The story made a brief splash when it was published and then vanished last month: the Murdoch Sun, in the week before the General Election, ran a smear against the Labour leadership that told “Ex-Spooks say Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network … Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of an extraordinary network of hard-left extremists pieced together by former British intelligence officers”. But the story was crap.
It made use of a graphic whose original title was “The Traitors [sic] Chart”, and whose rogues’ gallery of deeply subversive groups included the Guardian, Stand Up To Racism, the Labour Party NEC, the BBC, and the People’s Assembly. Open Democracy was included on the roll-call of alleged traitors because it had received funding from George Soros. The story was derived from a wacko far-right conspiracy theory.
And in order to head off any more ridicule raining down on the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, the story, which had non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn’s name on the byline, was duly pulled. It had shamed the Murdoch press, and eaten away at what was left of the Sun’s credibility. But that was no impediment to press non-regulator IPSO defending it. Yes, IPSO has given claims in the story a clean bill of health.
We know this as Richard Bartholomew has made a complaint to IPSO which has been rejected; to do this, the body has had to back Newton Dunn’s article, or at least some of the claims in it. First, here’s what Richard noted about the poor standard of the story.
“At least one person who had left the Labour Party over Corbyn was annoyed to find his name on it; there were inexplicable inclusions, such as the comedy actor Matt Berry; the authors appear to have a crank obsession with three French philosophers (Derrida, Foucault and Lyotard); and there were signs of sloppiness and incompetence (Keir Starmer becoming ‘Kevin Starmer’, for instance)”. As to his complaint, well.
“According to Newton Dunn, the website was the work of 'former British intelligence officers’, led by ‘ex-SAS officer turned author Mark Bles’. These details were reported as fact”. His complaint was that “Mark Bles (real name Mark Whitcombe-Power) is not a ‘former intelligence officer’ … The SAS is an elite combat unit, but it is not an agency of British intelligence”. Also, “Hijacked Labour” was a reworking of the “Traitors [sic] Chart”.
IPSO’s reasoning for rejecting the complaint? “The SAS, as a unit, are often involved in covert intelligence gathering” [no citation] … “Mr Bles had ‘worked as an ‘intelligence specialist’ outside of the SAS’” [no citation]. IPSO later added that the claim “Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, as it included the word “say”, meant that the claim “was not being reported as fact”.
The claim that Bles had “worked as an intelligence specialist” meant, apparently, that it was OK to call him a “British Intelligence Officer”. Even though he wasn’t. Bartholomew has concluded of reporting this designation as fact “Such an obtuse misreading of my complaint suggests to me bad faith”. He is, I conclude, being too kind there.
The Sun article was such that it was pulled almost immediately. It was too embarrassing to leave in place. Yet IPSO is defending the content. Press regulation? Not as such.
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