London Letter

London Letter

Bax’s battle with the Daily Mirror

BEVERLEY BAXTER November 10 1956
London Letter

London Letter

Bax’s battle with the Daily Mirror

BEVERLEY BAXTER November 10 1956

London Letter

Bax’s battle with the Daily Mirror

BEVERLEY BAXTER

It all started with a dinner. Hugh Cudlipp, editorial director of the four-|million-|circulation tabloid the Daily Mirror had invited some forty guests to the Dorchester in honor of Sam Goldwyn of Hollywood who is the "G” in MGM. Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, looking more like David Copperfield than ever, was also there.

When the ladies left us Hugh C'udlipp and I turned to the subject of the Suez Canal with both of us speaking our minds in language that left no doubt of what we meant.

C'udlipp is a brilliant journalist and his newspaper, in spite of its brassiness (or because of it) exerts a powerful influence upon public opinion. For example on the morning of the general election of 1950 it came out with a front-page cartoon of a hand holding a pointed pistol. The caption in huge letters was: "Whose finger on the trigger?”

It could only have one meaning. The finger on the trigger was that of Winston Churchill. No one doubted that this infamous cartoon cost the Conservatives a victory at the polls.

Churchill successfully sued for libel. The Mirror published an apology and paid Churchill’s costs, plus a sum of money to one of his charities. A year later there was another general election which the Tories won. The Mirror did not repeat the slander.

In fairness the Mirror is not strictly a party newspaper. It supports the socialists but does not hesitate to castigate them on occasion. On the other hand it opposes the Tories but does not withhold praise when praise is deserved.

When however the Suez Canal erupted the Daily Mirror began a campaign of attrition against the government and particularly Sir Anthony Eden. Its brilliant columnist who writes under the nom de plume of Cassandra ridiculed Eden day after day, mocking him, pitying him, scourging him.

Therefore at the Dorchester dinner party I told C'udlipp that in my opinion he had gone beyond the limits of responsible journalism and that instead of injuring the government he was striking at the nation itself.

He listened without a word of protest and when I had finished he said: “Since you feel so strongly about it 1 will make you an offer. 1 will give you the front page of the Mirror to attack us in any terms you wish. We will not cut a single word.”

CASSANDRA

The ‘Mirror ami Sir IB.

: HE newt paper world f»«awin ibes*

¡ ot Ht iwnbo s erfeu nuy break I through fhç Honours L*il Barr Mr. There re vo lew wbo do.

Ike truth tv that wt don’t kmght

.....'cASSAMHttsan

’Hu tvit hai .in

‘Ltmur is tkat of rruirnni I likt J

a iharf dry ♦ rr-wrt.mt.'

In his reply the Mirror’s Cassandra said Bax was a famous bad guesser.

In a lifetime of journalism this was really something new. Inevitably newscontinued on page 94 papers publish letters that attack their policy or contents but there are always other letters balancing them, and of course there is the editorial column in which the editor can argue his case.

continued on page 94

London Letter continued from page 6

“When Cassandra was put in to bat I knew that tough things were coming. It did not dismay me”

With this in mind I agreed to the proposition on the condition that there would be no editorial comment on my article in the actual issue in which it appeared. And thus it was agreed.

Hugh Cudlipp meticulously carried out the agreement. In its own pages I accused the Mirror of sustaining our enemies and discouraging our friends and, in the process, lowering the standards of British journalism. Then with such vitriol as was left I dealt with Cassandra, the columnist of the newspaper.

During the next forty-eight hours letters poured in on the Mirror and on myself. Almost without exception they were antagonistic to the Mirror. Then, two days later, Cassandra was put in to bat. Under the heading “The Mirror and Sir B" he proceeded to pay me one kindly compliment after another but I knew' that tough things were coming.

B.y taking extracts from articles written by me during the rise of Hitler he gave the impression that I had been a dupe of the Nazis right up to the outbreak of war. It seems that in 1938 I wrote: “Confidence is replacing fear.” "A man of Hitler’s capacity cannot be dismissed as a crook or a gangster.” A month later it seems that I wrote: “Who doubts that the heart of Hitler will be warmed and will replace the crude anger and bombast of Nuremberg?”

But, according to Cassandra, I came to doubt my own admixture of "sweet glue” and suddenly described “the warmhearted Adolf” as “an international blackguard: a blackguard worse than any Chicago gangsters ever dreamed of.”

No exception could be taken to this on my part. It is true that the extracts were divorced from their context but that has always been regarded as fair in debate and controversy. Nor did I quarrel with his final broadside: “Sir Beverley has brought his appalling prescience and his horrifying premonition which is accurate to the nearest 180 degrees to bear upon the Suez Canal problem. We are kind enough not to credit our old friend with being more than 100 percent wrong."

Pretty rough you will agree but quite within the Queensberry Rules. Nor did it dismay me unduly. I have t>een toughened by twenty years in parliament and also by those ardent readers of Maclean's who are so bored with the London Letter that they never seem to miss reading it.

But the issue raised by the editorial antics of the Daily Mirror is much bigger than mere controversy. T he real issue before us is whether Britain is to be governed by parliament or by the press. It is my sincere belief that in attacking and ridiculing the prime minister in the hour of international crisis the Mirror sustains our enemies, chills our friends, and weakens both the unity and the spirit of the nation.

In fact, I have no doubt that the outpourings of the Mirror may have inspired the Socialist MP, Mr. R. T. Paget, to rise in the House of Commons and say: “Sir Anthony Eden is like a banana, yellow outside but even a deeper yellow inside.” In fairness even his compatriots on the benches looked embarrassed.

Fortunately Anthony Eden has an intestinal toughness oddly out of keeping with the elegance and suavity of his exterior. For years Lord Beaverbrook’s newspapers pounded him without mercy, but now they are his staunchest supporters. Nor is that necessarily a matter of reproach. It takes courage for a newspaper to reverse its policy.

The Daily Telegraph, which appeals to much the same public as T he Times, has also changed its attitude to Eden. Last winter it hit him hard but now it is on his side.

Power without responsibility

No one will deny that the freedom of the press is the very basis of democracy, but freedom demands responsibility. It is absolutely right that the government and parliament itself should come under constant criticism of the press but not to the extent that it weakens them as an estate of the realm.

Stanley Baldwin was so embittered by hostile newspaper campaigns that he declared from a public platform that some British newspapers were like the harlot —exerting power without responsibility. Today Eden is being denounced for taking warlike measures against the Pinchbeck Dictator of Egypt, but it is nothing to the pounding he would have received if he had failed to do so.

When Chamberlain came back from Munich in 1938 great crowds cheered him from the airdrome to Downing Street and late into the night. But within a few days he was denounced as a poltroon and a coward. The humiliation of Munich was not to be denied but Chamberlain bought time for Britain to put into the air the machines that won the Battle of Britain and to put into the sea a navy that kept the waters open from the beginning to the end of the war.

When Nasser seized the Suez Canal Eden’s reply was like the crack of a whip. Troops were called up and there were open preparations for war. And almost at once came the bleating of the sheep complaining that he had threatened war over a purely legalistic action by a small country.

Eden may or may not have been right. But he is an expert on Middle East affairs and it is interesting to recall that when he was an undergraduate at Oxford he took first-class honors in Arabic languages. It was almost as if he foresaw his own future.

He knew that if Nasser got away with his coup the next step would be the nationalization of the oil wells by the Arab states. And for some years yet oil is the very lifeblood of the British empire.

The voices that had jeered Chamberlain for his weakness now jeer Eden for acting with strength.

By the time these words appear in Maclean's we may no longer be seeing through a glass darkly, but what I am trying to convey to you is the almost unbearable strain that democracy places upon the shoulders of its elected leaders. There is no democracy in Egypt as there was none in Nazi Germany. Eden believed that the only way to deal with a dictator is to be tough. It is good to know that Churchill, behind the scenes, has supported him loyally.

So we come back to the press. In my Daily Mirror article I ended like this:

“My purpose is not to defend Sir Anthony—although he has my complete loyalty—but to level this charge against the Daily Mirror: that in attacking the prime minister in such terms it is unintentionally strengthening the hands of Nasser and all who look upon this country with distrust or envy.

“From the days when Eden won the Military Cross in France he has served his country and civilization with a courage and tenacity that brought hope to millions of people who lived in darkness.

"The Daily Mirror in attacking and ridiculing him at such a moment has been unw'orthy of its own spirited tradition of liveliness and loyalty.”

There the matter rests, but it shows what can happen when you innocently accept an invitation to dine with Mr. Sam Goldwyn of Hollywood. ★