An Open Letter to Peter Hitchens

Dear Mr Hitchens,

Thank you for reading Disclaimer. We do, however, think you are not as much a fan as most of our readers.

Having read your blog, it is quite clear that you have taken our scrutiny to heart. Indeed you tweeted,This article is a dishonest smear, which tells lies about me and what I have said”.

Again and again, we asked you to point out “lies”. You failed to do this on Twitter and you did not do it on your blog.

At the heart of your criticism is our headline “Shilling for Assad, Russian Embassy trolls and the Strange World of Peter Hitchens”.

Tricolons are a common practice. Harris’ article contained five examples where people have played ‘fast and loose’ with the truth on Twitter, not just yours. As editor Graham chose three of those to form a headline. As he has done before.

A parallel construction might be found in the title of C.S. Lewis’s first Narnia book: from the book’s many characters, he came up with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As you will know, the lion is unrelated to the wardrobe and the wardrobe to the witch etc, except that they are all in the book.

The idea that we insinuated that you are an Assad shill or have any improper connection with the Russian Embassy exists in your mind. It has never existed in ours.

you are selective as to what evidence you use

More worrying is your inability to admit that the overwhelming evidence shows that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was undertaken by or at the behest of the Assad regime.  That  the OPCW-JIM did not visit the site is common practice. They instead investigated eight possible scenarios, they spoke to on-the-ground witnesses from a variety of backgrounds, and independent experts who assessed damage. 

They explicitly disagreed with Syrian and Russian government claims that the agent could have been released from the ground (“The Mechanism notes that, based on the foregoing, the characteristics of the crater are more likely to have been caused by an aerial bomb with a small explosive charge, and that it probably contained liquid.”).

They demonstrated the presence of the DF6 marker and said it was “a strong indicator that the sarin disseminated in Khan Sheikhoun was produced from DF from the Syrian Arab Republic stockpile.”

Nobody serious pretends that the JIM report did anything but hold the Syrian government to account for the bombing. It is not just the conclusion that damns Assad.

If you are still sceptical, Human Right Watch has said that “all available evidence” suggests that a Syrian government warplane attacked Khan Sheikhoun.

HRW talked to 60 people with first-hand knowledge of chemical weapons attacks. They looked at victims’ symptoms. They talked the local residents who spoke of a warplane flying overhead. They then reviewed photographic evidence and video evidence.

The question doubters should ask themselves is: where did the helicopters or warplanes come from? The rebels certainly do not have that kind of access. On the other hand, Assad does. He also has form.

Likewise, you are selective as to what evidence you use when talking about the White Helmets.

Of course they are flawed. They are human. However, they were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize as well as the McCall-Pierpaoli Humanitarian Award by Refugees International. Despite their international origins, their volunteers are made up of ordinary Syrians. It was estimated in 2016 that the White Helmets had saved 60,000 lives, according to filmmaker Joanna Natasegara.

The Russian-originated campaign disputing SRD’s neutrality started in 2015. President Assad helped that campaign. A handful of gullible or malicious journalists repeated state propaganda, allowing the Russians to repeat the claims. That is how disinformation enters the mainstream.  

That is why it needs to be fought.

We’re not afraid of you

To question is a good quality but to put personal theories before the evidence is unpardonably arrogant.

First, you write on Twitter that the idea that Assad used chemical weapons on Douma was a “conspiracy theory” then you claimed that was not what you meant; finally, you labelled the idea ‘a theory’.

Either way, you try to make equivalence where there is none. The idea that Assad was responsible for Douma is not just another ‘theory’. It is where the vast sway of evidence leads, including past action, opportunity, access to chemical weapons and ability to use them.  

The idea that criticism indicates a show trial, as you say in your blog is palpably absurd. Once again, you cast yourself as the victim. Yet you work for the DMG Media (formerly Associated News), while Disclaimer is an independent publication, a fraction of the size. Casting us in the role of Stalinist and you as ‘the little guy’ is pure distortion. The comparison is made more risible by how your Twitter trolls have engaged in mob rule, with never a word of disapproval from you.

Your silence speaks volumes and trolls learn from those they follow. Your hyperbole gave license to crude insults and bully-boy tactics. As you played the victim, they pretended we were the Mainstream Media - another example of altering the facts to fit a worldview. Their abuse was done in your name.

Finding the truth is rarely easy, especially in a world where many portray - with the logic of 2 + 2 = 5 - a paranoid world of conspiratorial elites deliberately working against them. Conspiracy theories have existed since the fire of Rome under Nero. There will always be a market for them.

In this case the truth is simple. You read a piece that dared to question you. You could have shrugged it off but instead you pretended it was a smear and that it was dishonest. You pretended that we had lied, but could not name those lies. You pretended you were a victim. You are not.     

We’re not afraid of you. We find your Twitter mob quite funny. To bow to your bullying would set a dangerous precedent.

You talk about betrayal. People look to you to inform them, to give them the full picture about issues they may not understand. That is why weighing evidence is so important: judgments matter.

We cannot know your motives, which is why we never questioned them. We questioned your methods and your conclusions. What you have done in response is altogether less noble.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Kirby
On behalf of the editors

More about the author

About the author

Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.

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