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It was a virtuoso performance, and one that earned Mehdi Hasan congratulations from Vox Political, just as soon as I could get to a keyboard.
For those who missed it, the panel on BBC Question Time was discussing the Daily Mail‘s veiled attack on Ed Miliband, which cast suspicion on the Labour leader’s motives by questioning those of his late father. It’s about the lowest kind of attack a newspaper could possibly launch – the kind that one might have expected from the News of the World in its latter days.
The piece in question was headlined The man who hated Britain and referred to Ralph Miliband’s “evil legacy”.
Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post‘s UK edition, tussled with Quentin Letts, a political sketch-writer for the Mail – winning the argument (and thunderous applause) with the following:
“Let me ask you a question,” he said. “When you talk about ‘Who hates Britain’ or ‘Who has an evil legacy’, who do you think has an evil legacy? A man who sucked up to the Nazis, who made friends with Joseph Goebbels and praised Hitler in the run-up to World War II – the owner and founder of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere – or a man who served in the Royal Navy, risked his life for his adopted homeland – Ralph Miliband. Who do you think hated Britain more?
“And this isn’t just about Ralph Miliband actually, because this has actually opened up a whole debate about the Daily Mail – if you want to talk about who hates Britain.
“This is a paper that, in recent years, said that there was nothing natural about the death of the gay pop star Stephen Gately, who said that the French people should vote for Marine Le Pen and the National Front, who attacked Danny Boyle for having a mixed race couple in his Olympics opening ceremony, who called Mo Farah “a plastic Brit”.
“So let’s have the debate about ‘Who hates Britain more’, because it isn’t a dead Jewish refugee from Belgium who served in the Royal Navy, it’s the immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail.”
It did my heart a lot of good, typing that up – not just because of the Mail-bashing at its centre but because it was a speech that brings a few other groups together. Here was a Muslim praising the character of a Jew (for all those out there who think that adherents of Islam have nothing but hate to offer the rest of the world). He was also speaking up for homosexuals, mixed race couples, immigrants, women, the health service and anyone who opposes political extremism – especially of the right-wing variety.
Apart from the very last group, none of these include yr obdt srvt in their number, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing that anyone who agrees it is right to fight prejudice would support Mehdi’s opinion.
It seems the powers-that-be at the newspaper in question were listening carefully, and were keen to enter the next stage of the debate about the Daily Mail – by demonstrating just how much further they were prepared to debase themselves, just to smear the reputation of anybody who dared to stand up to them.
It seems clear that somebody in a high-ranking position at the Daily Mail went to their files and dug out a letter Mehdi had written in 2010, applying to become a writer for the newspaper. That letter then mysteriously made its way to those in charge of the Guido Fawkes blog, where it was published in full. It seems the intention was to prove that Mehdi was a hypocrite – how could this man apply for work at the Mail at one point, and then attack it so viciously only a few short years later?
Silly, silly mistake.
It seems that they didn’t read the letter very well at all.
“I am on the left of the political spectrum, and disagree with the Mail’s editorial line on a range of issues,” Mehdi2010 wrote.
“I could be a fresh and passionate, not to mention polemical and contrarian, voice on the comment and feature pages.”
In case the editors and proprietors of the Daily Mail are reading this: You seem to have mislaid your lexicons. A polemic is a passionate argument, against an established viewpoint (such as, perhaps, that put forward by yourselves) – and a contrarian is a person who always takes an opposing side.
Mehdi’s application letter was saying that he did not agree with the Daily Mail‘s opinions but he admired the forthright way it stood behind them and believed the paper would be strengthened by contributions from a writer with a different point of view to put forward.
This practice is not alien to the Daily Mail. One of the very earliest Vox Political articles praised the Mail for printing a piece by a columnist called Sonia Poulton, attacking the Coalition government’s treatment of the disabled in direct opposition to the paper’s established skivers/scroungers/shirkers rhetoric.
So it seems that, by ensuring that all journalists working in the UK now know that their confidential correspondence is likely to become public property the instant they upset the Mail‘s proprietors, by overreacting to fair, balanced and reasonable criticism of an extremely unreasonable article published in that newspaper, and by doing all this in defence of a piece intended to undermine support for one of Britain’s largest political parties – in line with its support for the most right-wing government in recent UK history, the Daily Mail has managed to destroy its own credibility (such as it was), render itself a no-go area for reputable journalists, and tarnish its readership by guilt-through-association.
Meanwhile, it has already boosted public support for Labour and the leader it hoped to harm and, if there is any justice, the current attack on Mehdi Hasan should bolster his career considerably as well.
That’s what happens when people who think a little too much of themselves overreact to criticism.
Daily Mail? It might as well be called the Daily Flail.