On Monday, the Daily Mail in the UK published an article on their web site, later reproduced with slight changes in their print edition. It alleged that the mother of George Clooney's fiancee was telling "half of Beirut" that she did not want them to marry, preferring somebody from her family's Druze religion. All total lies - let me repeat that, a falsehood, a libel, a fiction, a story invented by a freelancer published to boost the circulation of the right wing rag typical of the worst excesses of Fleet Street which culminated in the jailing of the former editor of News of the World. A situation so bad that many are demanding politicians protect them against the press.
Instead of reaching for the libel lawyers, Clooney hit back in an article in USA Today. In it Clooney explains that the Mail alleges those in Beirut were joking about killing a bride marrying outside the Druze religion and that he is used to them making up stories about their relationship:
But this lie involves larger issues. The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous. We have family members all over the world, and the idea that someone would inflame any part of that world for the sole reason of selling papers should be criminal.The Mail's controlling shareholder and Chairman of the parent company Lord Rothermere. Like the newspaper, he is a Conservative supporter. His non-domicile tax status and complex company structure means he pays no UK taxes. Yet he testified to the Leveson ("Murdochgate") inquiry on the need to "maintain press freedom" by not having any regulation against exactly this sort of abuse.
I'm the son of a newsman; I accept the idea that freedom of speech can be an inconvenience to my private life from time to time, but this story, like so many others, is picked up by hundreds of other outlets citing the Daily Mail as their source, including Boston.com, New York Daily News, Gulf News, Emirates 24/7 and so on.
The Daily Mail, more than any other organization that calls itself news, has proved time and time again that facts make no difference in the articles they make up. And when they put my family and my friends in harm's way, they cross far beyond just a laughable tabloid and into the arena of inciting violence.
In response the Mail took the article off its web site and issued a non-apology apology.
In a statement MailOnline said: 'The story was not a fabrication but supplied in good faith by a reputable and trusted freelance journalist.And the same day it put up this editorial comment on the freedom of the press.
'She based her story on conversations with a long standing contact who has strong connections with senior members of the Lebanese community in the UK and the Druze in Beirut.
'We only became aware of Mr Clooney’s concerns this morning and have launched a full investigation.
'However, we accept Mr Clooney’s assurance that the story is inaccurate and we apologise to him, Miss Amal Alamuddin and her mother, Baria, for any distress caused.
Just one observation. When the News of the World voicemail-hacking scandal broke (itself exposed by a free Press), 195 officers were assigned to the case. Yet only seven are investigating child abuse suspects in Westminster and Whitehall.No Daily Mail, it tell us all we need to know about the extent of the egregious invasions of privacy and decency that the press, including your rag, have been parties to. Tomorrow's fish and chip wrappings like you endanger that very freedom to campaign against abuses of the people by abusing the people yourself. The Leveson proposals are designed to prevent the fake apologies buried away that you have just published and give the same prominence to retractions and apologies of lies and falsehoods that you gave to the original story in your attempts to get more money in your pockets.
Doesn’t this tell us all we need to know about the Establishment’s priorities?