Campaign journalism that often crosses the thin line where criticism becomes defamation is, for the newspaper reading public in the United Kingdom, vintage Daily Mail, an influential newspaper with a circulation of 1.8 million. More often than not, those stung by vituperative pieces in this publication choose to simply shrug it away; engaging with its aggressive editorial management is no easy option.
This week, however, the Daily Mail engaged an adversary who refused to take its latest slur campaign lying down.
Labour Party leader, and a possible future Prime Minister, Ed Miliband, hit back at the Daily Mail for publishing an article by journalist Geoffrey Levy that described his father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist academic and writer, and a public figure in his own right, as a “man who hated Britain.”
The essay’s distortions are pathetically transparent. It portrayed Miliband Sr -- who fled from impending Nazi rule in Europe to England in 1940 -- as an academic and author who “devoted his life to promoting a Marxist dogma which caused so much misery in the world.” A diary entry by the 17-year old refugee is taken out of context to prove his “hatred” of the country that took him in. “The Englishman is a rabid nationalist,” was what the adolescent Ralph had written.
In his reply in The Daily Mail a furious Ed Miliband defended his father’s reputation and legacy.
“Fierce debate about politics does not justify character assassination of my father, questioning the patriotism of a man who risked his life for our country in World War II, or publishing a picture of his gravestone with a tasteless pun about him being a ‘grave socialist’,” he wrote. (The photograph was later taken off the website by the newpaper.)
The newspaper was unrepentant, however, and published Mr Miliband’s reply along with the original offending article and an editorial in which it refused to apologise, stressing that it “stood by every word” of the essay. Mr. Miliband Sr hated British institutions like the Queen, the Church and the Army, said the newspaper, and claimed that his son and socialist heir Ed Miliband would crush press freedom in a way that would “drive a hammer and sickle through the heart of this nation.”
Ralph Miliband died in 1994 at the age of 70, after an illustrious career as a writer and Marxist intellectual. He fought with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, after which he returned to academics, completing his Ph.D under Harold Laski.
In an article in the Socialist Register, a journal he started with John Saville, Ralph Miliband described himself as an “independent socialist,” who joined the Labour party in the 1950s, when it was led by Aneurin Bevin, to work with the left. Disillusioned, he quit the party in the early 1960s.
Two of Miliband Sr’s books, Parliamentary Socialism (1969) and The State in a Capitalist Society (1972) became important texts in their field.
There has been a barrage of criticism against the Daily Mail, on news programmes and in the columns of newspapers, of voices from across the political spectrum, including from the Tory camp. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on BBC said the attack was “unattractive” and “revolting”, and even Prime Minister David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said that Mr. Miliband had done right by defending his father.
Zac Goldman, Conservative MP, drew attention to the newspaper’s own support for fascism in the 1930s. “It is odd for a newspaper to judge a man on the basis of the history of his family when that newspaper is owned by a family that did more to pursue the Nazi cause prewar than any other organ,” he said in a statement.
The Daily Mail has linked the episode to the question of political support for press-regulation. The Privy Council is to meet next week to decide whether the newspaper industry’s version of a royal charter for the future of press regulation, or the one agreed upon by political parties should be enshrined.