The old adage that something that looks too good to be true might just be too good to be true has once again been demonstrated as more than one contributor to the content of Guardian Media Group has veered across the defamation line in no style at all over a bogus claim of anti-Semitism. On top of that, Countdown numbers person Rachel Riley has joined in the defamation. Which has put her in one of those very difficult positions.
Why would anyone libel Majid Mahmood, I wonder?
Jonathan Freedland was the first to make the mistake, Tweeting “Just shortlisted to be the Labour candidate for Birmingham Hall Green - a solicitor fined £25,000 for anti-Semitic comments”. The problem was that the individual shortlisted had not been thus fined. But in the meantime, in waded Ms Riley. “You have to be kidding me. Is this the best Labour has? Astounding”. She quoted some of what he didn’t say, just for good measure.
And it seems Nick Cohen of the Observer joined in at some point. The problem was that the Majid Mahmood who was fined for anti-Semitic comments is from Luton, and the Majid Mahmood shortlisted for Birmingham Hall Green is, well, from Birmingham. These pesky Scary Muslims™, eh? They all sound alike. Shaun Lawson, meanwhile, had bad news for Ms Riley. “Rachel. That's libel. Surely you wouldn't be guilty of doing the exact same thing you've wrongly accused others of, would you? You'd NEVER do that”. Ouch!
Freedland was by now desperately rowing back his earlier claim. “Labour tell me that earlier reports of a candidate shortlisted in Birmingham Hall Green rested on a confusion about two men with the same name. The Majid Mahmood shortlisted for the seat is NOT the Majid Mahmood fined over comments on Facebook - and I’ve deleted those tweets”.
But what of Ms Riley, who had repeated the libel? “Thank god for that. Next to nothing surprises me in this arena any more”. No more than a shrug? That was unwise, especially as Freedland was now in full contrition mode: “I of course apologise wholeheartedly for passing on too hastily information from a previously reliable Labour source. It was a very bad error on my part, and one for which I will seek to make amends”.
At last Ms Riley got the message. “Apologies to the Labour candidate mistaken for an antisemite with same name. It’s not my intention to spread untruths and this was corrected as soon as discovered”. But she wanted everyone to know that she was right, really: “Good to know so many Corbynistas are following my tweets tho, let me know if any of the following 125+ are mistaken”. Quoting Gnasher Jew as fact? Ri-i-i-ight.
As one Tweeter put it, “The responsibility is yours to check the veracity instead of just gleefully retweeting, surely?” Alex Tiffin added “Libelling a solicitor then doubling down? Good luck”. Solicitor and school governor. Reputational damage, eh?. That this was a defamatory act was effectively admitted by the Guardian, as James Doleman pointed out.
“The Guardian have now issued this sincere apology for falsely labelling someone as a racist. Only kidding, they just threw [Jonathan Freedland] under the bus”. The Guardian pointedly stated that it was one of Freedland’s Tweets that it had shared, as if to say “it’s his fault, go and sue him, not us”. It looked too good to be true. Because it was.
Rachel Riley has no get-out this time. She repeated the libel. Get the popcorn in.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at