October 11, 2013 Last Updated 11:10 am

Backgrounder: The Guardian and the Daily Mail become the story

Politics and government spying at the center of nasty Fleet Street battle

The old saying that there is sometimes no such thing as bad publicity has its limits, especially when the government is coming after you. The Guardian, which published the NSA revelations spilled by Edward Snowden, has been targeted by both members of the UK government and by the Daily Mail, which has been on a campaign of sorts to attack the Guardian following its publication of a hit piece on the late father of Labour Party head Ed Miliband.

While TNM readers in the UK may be very familiar with what is happening in the press there, it might be good to review things for readers on this side of the pond.

The Guardian is liberal paper with a circulation of under 190,000 according to the August ABC report. The Guardian was in the lead in its reporting of the NSA spying revelations, with much of the reporting led by American journalist Glenn Greenwald.

The Daily Mail, on the other hand, is a conservative tabloid, with a circulation of just over 1.8 million, according to the August ABC report.

Guardian-web-front-lgThe Daily Mail, which supports the Tory government, recently ran a crude hit piece on the late father of Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition under the headline The man who hated Britain. The story received wide condemnation in the press, and by former and current government members. The Guardian, meanwhile, seemed to delight in the Mail’s troubles and reported the story relentlessly.

Then last week MI5 director-general Andrew Parker went after the Guardian for its Snowden reporting. The Daily Mail reported the story under the headline Guardian has handed a gift to terrorists’, warns MI5 chief: Left-wing paper’s leaks caused ‘greatest damage to western security in history’ say Whitehall insiders.

For the past two weeks the story has been less about spying and more about the two UK newspapers. Yesterday The Guardian reached out to other members of the media to get their opinions for a story in defense of the Guardian’s reporting.

The Guardian throughout this period has been maintaining a live blog on the spying story. Today the paper reported the words of former Labour home secretary Jack Straw who was critical of the Guardian’s NSA reporting.

“I’m not suggesting for a moment that anybody at the Guardian gratuitously wants to risk anybody’s life,” Straw was quoted. “But what I do think is there sense of power of having these ‘secrets’ and excitement, almost adolescent excitement, about these secrets, has gone to their head and they’re blinding themselves about the consequence, and also showing an extraordinary naivety and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particularly secrets which they publish are or are not likely to damage the national interest.”

One could almost chalk all this up to simply another Fleet Street press war, but the stakes appear far higher than that. The Tory government is about seven points behind Labour in the latest polls, and the NSA story is not exactly just another celebrity trifle.

Meanwhile, newspapers in the UK, including the Guardian and Daily Mail, are showing huge declines in paid circulation.


Before anyone think that the style of journalism we are seeing from the Daily Mail is limited to the UK one need only look at the Murdoch press in the US.

The NY Post this morning wrote about the award presented to Edward Snowden yesterday. It’s headline: Traitor’s convention: Rogues go to Russia to celebrate Snowden (the top portion was omitted in the online version).

“Benedict Arnold would have fit right in,” wrote Post correspondent S.A. Miller.

“A fan club of US traitors went all the way to Russia to give an award to their hero, terror-watch secrets-spiller Edward Snowden.”

Do keep in mind that being a traitor is a capital offense.

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