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Private Eye vs Peter Hitchens - what would founder Editor Christopher Booker have thought?

Tom Winnifrith
Wednesday 20 January 2021

Private Eye was co-founded by my late uncle Christopher Booker. At his funeral, there were a few folk from the Eye led by the current Editor and professional celebrity Ian Hislop and also Chris’s great pal Peter Hitchens. Today the latter takes on the former, rebutting an appalling hatchet job on himself in the Eye. Once upon a time, Private Eye challenged the establishment. Today it is part of the establishment and thus lockdown sceptics like Hitchens who dare to question the mask & lockdown GroupThink gripping the political and media classes are “the enemy.” I am in no doubt at all that Uncle Chris would be in the barricades with Hitchens on this one. He would also be appalled by the casual way that Private Eye just distorts facts in its attack on his good friend. This is not the journalism which Christopher Booker would have recognised as worthy of praise.

The rebuttal penned by Hitchens on his blog is below.

Full response to an attempted attack on me by the Government Toady ‘Private Eye’

Private Eye, once a satirical magazine, now an establishment rag, has today published an attack on me.

My rebuttal:

The ‘Private Eye’ attack begins with an important error and a blatant suppression of important material..  Describing my rejection here  of Paul Mason’s attempt to suggest that  lockdown sceptics should be censored, the magazine refers to ‘covid sceptics’ a non-existent category, rather than to ‘lockdown sceptics’, the generally-used description of the dissenting tendency to which I belong.

While describing me as ‘indignant’, it is careful not to explain why I might have been alarmed. It does not quote Mr Mason’s actual words, as I did, so hiding from its readers the sheer venom of the attack. As I said in the article, ‘I was one of a group of ‘fascist-enabling’ public figures, on ‘the same spectrum as full-blown science-denial’.

As I also noted ‘Mr Mason tweeted: ‘I don’t just want Johnson to say “Stay home, save lives” etc. I want him to call out and ridicule the bull**** anti-maskers, lockdown skeptics and denialists in his own party – and order social media platforms to suppress/label Covid disinformation. That’s leadership.’ (my emphasis, PH)

‘This is plainly a call for censorship. By ‘disinformation’, such people always mean ‘things I disagree with’. When I challenge them, they can come up with no examples of untruths. I mention Mr Mason because he is unusually frank about his real aims.(my emphasis, PH)

Then Private Eye seeks to show me as mistaken by quoting from past articles.

First is this,

…from 22 March, where PE chooses the words: ‘I see very little evidence of a pandemic’. Let us leave aside for a moment that the best-known pandemic in history, the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-20, killed an estimated 17 million people and attacked the young and healthy. PE seems entirely to have forgotten the terrifying predictions being bandied about in March by Imperial College, against which I was quite entitled to measure the reality.

Context: On 17th March, Imperial College had released this document

Which contained the following prediction: ‘The report details that for the first scenario (slowing the spread), the optimal policy would combine home isolation of cases, home quarantine and social distancing of those over 70 years. This could reduce the peak healthcare demand by two-thirds and reduce deaths by half. However, the resulting epidemic would still likely result in an estimated 250,000 deaths and therefore overwhelm the health system (most notably intensive care units). (My emphasis, PH)

On 21 March, the day before I published my article, UK Covid deaths were reported as 54 (Worldometers figure Repeat: 54.

Then there is my May 3rd article, from which the quote taken is ‘Let me say it again. The Coronavirus is no as dangerous as claimed.’ (PE, typically)  leaves out the point of the quote: Let me say it again: the coronavirus is not as dangerous as claimed. Other comparable epidemics have taken place with far less fuss, and we have survived them.. It says I noted that the death rate had passed its peak on 8th April (which it had as the Oxford Centre for Evidence-based medicine had by then shown) .But  PE (typically)  leaves out the point of this date : ‘ It passed its peak in this country on April 8, well before the crazy measures introduced by the Government on March 23 could possibly have affected matters.’

Next comes my article from 10th May, where the chosen words are ‘ I have seen masses of reasons to believe that risk from coronavirus has been gravely exaggerated’

And so I had. As I had written on 22nd March : ‘Well, is it justified? There is a document from a team at Imperial College in London which is being used to justify it. It warns of vast numbers of deaths if the country is not subjected to a medieval curfew.

But this is all speculation. It claims, in my view quite wrongly, that the coronavirus has ‘comparable lethality’ to the Spanish flu of 1918, which killed at least 17 million people and mainly attacked the young.

What can one say to this? In a pungent letter to The Times last week, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, cast doubt on the brilliance of the Imperial College scientists, saying that his heart sank when he learned they were advising the Government. Calling them a ‘team of doom-mongers’, he said their advice on the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak ‘led to what I believe to be the unnecessary slaughter of millions of healthy cattle and sheep’ until they were overruled by the then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.

He added: ‘I hope that Boris Johnson, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance show similar wisdom. They must ensure that measures are proportionate, balanced and practical.’

Avoidable deaths are tragic, but each year there are already many deaths, especially among the old, from complications of flu leading to pneumonia.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) tells me that the number of flu cases and deaths due to flu-related complications in England alone averages 17,000 a year. This varies greatly each winter, ranging from 1,692 deaths last season (2018/19) to 28,330 deaths in 2014/15.

The DHSC notes that many of those who die from these diseases have underlying health conditions, as do almost all the victims of coronavirus so far, here and elsewhere. As the experienced and knowledgeable doctor who writes under the pseudonym ‘MD’ in the Left-wing magazine Private Eye wrote at the start of the panic: ‘In the winter of 2017-18, more than 50,000 excess deaths occurred in England and Wales, largely unnoticed.’

Nor is it just respiratory diseases that carry people off too soon. In the Government’s table of ‘deaths considered avoidable’, it lists 31,307 deaths from cardiovascular diseases in England and Wales for 2013, the last year for which they could give me figures.

This, largely the toll of unhealthy lifestyles, was out of a total of 114,740 ‘avoidable’ deaths in that year. To put all these figures in perspective, please note that every human being in the United Kingdom suffers from a fatal condition – being alive.

About 1,600 people die every day in the UK for one reason or another.’

 I think the article entirely justifies the words quoted, not least the excerpt from ‘Private Eye’.  


Next comes the snippet from my 31st May article

in which I am accused of saying it was all over, though I didn’t actually use that phrase. The justification for this claim is the words ‘as the coronavirus itself retreats, how are we going to cope with the panic that lingers everywhere?’

It remains a good question. The article is largely about the lack of public disquiet (I am amazed to find myself, as long ago as May, warning  ‘Look at the censorship of the internet, spreading like a great dark blot, the death of Parliament, the conversion of the police into a state militia?).

 But the Worldometers death figure for 30th May, the day before publication, was 149 – hugely down from the Worldometers peak of 1,146 on April 21 (this differs from the Oxford peak of April 8 because it totals the number of deaths reported rather than the number which took place on that day) . It was perfectly reasonable to describe the disease as retreating.  What’s more, the distinguished microbiologist Prof Hugh Pennington had said in late April that he thought a second wave of coronavirus ‘very unlikely’  

Who was I to dispute his expertise?

PE tries sneakily to suggest, by referring to an article

partly about masks on 5 July, that I am a ‘Covid unbeliever’ and therefore a ‘denier’. The article clearly shows that I was comparing the habit of mask wearing to a religion, and so describing non-wearers   as ‘unbelievers’, a wholly different thing. A sample : ‘When this madness began, I behaved as if a new and fanatical religion was spreading among us. Be polite and tolerant, I thought. It may be crazy and damaging but in time it will go away.

‘Now it is clear that a new faith, based on fear of the invisible and quite immune to reason, has all but taken over the country. And it turns out to be one of those faiths that doesn’t have much tolerance for those who don’t share it.

‘My guess is that about 85 per cent of the population now worship it and will continue to do so. The rest of us are, as each day goes by, a persecuted minority, forced to go along with beliefs we do not hold.

‘Its evangelists will not leave you and me alone, but constantly seek to force us to join. This is why I make such a fuss about the demand to make us all wear muzzles. This is not about health. 

There is simply not enough evidence to compel us to do so. It is an attempt to force submission on Covid unbelievers.’

Finally I am attacked for saying on 6th September that the outbreak at that time was not very severe. Again,  I refer to the Worldometers death tally – this time for 5th September,  the day before this article was published, shows the number of deaths recorded that day was 12.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
[email protected]
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