Daily Mail’s Leveson expose: 'call the men in white coats'

Nov 16, 2012

Mail’s broadside stuns liberal commentators, but does it raise valid questions about free press?

THE DAILY MAIL'S astonishing 11-page rant about the Leveson Inquiry and the shadowy "liberal Establishment" intent on cracking down on free speech has been raising eyebrows among media observers.

The paper went to town on the inquiry by linking it to various "left-wing" organisations including Ofcom, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (behind the botched Newsnight investigation that wrongly accused Lord McApline of child abuse), and the 'leadership charity' Common Purpose, described as an "old boys’ network" for lefties.

Among the "liberal elite" the Mail so despises, there has been shock at the ferocity of the Mail's assault.

"I have been worried about the Daily Mail's editor, Paul Dacre, for some time," began The Guardian's media blogger Roy Greenslade. "After seeing today's issue of his paper, I really think it's time for the men in white coats to visit its Kensington offices as soon as possible."

He describes the Mail's attack, which centres on Leveson advisor Sir David Bell, as a "farrago of distortion with added vilification".

"For a national paper to devote the best part of a dozen pages to an investigation so obviously based on prejudice against the Leveson inquiry is surely counter-productive. It is very likely to reinforce the view of politicians that the Mail's brand of journalism is too often born of bias."

His predicition appears to gain credence on Twitter where Times journalist David Aaronovich wrote: "I was opposed to statutory press regulation until that Mail hatchet job on #leveson."

The New Statesman's Staggers blog casts a wry eye over the 11 pages of accusations and insinuations and lists some of the “surprising revelations” contained in the Mail's investigation.

They include the fact that "many journalists have worked at more than one media organisation in the course of their careers" and that the Mail has invoked the spectre of "lesbians" in its scaremongering. Staggers concludes with a revelation of its own. "Dacre once sat on a subway train near Sid Vicious... Does that make him responsible for punk music?"

Political blogger Guido Fawkes, whose distain for the BIJ is well-documented, seems unsure about what to think. "It's more Thick of It than Watergate, but it does highlight the cosy close-knit group lobbying for an unfree press," he writes.

Twitter was awash with outrage after the allegations were published. "They've done it. Full Daily Mail madness. Insane mega splash alleging a non existent conspiracy loosely related to Leveson," wrote Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian.

Legal blogger David Allen Green suggested panic had set in at the Mail. "The hatchet job... on #Leveson suggests that the need to discredit whatever is in upcoming report is now urgent," he wrote. On a lighter note he added: "No doubt tomorrow's Daily Mail headline will be 'Leveson Exposed As A Lizard'."

But not everyone has dismissed the allegations. Michael White of The Guardian argues that the Mail investigation was in some ways sinister. "Delete 'Common Purpose' throughout and insert 'Jew', 'Etonian' or 'Freemason' and you'd rightly feel uneasy," he says.

But he also believes that the Mail does raise legitimate questions about the influence of the groups it is writing about. "What I do know is that anti-establishment bodies should be as much fair game for accountability as those of the old establishment, which have been targeted by reformers for decades," he notes.

Another fan of the Mail's work was Neil Wallis, former deputy editor of the now defunct News of the World, who posted a series of tweets praising the probe into the "the murky, incestuous, leftie establishment influencing Leveson and fighting to control what you can read".

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