War of words: feud between Mail and Express groups has upped a gear
The feud between newspaper owners Richard Desmond and Lord Rothermere has reopened with the Daily Express launching a series of scathing personal attacks on the Rothermere family.
And there is said to be unease among some journalists at the Express over Desmond’s perceived interference in editorial.
The latest fracas between the two press chiefs was sparked by an article in the Daily Mail last Friday, alleging that the Labour party had refused a gift of £100,000 offered by Desmond.
The next day the story was rejected in an Express article with the fictional byline Brendan Abbot, which also referred to Lord Harold Rothermere’s support for Hitler in the Thirties.
Articles by “Brendan Abbot” have appeared in the Express throughout this week attacking the family of Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere.
An article on Wednesday was headlined “Daily Mail chief’s wife died alone after drug pills binge”. And an article on Tuesday said: “Cheating Daily Mail boss drove his loving wife to an early grave”. Both referred to Vere Harmsworth – father of the current Lord Rothermere.
An Express journalist told Press Gazette: “There are people who are unhappy about that sort of reporting.”
Another insider said there was also concern about articles that appeared last week attacking DJ Chris Tarrant. Tarrant was thought to have been close to signing a promotional deal with Express Newspapers two weeks ago, but decided to stay at the Daily Mail, where he promotes the newspaper’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire? game card competition.
A series of negative Tarrant articles then appeared in the Express, including a page-lead story on 8 September, attributed to unnamed “TV experts”.It said: “Tarrant should be replaced with a ‘young, sexy’ presenter if Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is to have a future.”
In March 2001, the NUJ wrote to Express Newspapers complaining about perceived editorial interference by Desmond. Rothermere and Desmond held a meeting early this year and are believed to have agreed to stop printing personal attacks on each other.
Desmond is understood to have seen last Friday’s Mail article, especially its porn empire references, as signalling an end to that truce.
A Mail insider said any truce was not an editorial matter and that last Friday’s piece was just “a hell of a good story”. Reference was made to the pornographic side of Desmond’s business because it was seen as “an integral part of the story”.
The Mail is not expected to retaliate.
Desmond has just made his peace on another front. Conrad Black has halted his libel action over articles in the Sunday Express that criticised Telegraph owner Hollinger International.
After mediation the Express agreed to pay part of Black’s costs and both sides made a payment to a charity of Desmond’s choice.
By Dominic Ponsford