TIM WALKER on the furore over the Mail on Sunday’s Brexit story, and a difference of opinion between Michael Gove and Sarah Vine over the scandal involving the Sky News broadcaster.
The Mail on Sunday‘s incendiary headline that stated “Merkel wants Britain ‘to crawl across broken glass'” resulted in widespread condemnation as the EU-UK Brexit talks reached a critical point over the weekend.
The words were attributed to an unidentified “source” and a number of leading influencers on Twitter – among them the Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden and the actor Eddie Marsan – challenged the newspaper to identify the individual who had allegedly told them this.
The paper refused to oblige and it turns out that Glen Owen, who had the lead byline on the story, has made something of a speciality of vivid unattributed quotes. Recent examples include, in a story about Carrie Symonds‘ “role” in the departure of Boris Johnson‘s aide Dominic Cummings, a “friend” saying: “You can smell it. It’s the end of days. It’s a story as old as time. The Mad Queen destroys the court.”
Earlier, he had quoted a minister – also unidentified – saying of Rishi Sunak that he was “behaving as if he’s PM already.” There were unattributed quotes, too, in his story that suggested Jeremy Corbyn‘s “Marxist henchman” Seumas Milne had passed on the coronavirus to Johnson.
In 2009, the Mail on Sunday had to retract a story based on an interview by Owen with the then Labour MP Frank Field in which he had ostensibly accused Ed Balls of using the issue of city academies to promote his own position in the party. “We accept that Mr Field made no such accusation in our interview; indeed, he was at pains to stress the opposite,” the correction said.
The Mail on Sunday supported Remain in the EU referendum, but its stance changed after its editor Geordie Greig took over from Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail. The new Mail on Sunday editor Ted Verity found himself the only editor of a national title in the group to be answerable to Dacre, pictured, as editor-in-chief.
Paul Lashmar‘s investigation into the stupendous wealth of Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax has been keeping my former Observer colleague in shape. He tells me he first became interested in the Brexit-supporting Tory MP for South Dorset when he undertook an epic four-hour cycle ride around his entire 22 square mile estate during the summer heatwave.
What eventually made him nearly topple off his bike was the discovery that the family fortune had been based on slavery in the plantations of the West Indies. The MP still owns the sugar plantation on Barbados where his ancestors first used slaves. There are now mounting calls from the former Caribbean colonies for reparations.
“For Boris Johnson“, wrote the Guardian journalist Marina Hyde, “lying is not second nature: it is nature.”
This put me in mind of how Johnson had once advised me, when I was working at the Telegraph, to watch a film called Shattered Glass, which he told me “should be compulsory viewing in journalist-training schools.” I was amused to find it was about Stephen Glass, who wrote vivid and highly entertaining pieces for the American magazine The New Republic. They were later found to have been made up.
Few journalists seem to know Michael Gove as well as Tim Shipman of the Sunday Times. Over the weekend, he disclosed that the minister is “under huge personal stress”.
Unusually, Gove hasn’t been receiving the unqualified support of Sarah Vine, the Daily Mail columnist, who is also his nearest and dearest. There is certainly divergence on the issue of how to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Vine has talked about how tired she is of the “lockdown stasi” and felt Sky News had “over-reacted” when it suspended Kay Burley, pictured, for recently breaking the rules. Gove, by contrast, is a hardliner, saying the virus must be kept in check by strictly-enforced tiers as otherwise hospitals could be “overwhelmed”.
In a recent column, Vine wrote of “a tiresome break-up in which one party refuses to accept that the other has reached the end of the line”. Happily, at least so far as she and her husband are concerned, she was only referring to the UK’s relationship with the EU.