgy financial dealings—and a chequered past
1. unauthorized use of copyrighted image of MK, published on the cover page
2. "an initiative to bring second-hand fire trucks donated from the United States to Nepal”
-the fire trucks were not donated from the United States.
-MK purchased the first four vehicles
3. A quick internet search, however, would have shown that the Soarway Institute for Development does not exist.
-The Soarway Institute for Development does, indeed, exist.
+NTB was given registration documents.
+NTB sent a wire transfer ($100,000) to the U.S. bank account of Soarway Institute for Development
4. ...in a phone interview with the Post this week, Karki denied ever having knowledge of the fire truck expedition or writing the letter endorsing Kobold.
-Ambassador Karki denies having made this and other statements to the Kathmandu Post and said “they make things up all the time”.
-Ambassador Karki was present at the official launch event of the fire truck expedition, held in the summer of 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
-A video showing Ambassador Karki’s involvement at the launch event is publicly available on the Internet.
5. ...a reporter discovered over a dozen metal stamps that bore the official seals and signatures of various institutions and individuals that were left abandoned in Kobold’s store at Babar Mahal.”
-nothing was ever left abandoned.
6. Andrew Brettler, who represents Johnny Depp, said he was unaware of his client’s involvement in the project.
-in the same video posted online, world famous guitarist Nuno Bettencourt states that during a mutual appearance, he told Johnny Depp about the fire truck expedition and that Johnny Depp’s response was “i want to go on a fire truck expedition”.
7. This series of false promises was only the tip of the iceberg, as a month-long investigation by the Post into Michael Kobold revealed a string of lies and exaggerations, along with untoward, and sometimes even criminal, behaviour towards people he worked with in the country.
-We have indication that the investigation by the Post lasted much longer than a month. Yet they contacted MK two days before publication with an urgent interview request.
-Points 2-7 above clearly show that these are not lies or false promises
8. In 2004, Kobold was deported from the US…
-MK was never deported from the U.S. or any other country.
9. Kobold had presented a fake police badge…
-MK never presented a fake police badge. The police badge was genuine and given to him by a Pennsylvania State Constable.
10. …MK claimed he was a police officer…
-MK never claimed to be a police office. MK did claim to be a deputy Pennsylvania State Constable. (Pennsylvania s State Constables are law enforcement officials but not police officers.)
11. As part of his sentencing, he was denied reentry to the US for a year…
-MK was never denied reentry to the U.S. for any length of time.
12. Once Namgel and Thundu got tired of paying Kobold’s bills, they cancelled the credit card, which, according to Namgel, led to a confrontation between the three. Kobold then asked them to sign over the company to someone else.
-The confrontation that led to the two Sherpas’ departure had nothing to do with any credit cards or spending.
+In several emails dating back as far as 2012, Namgel Sherpa asked to close the company because the two Sherpas did not believe the business would ever be successful.
+Namgel and Thundu Sherpa also threatened “we will destroy your name among all the Sherpa community”.
+Witnesses have testified -including on video- that the Sherpas seldom attended to their work
+usually did not show up for work at all. when they did, they mostly flirted with the female shopkeepers next door or played “Candy Crush” (a game on mobile phones).
+The Sherpas also disregarded all advice given to them by MK and various other business people and bankers.
+The Sherpas fired the two top salespeople and afterwards complained about a lack of sales.
+During the time the company was owned by the Sherpas, MK’s time in Nepal totaled fewer than 6 months over the course of 5 years.
+MK repeatedly asked the Sherpas not to depart the company because it would be too dangerous for them to return to mountaineering.
+8 months before the split, Namgel Sherpa appeared on a BBC radio program in which he stated how content he was at Kobold Nepal.
++the radio program is available online, TKP could have very easily found it during their 1+ month-long “investigation"
+The Sherpas also embezzled funds from the company by opening up an undisclosed bank account to divert sales revenue, only to then claim that the company had zero sales.
+It was the discovery of this duplicitous behavior that led to the break-up of the business relationship.
13. In the three years Namgel and Thundu had been working for Kobold, he did not pay them a single paisa, said Namgel.
-bank records show that Kobold USA repeatedly sent wire transfers totaling over $20,000 to Kobold Nepal.
+this happened after the two Sherpas had fired their #1 sales person and subsequently ran into financial difficulties
+following the 2015 earthquake, Kobold USA sent another wire transfer to Kobold Nepal after wrongly being told by Namgel Sherpa that the company had no sales
14. When the Post reached Nakarmi for a comment, she said she decided to leave the company because Kobold refused to transfer the ownership of the Kobold Watch and Kobold Trading companies from her name to his.
-the opposite is true, through MK’s attorney, Gyanendra Kunwar, MK repeatedly made attempts to transfer the company into his name.
+Rajni Nakarmi had taken a loan of $4,000 from MK and refused to repay it after the relationship soured.
+Rajni Nakarmi wrote an SMS message to MK stating “You need us, we don’t need you.”
15. After the Sherpas’ departure from Kobold Watch, the company began to flounder.
-(This one actually made me laugh.) After the two Sherpas fired their lead sales person, the company began to flounder.
+Shortly before the split, the Sherpas sold a $4,000 watch and accessories worth $1,000, yet told MK that the company had no sales, only
+After the Sherpas departed, sales picked up significantly.
16. Gautam Rana, the proprietor of Babar Mahal Revisited and Kobold’s landlord, said he was forced to close down Kobold’s store after the watchmaker refused to pay his outstanding rent of four months.
-SMS and Facebook Messenger messages reveal a different story: Gautam “G2” Rana took $750 worth of products from the store without
paying. Kobold Nepal refused to pay the rent until the debt was settled. G2 then had the shop padlocked.
+In a FB Messenger message, Bhavna Rana acknowledged the debt and agreed to pay it if the rent dues were cleared.
+After the rent was cleared, G2 and Bhavna Rana refused to renew the lease (which they had previously asked to be renewed).
+To this day, G2 Rana has not settled his bill.
17. “He said he was going to the airport to check his flight status,” said Shishir Uprety of Xanadu Hotel. “But he never came back.”
-MK told the lodge owner that the bill should be sent to the office.
+When the bill arrived, it was inflated by over 100% and MK made attempts to reach the owner of the hotel.
+The owner’s son and MK finally spoke by telephone and settled on an amount that the hotel owner’s son was supposed to pick up the next day.
+The owner’s son never came to the office to pick up the amount.
(a record of this conversation is also available on Facebook Messenger)
18. Filmmaker Sisan Baniya said he has also not been paid for his work.
-In a written message, Sisan Baniya stated that he did not give an interview to the Kathmandu Post.
+Sisan Baniya also stated that he believes someone else might have told the Post about this matter.
++Sisan Baniya and MK do not have a formal agreement of any kind stating a rate for Sisan’s work.
++While doing costing research for the fire truck expedition MK asked Sisan how much a cameraperson makes in Nepal per day.
++Asked how much he should get paid, Sisan Baniya -in writing- asked to instead be given camera equipment unavailable in Nepal.
++MK purchased camera equipment totaling over $10,000 and delivered this to Sisan’s home.
++One day, Sisan appeared without an appointment and said “I need $5,000. I need it now.” MK told him that this was far too much based on their earlier conversations.
++Over the course of several months, Sisan Baniya continued to make unannounced visits (which he had never done before), demanding $5,000 cash. MK refused.
19. Kobold has used the documentary, which has yet to be produced, to market his campaign and ask for money, promising promotion through the film on a number of foreign television networks.
-This refers to another documentary altogether, not the one Sisan Baniya and MK worked on.
+Sisan and MK worked on a documentary on the 2015/16 blockade.
+The short film used to promote the fire truck project is another film altogether.
20. The company, according to the deal, is based in Babar Mahal Revisited but when the Post visited the premises, there was no office for a company with that name.
-Permission was obtained from Bhavna and G2 Rana to use one of the two rooms in the rented premises of Kobold Nepal for Experience Nepal Films.
21. But when the Post asked the Belgian firefighting team about their work in Nepal, they said they had nothing to do with Kobold’s campaign.
-MK posted on Facebook that this project is run by a team of Belgian firefighters and not by MK or the firetruck expedition.
These were only the false statements in the first Kathmandu Post article. In my mind, after the first lawsuit would be filed, I intended to file individual suits for each article, laden with more inaccuracies or inventions, that appeared in the newspaper. However, after Gyanendra Kunwar, the lawyer, advised me not to pursue a legal fight against Kantipur, I began making plans for a campaign to publicly expose the illegal and unethical dealings of Kantipur Media Group and the Kathmandu Post. Titled “Roast the Post”, I launched the campaign on social media and over the course of several months made several posts accusing Kantipur of corruption and racketeering. I decided to continue this light engagement until the time was right to unveil all of the facts surrounding the Post’s false allegations.
In late May, I began planning a more aggressive attack on Kantipur Media Group. For years, some of Nepal's senior political leaders, diplomats, bankers and entrepreneurs had told me about how Kantipur amassed huge wealth. This, despite a steep, worldwide decline of print publications and the average advertisement in a Kantipur publication normally costing only a fraction of comparable ad space in small-town American newspapers . "They got a million dollars from their attack on Ncell alone," one prominent executive told me. "Kantipur pioneered it, this scam, and because they got away with it now a lot of smaller news organizations do the same thing. They run a negative campaign and then ask that you run ads at highly inflated prices in order to stop the campaign."
“Don’t do it,” Dr. Richard Fuisz, my close friend and mentor, said when I informed him about my plan to expose Kantipur's illegal dealings. “Mike, you know my opinion, it’s best not to attack them,” the former U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Scott DeLisi, advised me. “You can’t win, they are too powerful,” Ambassador Arjun Karki said from Washington. All of this well-meant advice reminded me of another critical decision I had to make over a decade earlier.
In 2004, the actor James Gandolfini and I created a highly controversial advertisement featuring a large photograph of James holding his middle finger up towards the camera. The advertisement’s headline read Even James Gandolfini Thinks Kobold Is No.1 and was slated to appear on a full page in The Economist, the weekly news magazine. The editor-in-chief at the time convened his fellow editors to decide whether such a tongue-in-cheek ad could be printed in the venerable The Economist. After some debate, the editors, in a display of typical British ingenuity and humor, decided that since an image of a stylized cactus had once appeared on the cover of an earlier issue, the controversial Kobold watch ad with Jim’s middle finger could appear in their magazine.
While Jim thought the ad was brilliant (he personally selected the picture out of several dozen I’d snapped), many of my close friends and advisors were strongly against it. Carnegie Mellon University professor and Kobold founding father Jack Roseman was steadfast in his opposition, as were several other people whose advice I respected. Jim was of a different opinion. “Trust me, Kobold, if you run this ad, you won’t just sell a lot of watches, you’ll make your little watch company stand out from all the rest,” Jim said. We ended up running the ad, not once but in four issues. In the end, and with hindsight being 20:20, it was the best decision I could have made.
To enable James Gandolfini to experience a few weeks as an ordinary person, without photographers and fans trailing behind, was the original reason I came up with the idea behind the fire truck expedition. After Jim's passing, Malcolm McDowell and I decided to do the expedition in Jim’s honor. I thought of all this while trying to make a decision about the Roast the Post campaign. Just in the moment when a colleague and I were making a list of pros and cons about the campaign, a gentleman in his late 70s and his wife sat down at the table behind ours and began reading out loud a news report about The Sopranos. We were in a remote location, with hardly an English-speaking person for miles, and out of nowhere this Englishman arrived and said to his wife: “James Gandolfini was an amazing actor, just amazing. He carried that show. They only made six seasons, I wish there’d been more.” Floored by this serendipity, I considered this a sign and at once decided to push Roast the Post into overdrive. It was a shortly before June 19th. The looming anniversary of Jim’s death weighted heavily on me as I tried to determine how to make the expedition a reality against all odds. The old man’s serendipitous statement not only helped me make an important decision, it also energized me.
My first action was to goad the Kathmandu Post into publishing a new article in order to use the newspaper’s vast reach in Nepal as a kind of drumroll. The plan worked and on 17 June another front-page, above-the-fold story appeared about the fire truck expedition: Kobold’s deadline to bring fire trucks has expired but Nepal Tourism Board says it has yet to decide on a legal response. The article contained precisely the information I wanted the Kathmandu Post to print. This would give the Roast the Post campaign ammunition for later. But first I had to follow a very promising lead.
Soon after I began announcing the Roast the Post campaign via social media, the former CEO of one of Nepal’s biggest companies contacted me with extremely incriminating information against Kailash Sirohiya, Kantipur’s Chairman, and the Kathmandu Post. This source was willing to go on the record about the names of individuals involved in “the Kathmandu Post scam,” as he called it. After the Roast the Post campaign gained momentum, other individuals came forward with incriminating stories of their own interactions with Kantipur representatives. However, the former CEO’s allegations would turn out to be the most damaging of all. Excited to meet this gentleman, I booked a flight ticket to see him. What I would learn a few days later exceeded my keenest expectations. Yet even before I began to slowly release the information I had received, I learned that the Roast the Post campaign had started to create a sense of panic on the top floor of the ritzy Kantipur Media building in Kathmandu.