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In Defence of Paul Dacre

John Rentoul

hated1 288x300 In Defence of Paul DacreWhat a wuss Paul Dacre is. I don’t mean his refusal to go on television to defend his journalism on Ed Miliband’s father. Some people don’t like going on television and are not confident in live debate, although it sounds a bit hollow, having put up your deputy to argue with Alastair Campbell, then to declare: “Fair enough, if you dish it out, you take it.”

I mean his failure to defend the headline on the article about Ralph Miliband, even when writing a safe, carefully worded and long article for The Guardian this morning.

The editor of the Daily Mail starts off by defending it:

As for the headline “The Man Who Hated Britain”, our point was simply this: Ralph Miliband was, as a Marxist, committed to smashing the institutions that make Britain distinctively British – and, with them, the liberties and democracy those institutions have fostered.

I don’t agree with him, but I think that is a perfectly reasonable argument. There is plenty about Britain that Dacre doesn’t like, and many of his critics describe him, rhetorically, as a man who hates Britain, even though he would claim to be patriotic.

This is all the stuff of debate. I have disagreed, for example, with Norman Geras, one of my heroes, about Ralph Miliband’s credentials as a democrat. Norm accepts at face value Miliband Sr’s claim to have been a “democratic socialist”; I find the commitment to democracy of revolutionary Marxists suspect. Miliband Sr might have sincerely believed that he was a democrat. My view is that he also believed other things that might have compromised that principle.

Similarly, Miliband Sr might have sincerely believed that he loved Britain, while Dacre’s opinion is that this belief was contradicted by other things in which he believed.

Then, however, Dacre retreats from this reasonable argument:

Yes, the headline was controversial – but popular newspapers have a long tradition of using provocative headlines to grab readers’ attention. In isolation that headline may indeed seem over the top, but read in conjunction with the article we believed it was justifiable.

Perhaps the “in conjunction with the article” line was simply to show solidarity with Jon Steafel, his deputy, who had deployed it in that debate with Campbell. But it was unnecessarily defensive to imply that the headline was an “over the top” expression designed to grab attention.

What a curiously weak defence. It suggests that Dacre knows that he went “over the top” in the minds of many of his readers, so he moves swiftly on to Guardian-bashing and repeating the conspiracy theory in which nearly everyone believes, and which I think really is evil, since that word has been bandied around, namely that Alastair Campbell “helped drive Dr David Kelly to his death”, as if we all know why he took his own life.

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  • JohnJustice

    There were other evil smears in that Dacre article including Campbell being behind “the dodgy dossier”, Miliband’s real purpose in triggering the row being an attempt to ” neutralise” the Mail’s publisher, the metropolitan classes “despising” Mail readers, Ed Miliband being a ” central player” in the corruption exposed by Damien Mcbride and someone who ” diddled” his brother, and a reference to the claim that the the then Labour health secretary covered up unnecessary deaths in a NHS hospital before the election ( which may be the subject of a libel case).

    All in all a perfect example of the kind of press action that argues for the politicians’ version of press regulation rather the other version. Couldn’t have come at a better time.

  • chrishaines47

    Dacre is now promulgating a new theory – that there were 4 nails at the cruxifiction but Romanian gypsies stole one.

  • Pacificweather

    Dacre may or may not be a man who hates Britain but he is undoubtedly a man who hates the truth. He is the first J.R. McCarthy of the 21st century. There will be others.

  • mightymark

    Two cheers for this John as the, ahem, negative reaction to Ed’s standing against his brother goes a bit wider than Dacre and his dreadful rag!

  • Kippers

    In my opinion Dacre is saying what quite a number of journalists and spin-doctors believe: that they can say things in headlines that are eye-catching but not necessarily true. It is, however, a dangerous belief.

  • Kippers

    ” ……. so he moves swiftly on to Guardian-bashing and repeating the conspiracy theory in which nearly everyone believes, and which I think really is evil, since that word has been bandied around, namely that Alastair Campbell “helped drive Dr David Kelly to his death”, as if we all know why he took his own life.”

    Are you saying that we do know why he took his own life or that we don’t know? It is difficult to know from the way your sentence is constructed.


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