The Guardian has “tightened up” its Sunday editorial processes after a “misjudged” online leader column described the death of David Cameron’s son as “privileged pain”.
The editorial column, giving the “Guardian view” on the former Prime Minister’s memoirs, received more than 40 complaints and was amended twice in two hours after it was published online on Sunday 15 September.
The column said the ex-Tory leader had experienced the “better functioning and better funded parts” of the NHS in caring for his severely disabled son Ivan who died aged six in 2009.
Cameron “has known pain and failure in his life but it has always been limited failure and privileged pain,” the article read.
A footnote added the morning after publication said: “The original version of this editorial posted online fell far short of our standards. It has now been amended, and we apologise completely.”
Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner also apologised in private to Cameron and his wife Samantha.
Outgoing Guardian global readers’ editor Paul Chadwick has now returned to the issue, saying “readers can legitimately enquire further” when an editor “apologises and promises measures to prevent a recurrence”.
Viner told Chadwick the newsroom’s editorial processes on a Sunday have now been tightened to match what is required during the rest of the week. This is because the Cameron column was not shown to “senior enough” members of staff, she said.
Chadwick has previously said at least three people besides the author saw the editorial before it went online, but it has never been revealed who the writer was.
An “inadequate” revision was made by an editor an hour after publication, and a further edit was made just over an hour later with approval from Viner and other senior editors.
Viner or her deputy editor – currently Paul Johnson, although he has announced his upcoming retirement – will now read all online leaders before publication.
Viner pointed out that although editors at some smaller news organisations still write their own leader columns, this has not been the case at the Guardian for many years.
She said: “Our editorials are written by a team of colleagues, who agree themes and lines with me in advance; the articles then pass through a thorough editing and production process.
“This system has worked well on weekdays, but on that particular Sunday the subject matter was highly inappropriate and through a series of errors it was not shown to senior enough colleagues.
“To correct this, we have tightened up editorial processes on a Sunday and all leaders are now seen before publication online by either the deputy editor or me.”
Chadwick was positive about Viner’s response, saying: “Process-wise, I don’t think she could do more.”
Cameron has told LBC he “couldn’t understand” what the Guardian was “trying to say” with the column, but that “there is no privilege in holding your eldest born child in your arms as their life drains away”.
He added: “Fortunately, it’s been deleted and apologised for, so I think we can leave it there.”
The Guardian is self-regulated, having opted out of joining the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates the majority of UK national and regional newspapers, or alternative regulator Impress.
Chadwick acts as an internal ombudsman for the Guardian. He will be replaced in the role by former Guardian managing editor and IPSO Complaints Committee member Elisabeth Ribbans in January.
Picture: Reuters/Simon Dawson