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Viscount Rothermere Apologises To Miliband, Quentin Letts Defends Daily Mail Article On BBC (VIDEO)

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Viscount Rothermere, the owner of Associated Newspapers, has apologised to Ed Miliband for the Mail on Sunday's action in sneaking a reporter into the a memorial service for the Labour leader’s late uncle. However, no apology has been forthcoming for the original attack article published last Saturday, which accused Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, of being a man who "hated Britain".

On Thursday evening, Quentin Letts, the Mail's political sketch writer, attempted to defend the article, which has been roundly criticised across the political class, and even drawn the ire of some Mail readers.

"Let me defend the defensible," Letts said, highlighting that Ed Miliband had referenced his father "in every speech I've heard him make". The Journalist told the BBC audience that Ralph Miliband had been "furious that we won the Falklands War. He wanted us to lose the Falklands War," adding: "Is that the behaviour of a man who loves his country? I'm not sure it is."

quentin letts

Letts said the 'essay on Ralph Miliband was a strong, controversial piece'

He then went on to describe the late Marxist intellectual as a "useful idiot" for those looking to “promoting Marxism" during the Cold War.

The sketch writer’s performance followed a Thursday column in the Mail in which Stephen Glover accused the Labour leader of staging a "show of calculated hysteria".

Mehdi Hasan, the political director of the HuffPost UK, was also on the BBC programme. He said: "When we're talking about who has an evil legacy, who do you think really hated Britain - a man who sucked up to the Nazis, who sucked up to 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?"

On Thursday evening, Miliband claimed stepped up his criticism of the newspaper group, claiming that Mail's attack on his father and the Mail on Sunday's gatecrashing of a private family memorial service for his uncle are a symptom of the culture at the titles.

Geordie Greig, the editor of the Mail on Sunday, has since apologised after one of his reporters turned up to a memorial service for the Labour leader’s late uncle, Professor Harry Keen, adding that the incident had been a "terrible lapse in judgement". Two journalists from the newspaper group have subsequently been suspended.

"I unreservedly apologise for a reporter intruding into a private memorial service for a relative of Ed Miliband," said Greig. "The reporter was sent without my knowledge; it was a decision which was wrong. Two journalists have been suspended and a full investigation is now being carried out.

"I would further like to apologise to members of the family and friends attending the service for this deplorable intrusion. I have already spoken personally to Ed Miliband and expressed my regret that such a terrible lapse of judgment should have taken place. It is completely contrary to the values and editorial standards of The Mail on Sunday. I understand that Lord Rothermere is personally writing to Ed Miliband."

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Despite the apology, Miliband has insisted that a wider inquiry is necessary at the newspaper group, after his father, Ralph Miliband, was portrayed as a man who "hated Britain". The editor of the Mail, Paul Dacre, has refused to publically defend the paper’s decision to print the article, sending an ineffectual deputy, Jon Steafel, onto Newsnight on Tuesday to get mauled by former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

According to Labour, Professor Keen’s daughter was approached by a female journalist from the Mail on Sunday at the end of the service. Introducing herself as a member of the press only after she’d shaken hands and offered her condolences, the reporter asked Keen’s daughter to comment on the furore surrounding Miliband’s father. After being told twice “no comment”, the reporter left.

In a letter to Lord Rothermere, the proprietor of the Mail on Sunday and Daily Mail, published on Thursday morning, Miliband said: "My wider family, who are not in public life, feel understandably appalled and shocked that this can have happened. Sending a reporter to my late uncle’s memorial crosses a line of common decency. I believe it a symptom of the culture and practices of both the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday."

He added: "The reaction of many people to the Daily Mail’s attacks on my father this week demonstrates that the way your newspapers have behaved does not reflect the real character of our country. It is now your responsibility to respond," adding that the paper's actions crossed "a line of common decency".

Miliband wrote: "There are many decent people working at those newspapers and I know that many of them will be disgusted by this latest episode. But they will also recognise that what has happened to my family has happened to many others."

"You should conduct your own swift investigation into who was responsible at a senior level for this latest episode and also who is responsible for the culture and practices of these newspapers which jar so badly with the values of your readers. There are bigger issues for the people of Britain in the midst of the worst cost of living crisis for a century than intrusion into the life of my family. But the reaction of many people to the Daily Mail's attacks on my father this week demonstrates that the way your newspapers have behaved does not reflect the real character of our country. It is now your responsibility to respond."

paul dacre

Dacre has yet to publically defend the publication of the attack piece on Ralph Miliband

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Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched an outspoken attack on the Daily Mail, accusing the paper of "overflowing with bile" about modern Britain, and said Miliband's response was "quite understandable". "When I heard the Daily Mail accusing someone of saying that they didn't like Britain... I'm not a regular reader of this newspaper but every time I do open it, it just seems to be overflowing with bile about modern Britain," he said on his weekly radio phone-in on LBC 97.3.

"They don't like working mothers, they don't like the BBC, they don't like members of the royal family, they don't like teachers, they don't like the English football team - the list goes on," he said. "Talk about kettles and pots. It seems to me that if anyone excels in denigrating and often vilifying a lot about modern Britain, it's the Daily Mail."

Clegg is the latest senior figure from across the political spectrum to voice concern at the way the Mail portrayed the Labour leader's father, who was a Jewish refugee who fled to Britain to escape the Nazis and served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said he believed the Mail's original article was "somewhat offensive" and the Mail on Sunday's actions were "clearly unacceptable". He told BBC Radio 4's PM programme that he did not believe the Daily Mail should apologise, but the paper's readership should make up its own mind.

"The Daily Mail is entitled to express a view and it ultimately will be up to the Daily Mail's readers as to whether or not they think it was right to print the piece," he said. "Obviously Ed Miliband was entitled to respond, which he did very robustly." He added: "I personally fully understand why somebody should be angry if an attack is made on their father. I thought it was unfair, reading it it didn't seem to me that it really justified that kind of headline.

"But I don't suggest that the Daily Mail shouldn't be allowed to write what it chooses, it was an opinion piece." The Mail on Sunday's actions were "clearly unacceptable", he said. "That seems to me to be a very clear breach of the existing PCC code. I think the journalists quite rightly have been suspended."

Whittingdale said under either of the rival systems of press regulation being considered the Daily Mail's article would not have been in breach of the code but the Mail on Sunday's activities would. "Therefore we do need to get in place a strong regulator as soon as we can which will act against these kinds of abuses," he said.

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