The Daily Mail, Max Mosley and me
You may not have seen this, but the Daily Mail has published an article complaining of Max Mosley's 'hidden donations to aid press-hating professor', and the professor in question is me. I am not, of course, a press hater, but I do despise the dishonesty and hypocrisy of the Daily Mail, of which this turns out to be a vivid example.
At least one thing is true, which is that some of my academic research has benefited from a donation by the Mosley family charity, through my university. The Mail's presentation of this, however, is predictably distorted. Let me explain, first with bullet points and then more fully.
• The money was used to support research into a case study of news reporting in the UK and western Europe in the year 1815, which resulted in a well-received book.
• It was a donation made by one registered charity to another registered charity, for lawful purposes consistent with the requirements of the Charity Commissioners.
• The Mail's attacks on Max Mosley and anyone associated with him are designed to distract the public’s attention from the wrongdoings of national newspapers and their corruption of our politicians, as evidenced by the cancellation of Leveson 2.
• Max Mosley supports causes that are important, respectable, above-board and for the public good, and I also support many of those causes.
• I do not believe that Max Mosley is a racist or a Nazi, whatever his views may have been half a century ago. Nor do I judge him for the sins of his father or for his sexual preferences.
• The Mail's attack on me is also a desperate attempt to overshadow or discredit my research showing that the Mail has, over many years, grossly exaggerated and misrepresented its role in the Stephen Lawrence case.
Let me start by explaining the donation. In the early years of Hacked Off I took a break from my university duties to run the campaign. This interrupted my research for a book about how the news of the Wellington’s victory at Waterloo reached London, which I intended to be published in 2015, the bicentenary of the battle.
My period at Hacked Off lasted longer than planned and I found myself pressed to meet my book deadline. The Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust generously and at short notice provided £45,000 to my university to buy me out of my teaching and other duties so I could complete the manuscript of The News from Waterloo. I am grateful to them and I am proud of the book (over whose content, naturally, the Trust had no influence).
When the book was ready for publication I offered to thank the Trust in the acknowledgements, but the offer was politely declined. I respected this – the family have a right to privacy if they choose – but the donation was naturally declared to the Charity Commissioners in the regular way and has appeared in the relevant accounts. It was therefore not hidden. And helping to fund a book about 19th century history is not scandalous.
Do I feel differently about this, in the light of the Mail’s revelation that in a 1961 by-election Max Mosley put his name to a vile, racist pamphlet? The answer is no.
I have long known what his father Oswald Mosley stood for, so the horrible opinions themselves come as no surprise. That Oswald’s youngest son supported his father’s party is no surprise either – that too has long been known and Max Mosley is open about the fact in his 2015 autography. This was a father who was famously charismatic and domineering. His son, just out of university at the time, helped in the political work; he also seems from his book to have been naive and sometimes foolish.
I refuse to judge Max Mosley for his father’s sins and I see his activities in the 1960s in their context. I take account of what followed, which is that he parted company with his father’s party and ultimately with this country to pursue a long and successful career in a totally different field, the international motor racing business.
Today Max Mosley supports and donates to the Labour Party and is a friend and admirer of Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader. That is hardly a way to advance a racist political agenda.
Am I too forgiving? Here are two stories I bear in mind. In 1964 a Conservative election candidate called Peter Griffiths mounted an infamously racist campaign in Smethwick in which, besides issuing leaflets employing the N word, he promoted exactly the view expressed in the 1961 Mosley pamphlet: that immigrants carried disease. Although fiercely criticised at the time, Griffiths was later forgiven, at least by his own party and by electors in Portsmouth, who returned him to Parliament as a Conservative MP four times between 1979 and 1997.
Then there is the case of Martin McGuinness, who at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland was a senior IRA commander responsible for bombs and deaths. He went on to become a peacemaker and a democratic politician. Ian Paisley cordially shared power with him at Stormont. (In case there should be any doubt, I cite these two cases not because I approve of Griffiths’s politics or McGuinness’s bombs, but because both men were allowed to put their pasts behind them.)
Today, Max Mosley supports the cause of press reform, a cause I see as vital both for the protection of ordinary people in this country and for the future of decent journalism. With others he is working in legal and constitutional ways, not for something subversive, but for something that could hardly be more respectable and conventional – the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry and of the package of measures passed by Parliament in 2013 with the support of every single political party.
If there is something underhand going on in this field it is not the activities of Mosley but of press bosses with backdoor access to Conservative politicians, who stitch up deals that are contrary to the interests of the public – such as the disgraceful cancellation of part 2 of the Leveson inquiry.
Am I concerned about Mosley’s sexual activities in the past? Absolutely not. I do not judge anyone by their sexual preferences, so long as only consenting adults are involved. I despise those who do.
I am also conscious that the only reason I or anyone else in the public is aware of those activities is because a Murdoch newspaper broke the law. A court in 2008 found that the News of the World had no public interest justification for breaching Mosley’s privacy. It follows that those papers that are repeating the story today are not only repeating the breach of privacy but are also profiting from lawbreaking.
This brings me to Mosley’s accusers.
The Mail hates Mosley because he took on the papers on a matter of personal privacy and won. The newspaper industry is not used to that, because the people it wrongs can’t usually afford to fight back (a situation the press has worked hard over many years to engineer and sustain).
Then he refused to go away and instead continued to frustrate them. He did this, he says, partly because he blames the press in part for the premature death of his son Alexander, after whom the family charity is named. The Mail calls this revenge, but is it? He has experienced something plainly wrong and is doing what he can to put it right. That is not revenge. It is the Mail that is vengeful here.
The Mail exploits the illegally-acquired knowledge of Mosley’s private past to incite dislike towards him, and it routinely links him with his fascist father. These in turn it links relentlessly to press reform, because Mosley’s family charity put up the funding, through a second, independent charity, for Impress, a Leveson-standard press regulator that rivals the sham industry outfit, IPSO. The Mail will not accept or acknowledge to its readers that the donation gives Mosley no power over Impress, as the courts have confirmed. (The press case suggesting otherwise was humiliatingly dismissed in the High Court.)
What makes the Mail's recent, eager adoption of the 1961 leaflet most objectionable is the hypocrisy behind it. The Mail frequently publishes racist material. The very element it highlights in that 1961 pamphlet – the proposition that immigrants import disease, was published as a news story in the Mail in 2012. And even more recently, in 2015, the Mail carried a cartoon portraying immigrants as rats. Both remain viewable today on the paper's website.
Famously, too, the Mail was an admirer of Oswald Mosley, and not just before the war when its proprietor wrote an article under the headline ‘Hooray for the Blackshirts!’ When the elder Mosley died in 1980 the paper described him as a ‘much maligned and much misunderstood political giant of his era’.
The Mail’s current mission is this. Having laboriously built up a false picture of Mosley’s power over Impress, it seeks to suggest that Impress is somehow an instrument of outrageous racism. As I say the Mail never mentions that Impress has been certified independent by the courts, or, for example, that Impress’s patron is the highly distinguished former Times editor Sir Harold Evans, who would have nothing to do with a body that was not fully independent or was racist.
Instead the Mail ramps up its hypocritical indignation to the maximum, even claiming it has evidence of perjury. (Don’t expect that to go very far. In the same 2008 trial a Murdoch journalist who gave evidence was all but denounced as a liar from the bench, so if there were to be perjury proceedings they would not start with Mosley.)
And a further objective is deterrence. The Mail is saying to the world: this is what we can do to people who oppose us, so if you want change or if you have a complaint, don’t even think of doing anything about it.
Finally, it is no coincidence that the Mail has turned its guns on me a week before I am to deliver a public lecture entitled: ‘The Daily Mail and the Stephen Lawrence case: the Making of a Myth’. My research demonstrates that the manner it which the paper has exploited his case for its own self-aggrandisement is a public scandal. A short account of that research appears here; Please have a look.