Hugo Rifkind had a crack at Toby Young in his Times column on Monday, rubbishing him and the Free Speech Union. Unfortunately for Hugo, it has blown up in his face. In the column, Hugo wrote:
Toby Young founded “the Free Speech Union” out of a professed fear that free online discourse was becoming impossible due to censorious mobs and the cowardly organisations that care more about their own reputations. Within a day, he’d grown hopelessly tangled in his own contradictions, after being asked whether the far-right activist who calls himself Tommy Robinson would be welcome in his club. Only if he was prepared to “sign a statement of values not to be racist, sexist or prejudiced against Muslims,” said Young. Even the club with “Free Speech” in its name has caveats.
Rather than free speech per se, Young was agitating for something along the lines of “the freedom to speak without facing an onslaught of other people calling you scum”.
Hard-hitting stuff, but there’s one small difficulty. Toby never said the things attributed to him in quotation marks. Why in particular would he have mentioned Muslims? Hugo just made that up or as he put it to Guido “put quote marks around what should have been a paraphrase and garbled it. Easy mistake, but still unforgivably sloppy of me. It’s been changed, I believe there’s a correction tomorrow, and I’ve written to say sorry, too. Any and all ridicule of me rightly deserved.”
Toby tells Guido:
“Hugo picked an odd day to write a column saying the free speech crisis is a figment of my imagination, given that Reddit has just announced it will be deleting 2,000 subreddits. He’s perfectly entitled to attack me of course, and does so frequently, but making up silly quotes and attributing them to me is a step too far. I expected higher ethical standards from someone who’s won so many journalism awards.”
Three years ago, Rifkind wrote a 4000-word piece for The Times about what he called “the vitally important but hideously complex issue of fake news”. If Toby hadn’t complained, this bit of fabricated news would have stood uncorrected…