Sixteen years ago, I sat in court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London and felt the ground crumble beneath my feet. I was following the libel trial brought by David Irving, the Holocaust denier and “pro-Nazi polemicist” – to quote the judge’s eventual verdict – against Penguin Books, which had dared publish a text which told the truth about him.I watched as Irving discarded the usual rules of evidence. The eyewitness testimony of survivors was dismissed as lies. Confessions by the guilty were waved away as fake. Inconvenient documents were written off as forgeries. All that was left was what he wanted to believe.At the time, it struck me that Irving was threatening something greater even than the memory of the Holocaust: he was undermining the very idea of facts, history and truth. If every item of evidence could be rubbished as bogus, then how could anyone ever prove anything? How would we know that Henry VIII had six wives or that Napoleon fought at Waterloo?
Don’t call it post-truth. There’s a simpler word: lies