Former Sun Political Editor Still Being Challenged On Deleted “Hijacked Labour” Story

An aggrieved exchange on Twitter between former political editor at the Sun Tom Newton Dunn and Jacobin magazine’s Dawn Foster, after Newton Dunn commented on a complaint by Jess Phillips MP about a fake screenshot doing the rounds:

Newton Dunn: This wouldn’t happen if @Twitter took responsibility for its content, like broadcast, print and digital media must.

Dawn Foster: Is that why your article republishing the antisemitic and racist “Hijacked Labour” interactive was taken down?

Newton Dunn: You really don’t know what you’re talking about Dawn. Thought you knew better than to repeat untrue slurs.

Newton Dunn’s complaint was met by onlookers with howls of incredulity, with users posting screenshots of the deleted Sun article from December.

The article, headlined “Hijacked Labour: Ex-British intelligence officers say Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a hard-left extremist network”, was about a interactive online chart that purported to show discreditable connections between a vast number of people, including left-wing activists actually opposed to Jeremy Corbyn and weird “guilt-by-association” links that brought in the likes of the actor Matt Berry. Dawn Foster was one of those whose name was included. The links were so diffuse and random that it was useless for any kind of analysis, and anyone with a half-decent crank radar would have disregarded it after a moment’s perusal. The Sun, however, judged that it might influence the election, and so Tom Newton Dunn ran a piece about it, including a low-resolution screenshot that could not be scrutinised.

What did for the scoop was that the chart also contained annotations about a number of those featured on it, directing readers to links and further reading. Many of these were innocuous, but among them were links to the neo-Nazi Aryan Unity website and to an antisemitic conspiracy site called the Millennium Report. Suddenly realising that we could now make a similar chart of our own that would link the Sun with the far-right with just one degree of separation, the decision was taken to pull the article.

Clearly, though, the episode is not going to go away – an account of it even features prominently on Newton Dunn’s Wikipedia entry, although he’s tried to have it suppressed, calling it a “falsehood”. But without a corrective, complaining that critics don’t know what they are talking about is simply obfuscation. My advice would be for Newton Dunn to provide a full account. How did the “Hijacked Labour” website come to his attention? Was he aware that the material had just previously been hosted on a website called “Traitors’ Chart” (moved across just days before the Sun story was published, and references to it elsewhere deleted, probably to conceal a provenance trail)? And did he check out the claim that the chart was indeed the work of “ex-British intelligence officers”?

On this last point, we know that the definition was stretched: Newton Dunn presented as the spokesperson for the chart a man named Mark Bles, who was formerly in the SAS. The SAS, though, is not an intelligence agency. How did Newton Dunn confirm the credentials or even existence of Bles’s collaborators? For all we know, Bles may have been taken in by fantasists and grifters. (1)

Some time ago, the Sun ran a bogus front-page splash claiming that Alan Sugar was the target of an Islamist conspiracy; when the paper was forced to acknowledge it had been taken in by false information it ran an piece about its source, which deflected some of the blame. Something similar may be Newton Dunn’s best bet.

As well as the deletion of the Sun story, the “Hijacked Labour” website also itself deleted the chart, I believe to avoid ongoing scrutiny and perhaps legal problems. It was replaced with the following message:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for rebuilding to reflect changes in the Labour Party following the 2019 UK General Election. The Network shall be republished in the first quarter of 2020 as an open project. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have suggested more details and personalities for inclusion.

I noted this on Twitter last month, writing:

The true authors of the conspiracy chart promoted by Tom Newton-Dunn at the Sun remain in the shadows, although clues are out there. Their promise to have created an updated chart by now after withdrawing their earlier version has failed to materialise.

Days later, the website notice changed:

The Hijacked Labour Network has been taken down for now following the 2019 UK General Election and the installing of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour Party leader. The Network has now done its job, most satisfactorily. We thank the many people who have commented upon its contents and especially those who have added to the Network by reacting to it and via tip-offs.

The timing of this amendment indicates that the website’s creators are even now keeping an eye on what is being said about them.

Footnote

(1) I made a complaint to IPSO about this; their response was that SAS members may do “covert intelligence gathering”, and therefore the headline was not misleading. They also rejected my objection to the reference to “intelligence officers” in the plural, although their reasoning was incoherent – they pretended to believe that my complaint was instead about the reference to Corbyn in the headline and so was covered by “say”.

Of course, even if ex-intelligence agents were involved, we should ask why they are “former” rather than simply assume that that their ex-jobs indicate exceptional competence and access to privileged information.

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