As I mentioned a few days ago, I spent the early part of this week working on a WT review of "History on Trial", Deborah Lipstadt's memoir of the David Irving libel trial. And all the while I couldn't help being reminded of another manic self-publicist. Yes, Michael Moore. Does that sound far-fetched? Irving is certainly a much more dangerous figure - next to "Hitler's War", "Stupid White Men" is a Disney colouring book. But the parallels are eerie all the same. I interviewed Moore by phone a couple of years ago when I was researching a Times feature on the inaccuracies in "Bowling For Columbine". It was a surreal encounter - the evasions, the bluster, the sarcasm, the stone-walling were exhausting. When you are dealing with Moore, you keep asking yourself, "Does he really believe what he is saying? Is he putting on an act?" Even now, I still don't know the answer.
How, Rampton asked, did Irving know Goering was present or that he goggled? Irving declared, "That was author's licence." Rampton responded, "You mean it was an invention... a piece of fiction." Irving, sounding like he was lecturing Rampton, said, "When you write a book that is going to be read... you occasionally help the reader along...
Truth becomes farce. In the Lipstadt trial, Irving's technique of mixing fact with fiction was finally exposed for all to see. Until then, the media had preferred to portray him as a colourful maverick. So far, thanks to the media's reluctance to tackle Moore, he has escaped more or less unscathed. (I'm looking forward to reading the new Vanity Fair profile, which doesn't yet seem to be on-line.) It's now possible to find articles criticising his egomania and his love of five-star hotels. The work itself generally gets a pass.
Julius cites "a plan of Colditz Castle" as an example of the kind of irrelevant information Irving has produced. Irving says the plan isn't irrelevant; it "has a gas chamber on it". Julius asks him where this is. "In the caption at the bottom," Irving replies, "it says: 'Delousing shed.'... Every prison camp had a delousing shed in it in which the clothing was treated with cyanide gas." Trench asks: "Auschwitz was not a prison camp, was it?" Irving turns to Julius: "Mr Julius? Auschwitz prison camp? This is too much for Julius. "Look, I think your views are completely absurd," he replies. When Irving attempts to continue, he interrupts: "You see, Master, this is where we penetrate beyond the fringes of madness."