The Mail and Mehdi Hasan

In April 1989, the Sun published the infamous “The Truth” front-page slander of the Hillsborough tragedy and are still boycotted in Liverpool. It ought to have been a tremendous lesson to the tabloid industry that you can only go so far in peddling hate before you oversell it.

Daily Mail smears Ralph MilibandOn Saturday 28th September, the Daily Mail published an article about Ralph Miliband. There were two problems with the article: the first, that it wasn’t true, was no different from any other smears the Daily Mail has cooked up in the past.

The second, that it had been published purely to traduce a dead man because he was the father of the current Labour party leader Ed Miliband, was so clear that even the usual supporters of Daily Mail politics found themselves choking on it: of the entire Conservative cabinet, only Michael Gove – who used to work for Rupert Murdoch at the Times and whose wife writes for Paul Dacre at the Daily Maildefended the Mail: every other Conservative minister from David Cameron downward admitted that if that had been his father, subjected to Daily Mail attack after his death, they’d… well… they wouldn’t have been happy about it. Contemptuously, the Mail – and all the Mail employees, from Paul Dacre downward – have refused to apologise, claiming they were entirely justified in their smears of Ralph Miliband.

Ralph Miliband was born in Belgium in 1924: he came to the UK in 1940 as a refugee from Nazi persecution, one of the Jewish refugees that the Daily Mail railed about back then when the first Lord Rothermere, friend of the Blackshirts, was running the paper. Ralph Miliband died on 21st May 1994 – Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour party on 25th September 2010. As Jonathan Freedland noted, there is a whiff of anti-Semitism about the attack on Ralph Miliband and his son.

The Mail on Sunday sent a journalist to gatecrash a family memorial service to ask Miliband family members for comments on the story, and when this headlined the MoS editor Geordie Grieg apologised, wisely cast blame on two lowly journalists and declared he was holding a full investigation to find out how it could possibly have happened that the MoS could have done such a thing.

People were reacting. There were calls for a boycott. Suggestions that regular advertisers in the Mail should be asked if they really wanted to associate themselves with that kind of thing.

DailyMail_NigelFletcherConservative councillor Nigel Fletcher happened to get a standard invitation to advertise his business in the Mail, and as he told HuffPostUK:

“I am frankly stunned by how much attention this has received. It was only intended as a riposte I thought my Twitter followers might find amusing.

“I was appalled by the tasteless slur on Ed Miliband’s father, but it is only the latest in a long line of offensive articles the Mail has published.

“Even setting aside my own views, we are a cross-party think-tank, and advertising with a paper that has upset so many people across the political spectrum would not make sound business sense.

“They are free to publish what they want, but as a Tory believer in the free market I also have the freedom to take my business elsewhere.”

And that was where things stood on Thursday evening, when Quentin Letts, the Mail’s political sketchwriter, had agreed to appear on Question Time. (Paul Dacre, one may safely assume, was washing his dog that night, or taking his hair for a walk.)

Now, I am no fan of Mehdi Hasan. He’s a prolifer, and a bit of a homophobe, putting me as a leftie lesbian into the odd but sadly familiar position: I am on his side, but he’s not on mine.

But on Question Time that evening, he shredded the Mail. And – watch to the end – the audience didn’t merely applaud – they cheered. They were delighted with what Mehdi Hasan had to say about the Daily Mail.

That delight ought to scare Paul Dacre and Lord Rothermere, because if a general audience in Birmingham is happy to see the Daily Mail get ripped to shreds – has the hate-peddling, the Mail’s stock-in-trade, finally been oversold?

What Mehdi Hasan said on Question TimeThat was Thursday night. On Friday morning Mehdi Hasan inquired of Twitter “Should I now await the inevitable hatchet job on me in the Mail?”

He didn’t have long to wait. Later that day, as Will Heaven helpfully summarised in his Daily Telegraph blog, the Deputy Political Editor of the Daily Mail, Tim Shipman, leaked a letter that Mehdi Hasan had written to the Daily Mail in 2010 when he was hoping for work with them as a freelance journalist.

We all know the kind of letter you write to a prospective employer when you’re looking for work. You praise the company, you indicate you’d be delighted to get a job with them, and you assure them you consider them admirable. That was in 2010.

Let’s remember too, what the Daily Mail did for the Stephen Lawrence investigation and throughout the case. The famous “Murderers” headline above the six men who were alleged to have killed Stephen Lawrence is what drew public attention to the case – a black teenager killed, the Metropolitan police indifferent, the suspects walk free.

And Doreen Lawrence, Stephen’s mother said the landmark front page of the Daily Mail on 14 February 1997 branding five suspects as “Murderers” made the case matter to the whole country.

Her former husband said he was in Jamaica when the paper ran that highly risky story inviting the suspects to sue if they were not the killers.

The Daily Mail got away with it: in essence it was no different to what they usually do, except that in this instance – stopped clock – they were right. That 1997-2012 saga of justice delayed and denied and finally won, is a compelling narrative and could justly have won the Mail a degree of sympathy with Mehdi Hasan.

Such complexity is impossible on Twitter, and of course a man like Piers Morgan wouldn’t even try:

Of course the problem particularly is that there’s a general understanding that applications for employment are confidential. It’s clear that the positive audience reaction to Mehdi Hasan’s rip has made Paul Dacre very, very angry: too angry for it to occur to him that perhaps this wasn’t the wisest of attacks.

Incidentally, there’s some explanation for why Mehdi Hasan was quite willing to write for the Mail in 2010 – they do have left-wing columnists now and then, and no professional journalist can hope to work all or even most of the time for an employer who matches their political views exactly – but by 2013 he felt differently.

This happened in 2012 to Mehdi Hasan:

Almost exactly three years ago [in 2009], I rang Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday columnist, who is a friend of a friend, to ask his advice. A right-wing, anti-Islam blog had edited together, totally out of context, various quotes from me speaking in front of a group of British Muslim students in Manchester and made me look like an ultra-Islamist loon. Would the right-wing tabloid press jump on this “story”, I wondered? Would I end up appearing on the pages of, say, the Mail, under the headline of ‘Extremist!”? Don’t be silly, replied Hitchens, I don’t think anything you’ve said is worthy of publication in a national newspaper. You’ve got nothing to worry about so you should just calm down.

Fast forward three years [August 2012]: imagine my surprise to discover that a man named Peter Hitchens has produced a column in the Mail on Sunday attacking me over those very same out-of-context quotes.

There’s now a game you can play to find out if you are hated by the Daily Mail. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that you probably are.

That Mehdi Hasan didn’t realise what the Mail was like until they went for his throat: well, many people don’t. From the audience laughter on Thursday, most people know it now.

How long can you go on selling hate to the British public when so many of your potential customers know they are the people the Mail hates?

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13 Comments

Filed under In The Media, Justice, Racism

13 responses to “The Mail and Mehdi Hasan

  1. Jan

    Clearly Mehdi had no problem selling himself as Tom Pride puts it – ”to a right-wing, tiny-minded red-top rag owned by a nazi-sympathising family of tax exiles who give so much scarcity of shit about our country that they don’t even live here.”

    Clearly Mr Mehdi’s morals are a lot looser than he would like us to believe.

  2. Jan

    H slt hs wn thrt whn h dcdd t sll hmslf t fscst rd-tp rg fr csh. He really cannot complain that the Daily Mail used his own hypocrisy against him – its what they do everybody knows this – but not a supposed left-wing journalist – obviously.

    The question is – is he trying to tell us that he didn’t really know what the DM was like? Or is he just trying to cover up his own hypocrisy now that he’s been exposed. He’s either a naive fool or a hypocrite. Neither makes him look good.

    • You are free, of course, to regard Mehdi Hasan as worse than the Daily Mail and so not allowed to complain about them, but I disagree.

      • Jan

        Of course he’s allowed to complain about the Daily Mail, I am saying that he should have thought about his own less than admirable action of applying for a job at a newspaper that has been long well known for being a rabid right-wing, red-top rag. And he calls himself left-wing? Only when it suits and only to the highest bidder for his services.

        • Ah. So, your view is that Mehdi Hasan should have thought “I applied to the Mail for a job there in 2010, and as one does in job applications I wrote in fulsome terms about the paper. So, I’d better not criticise the Mail in public, because they might use my letter against me!”

          Your view is, in fact, just like that of Paul Dacre. He thinks Mehdi Hasan shouldn’t have spoken up either…

          If you react with “Oh no, I meant Mehdi Hasan should never have applied to work for the Mail!” – well, the fact is that in 2010 he did. And in 2012 they called him a fanatic Islamist. And in 2013 they punished him for speaking out against them on Question Time by leaking his pitch for work, assessing – rightly, in your case – that this would turn critics of the Mail against Hasan. The Daily Mail peddles hate, and it appears that in you, they have an eager buyer.

          • Jan

            No, actually I am thinking that just because he applied for a job with the DM in 2010 should not mean that he would be immune from criticism – ever. His complaints about the Dacre making his letter public are fake – he knew that when he started complaining about them after their article on Ed Miliband. If he really believes that his faux outrage would fool everyone, then he is an even bigger fool than he attempted to take the rest of us for.

          • No, actually I am thinking that just because he applied for a job with the DM in 2010 should not mean that he would be immune from criticism – ever

            Has anyone argued that he should be?

            His complaints about the Dacre making his letter public are fake

            I see. He should have known that Dacre would make his letter public, and should have been scared off speaking against the Mail. I disagree.

    • It seems a rather stretched definition of hypocrisy to include “once was willing to work for X, later criticises X”. I’m not going to say knowing someone was prepared to work for the Mail makes me think a great deal of them – though that’s easy for me to say, I’m not in the kind of career that would ever force me to choose between taking a Mail job and, you know, not having a job – but the idea that sending in a job application to someone means never speaking out against them following future events seems pretty unreasonable.

  3. Jan

    Sorry, that should have said -

    ”he knew full well that the DM would come after him after he criticised them about their article on Ed Miliband.”

    There seems to be no edit facility on this blog, therefore resulting in the hamfisted way of correcting one’s comments.

    • If you want to make a correction to a comment and can let me know clearly what it is that you want, I can edit the comment on your behalf.

      By “clearly” I mean: quote the text you want to replace, then indicate what you want to replace it with. WordPress doesn’t allow for editing comments, but otherwise I like it better than Disqus.

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