An altercation between two men at a central London Tube station yesterday afternoon soon developed, through a little creative retelling, into a fully-fledged terrorist incident. The Metropolitan Police cleared the area around Oxford Circus amid reports of shots being fired. And then came the all-clear: it had been a false alarm.
That news came after some media outlets and their staff had engaged in some of the most irresponsible reporting since, well, the last such incident. The idea that press and broadcasters should only report what was known, avoid speculation, and bother to check their sources, was once again thrown out the window.
So it was that Matthew Champion of BuzzFeed News warned “TOTALLY UNCONFIRMED Mail Online report that a lorry crashed in Oxford Circus is based on a tweet from 14 NOVEMBER”. His colleague Mark Di Stefano added “The Mail Online’s Oxford Circus coverage was about a ‘lorry’ and pedestrians with blood everywhere. Their story was shared more than 1,000 times”. And Kay “surly” Burley of Sky News just panicked: “Man with a gun in Oxford Street. Stay away from the area. Tune to @SkyNews NOW”.
That was irresponsible enough. But then came Stephen Yaxley Lennon, who styles himself Tommy Robinson, who clearly wanted this to be an Islamist attack so he could stir up the mob against all those Scary Muslims (tm). “Here we going [sic] again” he began, followed by the totally untrue “Gun shots heard at Oxford Circus”. And there was more.
“Looks like they are running from Jihad. Whatever it turns out to be, this video shows how deeply Jihadis have affected our society. Let us crush Jihadism in the UK and all over the world”. Hark at the Reverend Robinson sermonising. “How long until we find out that today’s attack in Oxford Circus was by a Muslim Who [sic] was again known to our security services”. There was no attack. By now he was just scaremongering.
That eventually dawned on him, as did the realisation that he had to use the situation to play the victim. “Just be careful what you all say in response to what looks like another Jihad attack in London as it’s Islamophobia month & Police will kick your door down quicker over a Tweet than they will follow or arrest Jihadists”. And on he droned, whipping up his mob. “Oxford Street alert: Police urge people to ‘go into a building’ after gunmen fire shots at pedestrians in Oxford Circus underground station … gunmen on loose”.
There were no gunmen. But still he went on: “Reports of shots fired at Oxford Circus”. See, someone else was reporting it, so it must be true! “Witnesses are saying that gunshots have been fired at Oxford Circus Tube in London”. There were no shots fired.
So all that was left was to somehow salvage his reputation, claim he had been right all along. “Everyone making a bigger deal about the fact I wrongly presumed because of reports that it was a jihadist attack than they are about how on edge & terrified the british public are because of Islam”. No, it’s because of scaremongering idiots like him. “Looks to me like Islam has petrified the whole bloody country so you can stick your islamaphobia month!” Looks to me like Lennon has been scaremongering again so he can stick his dishonest rabble-rousing. And he has the brass neck to call “liar” on others.