Nothing can eclipse the first Lord Rothermere’s long infatuation with Hitler…
From The Daily Mail, 15th Jan 1934
From The Guardian:
The daily routine of any newspaper is structured around meetings, known as conferences, but, to quote a regular attender of them, the Mail’s meetings resemble “this weird fucking feudal court” that Dacre (“this shy and awkward, slightly scared chap”) has built around him to make himself more secure. He obtains most of his knowledge of the world via these toadying assemblies rather than any direct contact with humanity beyond the walls of Northcliffe House. The Mail’s campaign to bring the murderers of Stephen Lawrence to book was exceptional for several reasons, not least its origins: Dacre knew the boy’s father, Neville Lawrence, as a decorator who had done work on his home. The joke among Mail journalists was that their editor had had “a near-life experience”.
In the evening, when the next day’s edition is being prepared, Dacre becomes the version of himself that he probably enjoys most, which is to say loudly abusive, urgent and theatrical as he demands changes in the rarely adequate headlines, page layouts and stories that have been presented to him by his subordinates. Incompetence as well as time are the enemies, and the analogy is war. “I think they’d say he’s a hard bastard but he leads from the front,” was how Dacre, speaking on Desert Island Discs, hoped his staff would see him. A witness to his pre-deadline behaviour tells Addison that in his last-minute interventions “he really saw himself as coming to the [paper’s] rescue; [that] it was shit in everybody else’s hands until he got involved … ”
According to Addison, what the Mail amounts to is what Dacre – “not alone, sure, but certainly more than any other human being” – feels. As to what he feels, Addison’s thoughtful and persuasive analyst is a Dacre-friendly journalist he calls Terry. “His passions and the latent violence in his language must be based on panic, fear – upon really, really deep emotions,” says Terry. “I’ve always thought his rage was bluster to disguise a frailty – whatever the frailty is. And his political positions are so visceral, that’s the only way to describe them; they’re not logical or scientific or analytical at all, it’s just ‘I’m feeling this’.”
I’m feeling this: that Ed Miliband’s father was a traitor, that High Court judges are “enemies of the people” (and one of them is gay). The Mail wouldn’t be the only media institution to have a troubled relationship with the truth or to present political prejudice as news, though as Britain’s first popular newspaper, founded by Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) in 1896, it has a longer history in both than its rivals. There have been some spectacular examples: it was the Mail that secured maximum publicity for the Zinoviev letter, the fake document that cost Labour any hope of returning to power in 1924; it was David English, Dacre’s cool predecessor as editor, who in a commemorative piece had a detailed memory of being in Dallas when Kennedy was shot when in fact he was 1,400 miles away in New York. Of course, nothing of this kind can eclipse the first Lord Rothermere’s long infatuation with Hitler – “He is a practical mystic … a great leader of mankind” (Rothermere, 1935) – but that falls into the category of proprietorial stupidity rather than editorial deceit.