It seems Rachel Riley is playing her old games again – and this one appears to be in very poor taste.
She has responded to a piece of – journalism? – by someone called David Hirsh, raking over the behaviour of a person who is no longer alive and therefore unable to speak for himself. It is not clear to This Writer whether the deceased’s family were involved.
The piece about Peter Newbon, who was a leading figure in an organisation known as Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS), appears to have made certain claims about the beloved children’s author and poet, Michael Rosen – on which Ms Riley commented as follows:
— Michael Rosen 💙💙🎓🎓 (@MichaelRosenYes) August 3, 2023
Note that she did not provide any information explaining the reason her “stomach turns” at the mention of Mr Rosen. This is familiar behaviour; by allowing others to draw their own conclusions, it may be possible to deny those conclusions later.
But is it possible to work out what one may reasonably deduce is the reason Mr Rosen has such an effect on Ms Riley’s digestive system? I have not read the Hirsh article – but I believe I have enough information from the following exchange between him and Mr Rosen:
To do this, you have to negate the two legal cases that Dr Newbon was involved in, neither of them necessary. He was negotiating an apology in mine (happy to have accepted). Mr Wilson offered him an easy get-out of his. What cost? What strain?
— Michael Rosen 💙💙🎓🎓 (@MichaelRosenYes) August 4, 2023
(I’m not going to refer here to the Jamie Wilson court case, in which Newbon was also involved. If you want more information on that, details are available here.)
So the claim is that the late Mr Newbon was bullied by people including Mr Rosen, and that this led to his suicide.
In that case, we need to examine how Michael Rosen knew Peter Newbon. And we find this:
The image, tweeted by Newbon, shows former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn apparently reading the anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to children.
In fact, he had been reading Mr Rosen’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and the words with which Newbon accompanied the image paraphrase that work: “Oh no! A J-…er, I mean a ZIONIST! A nasty, horrible Zionist! We can’t go over him, we can’t go under him, we’ll have to make an effigy…” instead of: “We can’t go over it, we can’t under it. Oh no! We have to go through it”.
Hirsh has said Newbon did not create the image; he merely shared it. But every share is a new publication of the image and any message it conveys. Furthermore, the words above the image appear to have been typed in by Newbon. Were they his words, or those of whoever created the meme? Either way, if he typed them into his tweet, we may infer that he agreed with the message that they convey.
Mr Rosen had contacted Newbon’s employer, Northumbria University, to complain about its lecturer sharing the image, which he described as “loathesome and antisemitic” – and he was not alone; the university received around 4,000 complaints in total.
I think we may reasonably infer that this is the “bullying” to which Hirsh referred. How he can describe Mr Rosen’s complaint in that manner, or as “antisemitic”, is a mystery as Mr Rosen, being Jewish, may quite clearly be seen as the victim of anti-Semitism here; the tweeted image links him – a Jew – with an anti-Semitic book which was once said to have been written by Jews and which makes claims calculated to provoke hatred against Jews.
I have no information on Newbon’s own ethnicity. If he was Jewish himself, then for Mr Rosen to have been anti-Semitic towards him, Mr Rosen’s complaint would have to have exhibited hatred towards him because he was a Jew – and we have no evidence of this.
And a complaint about a tweet that may clearly be taken as an attack on Mr Rosen may not be described as bullying in any way. Or so it seems to This Writer. It seems to me, based on the evidence, that he is the victim:
I stand with Michael Rosen 💯 https://t.co/NFuAmIuYo0
— Supporting Humanity (@SocialistAnyDay) August 4, 2023
So I can find no clear basis for Ms Riley’s apparent comment that the Hirsh article reminds her of any reason her “stomach turns” at the mention of Mr Rosen.
Her tweet certainly appears to have turned the stomachs of people who enjoy his work or have personal experience of him. A few hours after her initial tweet, Ms Riley followed it up with this:
Antisemites upset again, oh well https://t.co/t9SzEnXQ3C
— Rachel Riley MBE 💙 (@RachelRileyRR) August 3, 2023
To This Writer, the comment is very strange – firstly because I can only find two responses to her previous tweet on the subject, that criticise her. Is that really enough for her to pass comment as though there was a large backlash?
Secondly, it does not make grammatical sense – and this leads me to suggest that it may be taken to mean something else: not that she isn’t bothered by people she claims are antisemites being upset at her comment about Mr Rosen, but that if people do criticise her for that comment, she is not bothered because they are all antisemites.
Again, there appears to be no evidence to support a claim that every respondent is an anti-Semite.
It strikes This Writer that these tweets may create something of a difficulty for Ms Riley, in legal terms, because anyone defending Mr Rosen in response to her comments – either before or after her “Antisemites upset again” tweet – may reasonably infer that tweet to refer to them. And they may consider it to be libellous against them.
So not only is it possible that she and her employers at Channel 4 may receive a complaint about her behaviour from Mr Rosen – they already have from at least one other person…
Have you seen this completely unprovoked & vicious attack on Michael Rosen by your employee Rachel Riley?
Many children watch your show and lots of them have grown-up reading Michael’s books
Can you tell me what action you’re taking against Ms Riley?
— Taffy (@TGFMichaelRosen) August 3, 2023
… but she may also receive a “letter before action”, either individually or as a group, from a large number of people, some of them celebrities in their own right.
Oh, and Jeremy Corbyn might also consider getting involved, considering the fact that he was also attacked in that doctored image, that an innocent person has suffered harm because of it, because of the Hirsh article and because of the Riley tweets, and that Hirsh himself has challenged him to take such action:
This is exciting. Michael Rosen is attracting so much solidarity over the rewriting of the Pete Newbon case even hardcore Zionist, mind-reader and academic underachiever, David Hirsh has unblocked him. https://t.co/DTSbNIvgYD pic.twitter.com/KW3MnQ3BKl
— Jews Sans Frontieres (@jewssf) August 4, 2023
It seems clear that this kind of behaviour – that may harm the reputations and ruin the lives of good people – may continue until somebody with the wherewithal finally puts a stop to it.
Is it forlorn to hope that this could be the catalyst for that to happen?
While we wait to find out, please remember that I am one of those whose reputation and life has been harmed – and I’m still trying to pay my legal team after my own four-year battle with Ms Riley. If you have been moved by the story above, then please help in any of the following ways:
Make a donation via the CrowdJustice page. Keep donating regularly until you see the total pass the amount I need.
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Post a link to Facebook, asking readers to pledge.
On Twitter, tweet in support, quoting the address of the appeal.
And don’t forget that if you’re having trouble, or simply don’t like donating via CrowdJustice, you can always donate direct to me via the Vox Political PayPal button, where it appears on that website. But please remember to include a message telling me it’s for the crowdfund!
ADDITIONAL NOTE: a few people on Facebook have suggested that people could not sue Ms Riley because “in order for a libel action to stand, the court has to be convinced that it could be interpreted as referring to a specific individual”. This is not true.
From my copy of Essential Law for Journalists:
“The test of whether the words identified the person suing is whether they would reasonably lead people acquainted with him to believe that he was the person referred to.” So, for example, Robin Ince (of The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4) may have a prime facie case because he published a popular tweet defending Michael Rosen and Ms Riley tweeted words that may be taken as meaning anyone supporting him is an anti-Semite.
To continue: “During the late 1980s and 1990s the Police Federation, representing junior police officers, made good use of this aspect of the libel law in many actions against newspapers on behalf of their members… Many of the officers were not named… The test of identification is not whether the general reader knew who was referred to, but whether some individuals… did.”
Also, the person suing doesn’t even have to prove that the words they’re complaining about actually refer to them: “A journalist sued successfully over an article… which neither named nor described him. A person reading the article carefully would have noted various details which were inconsistent with a reference to [him]. However, the court said ordinary people often skimmed through such articles casually, not expecting a high degree of accuracy. If, as a result of such reading, they reached the conclusion that the article referred to the plaintiff, then identification was proved.”
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