[Trigger warnings: racism, transphobia and suicide]
The Daily Mail’s ongoing smear campaign against the late Ralph Miliband, and its invasion of the Miliband family’s privacy, are nothing new. These events is the latest in a long and ugly saga of abusive behaviour by one of Britain’s best-selling newspapers – often directed at people who, unlike the Milibands, are not fortunate enough to have a platform of influence or the opportunity to defend themselves in public.
Earlier this year Lucy Meadows, a trans woman teaching at a primary school in Accrington, was ridiculed and publicly humiliated by Mail journalist Richard Littlejohn in a characteristically vitriolic column. Ms Meadows was not a public figure; she was not a politician or a celebrity; she had no power, and no chance to defend herself. None of this stopped Littlejohn from penning a column in which he misgendered her, smeared her, and called for her to be sacked. Her complaint to the Press Complaints Commission resulted in no action. Tragically, in March, she took her own life.
One of the Mail’s most prominent columnists bullied a woman to the point of suicide for his own amusement – and the Mail’s editors and owners lifted not a finger to stop him, and willingly profited from his abusive behaviour. The coroner, Michael Singleton, put it well: “to the press, shame on all of you.” And the Mail has never offered the slightest hint of an apology for its role in her death. When called upon to apologize, its spokesman responded with an irrelevant jibe at former Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell, whose actual involvement in the matter was limited to having shared a petition on Twitter.
Nor is Lucy Meadows the only victim of the Mail’s abuse. Virtually every day the Mail runs a story in which it attacks refugees and migrants – calling the desperate people who come to this country to seek sanctuary “scroungers” and “illegal immigrants”, portraying them as problems rather than people. This dishonest rhetoric influences the political discourse, stirring up hatred and hostility against one of the most marginalized groups in our society. The Mail, having taken upon itself to speak for “Middle England”, bears a large share of responsibility for the rabid anti-immigrant bigotry that infects British politics. Our politicians, Labour as well as Tory, fear the Mail’s electoral influence and pander sycophantically to its editorial line: a profile of Mail editor Paul Dacre from 2001 illustrates how Tony Blair and David Blunkett caved to the demands of the right-wing press to “get tough” on asylum-seekers. In this way our immigration enforcement system grows steadily more brutal and dehumanizing, claiming lives like Jackie Nanyonjo’s. And the Mail continues to profit from peddling hate.
What can we do? We can, of course, boycott the Mail, but I don’t imagine that many of my readers read it in the first place. We can call upon Mail-reading friends and family to cancel their subscriptions. And we can seek to expose the Mail’s abuses whenever they occur, and stand up for the targets of its bullying.