I’ve also complained to ITV after Robert Peston described me as “vile” in Peston on Sunday.
Last week, This Writer – Mike Sivier, for clarity – was contacted by a Sunday Times reporter named Gabriel Pogrund, saying he wanted to write about my readmission to the Labour Party after a meeting of the National Executive Committee’s disputes panel. I declined a telephone interview, fearing misrepresentation, and provided my answers by email. I then published those answers here, so readers could weigh them against the published piece and decide for themselves whether I had been treated fairly.
The Sunday Times published its article late yesterday evening (February 3) and as far as my part is concerned, it is almost entirely inaccurate. If the people mentioned in the article have been treated similarly unfairly, then the newspaper could be in considerable difficulty.
Here’s the headline and the part about me:
Labour welcomes back banned activists and Holocaust denier
Another individual who has been readmitted, Mike Sivier, was suspended by Labour only last year for comments about Jews and Zionism. On his website, Sivier, 48, said it “may be entirely justified” to say Tony Blair had been “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”.
He also said he was “not pretending it was a big problem” if Jews were omitted from a list of Holocaust survivors, and claimed “I’m not going to comment” on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust as “I don’t know”.
Sivier, who wrote a book defending Ken Livingstone’s claims about Hitler and Zionism, entitled The Livingstone Presumption, has been readmitted on the basis that he attends a workshop about anti-semitism. But he told the Sunday Times he would boycott the event. “I’m not accepting my readmission under the terms offered to me,” he said.
The NEC voted by 12 to 10 to issue Sivier a “warning” but not to expel him, suggeting the new arithmetic on the body had a decisive impact.
Long-term readers will be aware that I have already answered the false claims mentioned by Mr Pogrund; clearly he hasn’t done his research. In fact, if you check the language used, it seems likely he lifted all his information (we can’t call any of it “fact”) from the Campaign Against Antisemitism’s hate piece about me, written in April last year. I believe it was done to corruptly influence the county council elections, in which I was a candidate, to prevent me from winning.
Even those of you who may only have read yesterday’s article on This Site may be justified in wondering why Mr Pogrund chose not to mention the example of my supposed anti-Semitism that I covered, but published others without asking me about them or researching whether his claims had any foundation at all.
I considered these elements when writing my complaint. Here it is:
I am writing to demand an apology and correction of your piece entitled Labour welcomes back banned activists and Holocaust denier, published in the Sunday Times today, February 4. It contains many falsehoods about me. Am I supposed to be the “Holocaust denier” in the headline?
It won’t go without saying, so let me make this clear: I am not a Holocaust denier. In fact, I published an article only a few days ago, detailing how a Labour MP shamed one such person. My pieces on this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day are also unequivocal on this subject.
But let’s get to the substantive issues:
Your piece claims that I “was suspended by Labour only last year for comments about Jews and Zionism”. This is not true. As I explained to your reporter Gabriel Pogrund by email, “My membership of the Labour Party was suspended in early May 2017, after allegations were received that I may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules, ‘relating to social media posts which may be described by some as anti-Semitic and may cause offence to some members’.” So my membership was not suspended FOR any acts, but ON SUSPICION. Big difference as the first implies guilt and the second does not.
It continues: “On his website, Sivier, 48, said it ‘may be entirely justified’ to say Tony Blair had been ‘unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers’. This is a quote from a hate piece written against me last year by an organisation calling itself the Campaign Against Antisemitism, which had lifted words from my articles and (in this case, their comment columns), twisting them out of context.
I had been asked about comments that were not directly related to the subject under discussion – by a person posting under the pseudonm ‘Ben’ (my attackers very rarely reveal their real names – isn’t THAT interesting?). He wrote, “Yes of course there will always be individuals with aberrant views” and then referred to an incident in which “In 2003, Tam Dalyell suggested that Tony Blair was “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”.
My response was to point out that the claim had been stripped of its context, so it was impossible to comment on it: “I would point out that (without further information) concerns that Tony Blair was being ‘unduly influenced’ by ‘a cabal of Jewish advisors’ may have been entirely justified.” In other words, there’s no point in presenting a bald statement like that to anybody without information on whether there was any accuracy in the claim or not. Where was the context? Nowhere to be seen. Then the CAA leapt on my response, stripped it of the qualifying words, and presented it as proof of anti-Semitism. That is not acceptable and your reporter’s use of it is not acceptable either.
In discussion (if you can call it that) on Twitter today (February 4), I came up with an explanation which I think may be easier to understand:
In the discussion I had, that would have been immaterial anyway. My point was that, without factual information to support or oppose the assertion, people may be justified in being concerned that Blair might be over-influenced by a particular interest group. Wealth= not an issue.
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) February 4, 2018
It doesn’t actually matter which group is said to be over-influencing the prime minister – or indeed, which prime minister was said to be under their influence. Anyone with an interest in politics who is told the prime minister is being swayed by a single group, more than any other, may have good reason for concern, until information is provided that disproves the claim – in which case, there’s no problem – or proves it – in which case serious questions would have to be asked in the corridors of power. Agreed?
Your reporter stated: “He also said he was ‘not pretending it was a big problem’ if Jews were omitted from a list of Holocaust survivors, and claimed ‘I’m not going to comment’ on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust as ‘I don’t know’. This is quite a complicated lie as it not only takes my words out of context to remove their meaning, but also quotes my words out-of-sequence.
‘Ben’ (again) stated: “In 2008, the SWP issued an explanation of the Holocaust that referred to ‘thousands’ (not ‘millions’) of victims and omitted any reference to Jews. Whether this was ‘organised’ or ‘just a mistake’ seems irrelevant. See http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2008/08/18/has-swp-discovered-jew-free-holocaust (including, in particular, the last two BTL comments).”
There was no link to anything written by the SWP – just the article commenting on it. So I responded: “I’m not going to comment on ‘thousands’ instead of ‘millions’ because I don’t know – meaning, of course, I don’t know why the SWP had said that. I have always used the ‘high’ figure of six million Jews who were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. Perhaps your reporter should have read my recent articles on Holocaust Memorial Day before typing that reference into his piece? Or, indeed, ANY of my articles at all?
‘Ben’ pressed me, writing: “Mike, you are simply sticking your fingers in your ears, defending the indefensible, and pretending that there isn’t a problem.” This was in reference to my responses to the whole series of issues he presented to me, not just that of the SWP, so your reporter’s use of it is a distortion – as are the words he quoted as my response. I stated: “I’m not pretending there isn’t a problem, though. I’m simply not pretending it’s a big problem.”
Consider what your reporter stated – that I said I was “not pretending it was a big problem” (which is inaccurate as a quote, by the way). It makes it seem that I was saying it was not a problem at all. People do it all the time – dismissing claims by saying, “Oh, that’s not a big problem”. In this case, though, it’s not true to present me in that way. I acknowledged very clearly that there is a problem. My point – and it’s an accurate one, I think, is that it isn’t huge. There aren’t a huge amount of anti-Semites lurking in the Labour Party. The fact that people like the Campaign Against Antisemitism and your own reporter have to fabricate claims about me tends to prove that, I think.
The line about the warning and attending a workshop about anti-Semitism is accurate, and “I’m not accepting my readmission under the terms offered to me,” is ALMOST an accurate quote. I said “I’m not accepting IT under the terms offered to me”. But your reporter failed to include my reasons for rejecting the decision: “It implies guilt for an offence I have not committed.” Without that, you present a false impression of guilt.
And the line that “The NEC voted by 12 to 10 to issue Sivier a ‘warning’ but not to expel him, suggeting the new arithmetic on the body had a decisive impact” is pure fabrication. I provided detailed information to Mr Pogrund about the discussion, and it seems clear that members were split between those who accepted that I was not guilty of anti-Semitism and those who simply thought “there’s no smoke without fire” – that there must have been something in the accusations against me, simply because they had been made. I have no information on how the disputes panel was split, and it seems your reporter doesn’t have any either. There could have been more left-wingers ranged against me, for all I know.
You should be aware that I have published the information I provided to your report on my website – at https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/02/03/the-sunday-times-wanted-me-to-talk-about-labours-antisemitism-investigation-so-i-did/ – so readers can judge for themselves whether your reporter has represented me accurately.
Given the enormity of the inaccuracies I have detailed above, it is clear that your report is defamatory. You must publish an appropriate apology and correction at your earliest possible opportunity. I expect it to receive the same prominence as the original article – and would appreciate it if you included the link to my article about the information I provided, in the name of accuracy.
Fair enough? Apologies if I have laboured any of my points. Unfortunately, some readers will be determined to twist my words so I have to do what I can to make it hard for them.
While I was writing my complaint to the Sunday Times, I heard my name mentioned by Robert Peston on his show, Peston on Sunday. He was referring to the Sunday Times piece and at one point described me as “vile”.
The complaint to ITV was much shorter than that to the newspaper – because I was able to attach the complaint above and link to the other pieces I’ve mentioned. I wrote:
I was alarmed to hear myself being discussed in defamatory terms by Robert Peston on his show, Peston on Sunday, today – February 4.
Mr Peston was discussing me in relation to an inaccurate Sunday Times article, headlined Labour welcomes back banned activists and Holocaust denier. The article’s references to me appear to be based primarily, not on my own words, but on a hate article about me, published by an organisation called the Campaign Against Antisemitism in the run-up to the county council elections last year, in which I was a candidate. I believe it was published in an attempt to corruptly influence the election result by making false statements about me in breach of s.106 of the Representation of the People Act, 1983.
You will see that, where it discusses the issues included in the Sunday Times report, the newspaper’s language is similar to that of the article, if not identical.
It does include links to my own pieces and, if you were to visit them, you would see that the CAA has “quotemined” my articles – clipping out parts of sentences in order to publish them out-of-context, to present a false impression of my character and my work.
Alternatively, you could read the article I wrote in response to the CAA smear piece.
Further information is available in the text of the email I wrote to Sunday Times reporter Gabriel Pogrund. Mr Pogrund wanted to interview me by telephone but I declined – a wise choice, it seems. I have attached it to this email; alternatively you could read my article, published late on February 3, which includes Mr Pogrund’s questions to me.
I published that piece because I was concerned that the Sunday Times might misrepresent me and wanted the public to be able to see what I had told the reporter.
I am also providing the text of my email demanding an apology and correction from the Sunday Times, as it deals with the inaccuracies in Mr Pogrund’s piece directly.
In the light of the above, I hope you will understand my distress at being described as “vile” on national television by Mr Peston.
Has nobody working on that programme considered the value of doing a little research? I’ve been a news reporter and journalist for 24 years and I distinctly recall being trained to have the facts at hand.
Given the enormity of the inaccuracies I have detailed above, it is clear that Mr Peston’s words were defamatory. Please broadcast an appropriate apology and correction on Peston on Sunday at your earliest possible opportunity – on this evening’s repeat if possible, and certainly on next week’s edition.
At the time of writing, I await a response from both the newspaper and the TV station.
In the meantime, feel free to send your own observations to the comment column. If you want to attack me, be sure you have a strong argument!
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