The new leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has become possibly the most controversial man in Britain since early in the summer because of past statements he has made, and yet on close examination, none of the accusations aimed at him stack up.
A new example of the pattern has emerged over this last weekend, featuring a fresh tidal wave of hysteria in the right-wing tabloids. As ever, it turns out that it is all a fuss about about one small part of what Corbyn said, which, when put in context, means something different.
This technique of misrepresenting someone’s opinions while not actually misquoting them (thus making it possible to claim that no lies have been told) has been rampant in the media and on the internet for many years. It is popular with, among others, creationists, climate-change-deniers, and spin doctors in the USA – especially but not exclusively Republican ones. It goes by the name of ‘quote mining‘.
It is also becoming tiresomely popular among the right-wing British media, who have used it repeatedly in recent months to cast Corbyn and his opinions in a misleading light. Consider the fuss during the Labour leadership campaign over Corbyn once greeting representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah as “my friends”, when it was so obviously just a bit of diplomatic protocol that the situation had demanded.
Or the equally silly furore over Corbyn saying that the death of the Radical Islamist, Osama bin Laden, was a ‘tragedy’, when Corbyn had quite clearly meant that the failure to capture Bin Laden and put him on trial was the tragedy, as assassination turned Bin Laden into a martyr and lent credibility to the use of unilateral action. (The Prime Minister, David Cameron, continues to try and score cheap political points through that same distortion months later.) For what it is worth, I concur entirely with Corbyn on bin Laden’s death, and did so at the time.
Corbyn is mired in controversy because of quotations like these. But by my reckoning, near-enough all of them are quote-mines. The only controversy I have noticed that is not a quote-mine is Corbyn’s failure to sing the National Anthem during another Remembrance service in September.
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