The Daily Mail's despicable attack on the memory of Ralph Miliband earlier this week yet again highlighted the underhanded culture of bullying and hatred at the heart of Britain's most toxic tabloid. By accusing the Labour Party leader's deceased father of having "hated Britain", and subsequently invading the memorial service for Ed Miliband's late uncle, The Mail has incurred outrage from all sides of British politics. Conservative peer Lord Heseltine branded the article "demeaning", Nick Clegg described The Mail as "overflowing with bile", whilst Alistair Campbell declared the paper as "the worst of British values posing as the best". Many commentators, including Ed Miliband himself, have accused The Daily Mail of "crossing the line of decency"
Yet The Daily Mail's aggressive and distasteful brand of bigotry and bullying is nothing new. The public smearing of a dead father (beneath a photo of the academic's grave and a crappy pun headline) is of course an abysmal way to attempt to undermine the leader of the opposition, especially considering that the article was based on the diary entry of a 17 year old and had absolutely nothing to do with challenging the politics of the contemporary Labour Party. However, this is not where The Mail "crossed the line of decency"; this is merely where they picked an opponent who had enough of a public profile to credibly retort and demand a right to reply.
It was a small step for Ed Miliband, but a giant leap for civility in British public life. By standing up against Paul Dacre, and asking serious questions about the journalistic practices of the paper he edits, Ed Miliband has spoken for the millions of people in Britain who want an intelligent, rational and articulate free press with the integrity to scrutinise politicians on policy, rather than slander their dead relatives. In defending his father, a politician who has often been portrayed as ineffectual and weak in opposition by the press, has suddenly garnered overwhelming public support as a statesperson with the principle and courage to challenge the grossly unethical practices of The Daily Mail.
Of course, attempting to undermine a prominent public figure by accusing their father of "hating Britain" is incredibly shaky ground for Lord Rothermere's paper to fight their PR battle on. The current owner of The Daily Mail (who pays no UK tax on his wealth of £1.02 billion) is the great-grandson of the first Lord Rothermere, who sent a personal telegram to Hitler saluting him on the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and drafted a letter to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain advising him to continue appeasing Nazi Germany after their invasion of Poland. Rothermere was a supporter of the Nazi party both financially, and through The Daily Mail; and also wrote articles such as "Hurrah for the blackshirts!" supporting Oswald Moseley and The British Union of Fascists. The Mail "crossed the line of decency" decades ago, and hasn't looked back.
In more recent years they have attempted to incite hatred towards every social group that doesn't fit into their narrow dystopian view of a completely white, heterosexual, xenophobic, misogynist, homophobic, right-wing, married, middle-class Middle England.
This is the paper that ran the article "Abortion hope after 'gay genes' findings" which assumed its readers would want to abort homosexuals before they could be born. Jan Moir's inaccurate and homophobic Mail article describing the death of Stephen Gately as unnatural and "sleazy" led to the highest number of complaints for a newspaper article in the history of the PCC (over 25,000). Richard Littlejohn's article "He's not only in the wrong body, he's in the wrong job" drove trans primary school teacher Lucy Meadows to commit suicide after being harassed by Mail journalists at her home day and night.
In 2012, The Mail Online chose to accompany the article "Housemate on Brazilian version of Big Brother was 'raped live on TV'" with a 7-minute video of the suspected rape taking place. Infamous columnist Samantha Brick's article "Any woman who wants to stay beautiful (like me!) needs to diet every day of her life" encouraged "dumpy" girls to starve themselves, and described fainting from hunger as "a minor hitch, eclipsed by... being asked out on lots of dates." Searching the term 'all grown up' on The Mail Online returns a plethora of articles criticising and sexualising the bodies of 16 year-old child actresses as they suddenly become fair game for the website's demeaning and misogynistic 'sidebar of shame' in which women are judged solely on their looks and dress sense.
During the London 2012 Olympics, The Mail ran an article by Rick Dewsbury that attacked the mixed-race family in Danny Boyle's Olympic ceremony, claiming that it would be "a challenge for the organisers to find an educated white middle-aged mother and black father living together with a happy family". They later labelled foreign-born members of Team GB, such as Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins, as "plastic Brits". During the French elections, columnist Richard Waghorne endorsed the French National Front as "the only responsible vote".
The tabloid's reputation for xenophobia is well known; and its routine vilification of asylum seekers, travellers, Muslims, benefit claimants, working mothers, the BBC and the NHS has become part and parcel of British public life. The Daily Mail's commercial success and loyal readership have allowed it the freedom to demonise, harass and intimidate anyone who has ever sought to challenge the paper's aggressive and hateful right-wing agenda. However, the tide may be turning.
Mehdi Hasan's spectacular assessment of the Mail's poisonous output as "immigrant bashing, woman hating, Muslim smearing, NHS undermining [and] gay baiting" drew rapturous applause from the Question Time audience. A weeklong twitter campaign has also mounted pressure on commercial sponsors to cease providing The Mail with advertising revenue. Whilst an "upbeat carnival" protest is due to take place this weekend outside the Mail headquarters in order to celebrate pride and diversity in Britain.
Instead of hiding completely from the public eye and refusing to publicly justify the actions of The Mail, editor Paul Dacre needs to be addressing the overwhelming demand to change the culture of his publication. Dacre's inaction only means exacerbating the current PR disaster, and driving The Daily Mail closer to financial ruin. Britain can only hope.