Back in 2000, ITN reporters won a resounding libel victory when they took Living Marxism (since reborn as Spiked) to court in response to the magazine’s allegations, in an article by Thomas Deichmann, that they had deliberately distorted and misrepresented the way Bosnian Muslims were treated in Serb-run camps.
I thought readers would be interested to read Jamie Palmer’s excellent two part reexamination of this trial, and its implications, over on Quillette.
Even though I had no reason to favour Living Marxism’s ideology at the time (or now) I remember being sucked in by what seems to have been the one point of some substance in Deichmann’s notorious article – an argument relating to the precise placement and function of a barbed wire fence. As Jamie Palmer points out, this comparatively minor discovery, was made to do a great deal of work, becoming the smoking gun from which an entire conspiracy theory could be excavated.
Deichmann’s claim that a barbed wire fence had not encircled Trnopolje was the most carefully evidenced in his article. It was also the only claim that would survive the libel trial three years later. That he would turn out to be correct on this narrow point is part of what has allowed confusion to be created about how much of his essay was vindicated in court. But the arrangement of the fencing at a Serbian prison camp five years previously was not, by itself, much of an exclusive. As the title of his essay indicated, the fence was the incriminating clue to a more sinister story of media mendacity and public credulity—like a matchbook carelessly discarded at a crime scene, the significance of which only the amateur sleuth understands.
What made Deichmann’s story sensational was his allegation that the ITN reporters had deliberately misrepresented the fence in order to misrepresent Trnopolje itself. The consequences of that deception, he reminded readers, had been grave—the image of Alić had produced an inflammation of hysterical warmongering among media and political elites, which had led in turn to the demonisation of Serbs and (eventually) Western military intervention.