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…
You can read the full review here, but the opening to this review of Oliver Letwin’s new book by Hugo Rifkind gives a good hint at the overall response…
A colleague of mine once argued that all opinion columns are either obvious or deranged. It has bothered me ever since, because I think it’s probably true. Congratulations, at any rate, to the eminent former cabinet minister Oliver Letwin, whose new book Apocalypse How? manages to be both at once.
Incredible to think of Gove’s rear view mirror in last 7 days: instrumental in #Brexit, ending Cameron’s career and now finishing Boris’s.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) June 30, 2016
And what happened to Gove?
I suddenly think Boris isn’t going to be Prime Minister anymore.
— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) August 12, 2012
Of course it’s not just the pundits who wrote Boris off:
As Brexiteers celebrate tonight, spare a thought for the principled haters and even the mere detesters of Boris, Rafael Behr, Matthew d’Ancona, Philip Collins, Polly Toynbee, Owen Jones and not forgetting, of course, Mathew Parris. It can’t be easy for them…
Trying to rack my brains for something I once wrote about the Donald. Have to do it manually in the cuts archive as you can’t find anything on the bloody Times website. Who says staying awake in semi-darkness attempting repetitive hand movements is a waste of time? Eventually I get lucky: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her,” and her response: “If he wasn’t my father I’d spray him with mace.”
Pretty pleased nobody spotted that quote during the entire election campaign. I beat the entire US media – they must be collectively distracted by the intensity of reporting on @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account.
I tweet out my scoop: “Why does the world recall Trump saying “if she wasn’t my daughter, I’d be dating her” but not Ivanka’s reply?” Everybody’s re-tweeting it. What a story! 500 re-tweets already…
My find has already been followed up by the Telegraph, Independent, Express, Chicago Tribune, The Hill and The New York Daily News. None of them credit me. Better send another tweet reminding everyone who was responsible.
Slight pang of doubt though. Why did no one recall Ivanka’s reply? I wonder how not one member of the whole US media had unearthed such a great quote. Notable lack of people saying, “oh, I came across that already”. Ah well, look at those re-tweets…
Friday 25th – Evening
Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Someone has traced the quote back to a joke told by a comedian in 2006. Ivanka didn’t say it at all. And my accidental lie has gone halfway round the world. So this is what they mean by all that ‘fake news’ going round.
I’m going viral again. But in a bad way.
*according to Guido.
George Galloway asks Hugo Rifkind for his view on the day’s events. He replies:
“Thanks for asking, George. I suppose I’d just say I salute my dad’s courage, strength and indefatigability. Hope this helps.”