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A Note on Douglas Murray’s Attack on Byline Times

Commentator and author Douglas Murray takes aim at Byline Times on Twitter:

When the ‘executive editor’ of conspiracy theory website ‘Byline Times’ lied about me he had to pay thousands of pounds in costs and compensation + publish an apology. I hope everybody else defamed by his garbage site takes similar action. [1]

Conspiracy-theory website ‘Byline Times’ just quietly amended another article. One of their ‘journalists’ manipulated quotes from a former State Department official to pretend he’d said something he hadn’t. They then built a story from this. Who funds such disinformation? [2]

Murray’s ire was prompted by an article by Nafeez Ahmed criticising the UK government’s appointment of Robin Simcox as Lead Commissioner on Countering Extremism. Ahmed notes that Simcox has a number of controversial associations, including having spoken at the Center for Immigration Studies and while at the Heritage Center having promoted “Dr Lorenzo Vidino”, described as a “Great Replacement” proponent “whom Simcox cites to support the idea that American Muslim civil society groups are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood”. The rhetoric is a bit over-heated for my taste, with the terms “far-right” and “hate group” scattered throughout, but Murray – whose association with Simcox goes back to the Centre for Social Cohesion more than ten years ago – and other critics (1) fail to demonstrate substantive flaws.

Thus Murray’s Tweets instead promote a narrative that appears calculated to discredit Byline more generally. However, his unwillingness to go into detail is telling.

As regards his first Tweet, this relates to a Tweet by Byline‘s editor, Peter Jukes (who I have met a few times). His apology appeared in 2019:

On 29 April 2019 I tweeted a copy of a Byline article about the rise of violence in the far right. The accompanying tweet mentioned Douglas Murray and may have suggested that he was trying to foment violence. That is not my view and not what I intended to say [1]

I would like to apologise to Mr Murray for my careless tweet and the distress it caused him [2]

In response to Murray dredging the incident up, Peter now adds:

Two years ago, in a poorly worded late night tweet I meant to to say Murray’s work was used by the far right.

Further:

Nobody had complained for over a month yet the tweet had been strangely boosted. Legal complaint was by letter not email. Given the strange circumstances, I decided to pay the legal fees and not let it drag down the other 300 writers on Byline Times, who’d nothing to do with it

This falls somewhat short of the implication of Murray’s first Tweet, which is that Byline had published an article about him containing untrue factual claims rather than that Peter in a personal capacity had published a Tweet that had appeared to have inferred a malign motive unfairly. The matter was settled out of court by Peter rather than by Byline after Murray brought the libel lawyer Mark Lewis into it. It’s not clear how the Tweet came to Murray’s attention in the first place, especially after a gap, but it may be that someone with a grudge against Peter tipped him off.

The second Murray Tweet, meanwhile, refers to corrections that appear on two of Ahmed’s articles (the main one and a follow-up) relating to Peter Mandaville:

This article was amended on 13/04/21 to correctly portray former U.S. State Department official Peter Mandaville’s position. He has not directly commented or expressed any view on the appointment of Robin Simcox but rather offered an expert comment on the nature of anti-Muslim Brotherhood activism in the United States and the potential effects of its export to the United Kingdom.

A published correction in my view is not consistent with Murray’s phrase “quietly amended”, which implies an attempt to withdraw a claim without anyone noticing, and the date shows that it was published several days before Murray said it had “just” happened. Further, neither story is “built” from a view attributed to Mandaville.

Footnote

1. Ahmed’s main Byline article was described as an “Islamist smear campaign” by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who prevailed upon the historian Simon Schama to a delete a Tweet promoting it. However, Schama also clarified to Ahmed that “I… have neither said, nor for a minute think, you’re an Islamist”.