Media: Bounder! Cad! But now the barons call off their feud

Fireworks were expected yesterday when the editors of two Tory newspapers came face-to-face after a ferocious public row that drew in their rival proprietors. But, as Rob Brown, Media Editor, explains, peace appears to have broken out. Pity.
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The Independent Online
Charles Moore, editor of the Daily Telegraph, is rarely bested in the self-righteous stakes. And so it proved yesterday when the code of practice committee of the Press Complaints Commission met to discuss how the press might win back public trust in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Mr Moore arrived at the meeting, held in the Newspaper Society's offices in Bloomsbury, north London, armed with a letter from Earl Spencer, in which the Princess's brother appealed to the press to put its own house in order or Parliament would bring forth privacy legislation.

"I wanted to put a bomb under the complacency of the tabloids about their intrusion into the lives of members of the Royal Family," Mr Moore said. "We've done that very strongly for the last week and people have noticed. Earl Spencer and I are both trying in quite separate ways to draw attention to the crisis of confidence in the press caused by the intrusion of privacy."

The letter from the earl was addressed to the entire committee, comprising a dozen editors drawn from the regions as well as the nationals. But Mr Moore must have savoured the fact that it had been faxed to his office and not that of the committee's chairman, Sir David English, editor-in- chief of The Daily Mail.

Scarcely had Diana's body been laid to rest at her ancestral home in Althorp, Northamptonshire, before a vicious slanging match erupted between the Mail and the Telegraph. The unseemly squabble started when Mr Moore accused the Mail of being prominent in the media pack which hounded Diana.

Conrad Black, Canadian proprietor of the Telegraph, then penned a polemical letter in which he stated that having Sir David English as chairman of the commission's code of practice committee was like having Al Capone investigating crime in Twenties Chicago.

Paul Dacre, editor of the Mail, weighed in, through an article in The Guardian, in which he claimed that Princess Diana liked his paper. "It might grieve Charles Moore to know that, next to the dreaded paparazzi, the Princess most disliked him and his paper," he wrote.

This was followed up yesterday by a letter from Lord Rothermere, chairman of the Daily Mail and General Trust, published on the letters page of the Daily Telegraph, in which he expressed regret that the attack on Mr Dacre and his chairman, Sir David English, had "dragged the reputation of the Daily Telegraph into fair charges of hypocrisy and untruth".

He concluded: "Lord Deedes [a former editor of the Telegraph] writes that there will be a great public anger to come against the newspapers. Is Mr Black trying to divert this from the Telegraph to the Daily Mail?"

Last night, however, a truce appeared to have been reached. Sir David phoned Mr Moore with what he called "a flag of truce". But he swiftly added: "We weren't pleading for peace and begging for mercy."

The Telegraph editor agreed to call a halt to hostilities. But he made sure everyone knew that Sir David had been the first to wave a white flag.

Viscount Rothermere

The last proper English press baron, this old Etonian wouldn't savour a slanging match with some uppity colonial. But don't be fooled by his benign patrician appearance or his devotion to Buddhism.

The win-at-all-costs culture at Associated Newspapers stems from his steely determination to preserve the Harmsworth inheritance. At 72 that remains unstinted. By and large, though, he is a delegator, employing others to read the pulse of Middle England. Apart from letter in the Telegraph yesterday, hitting back at Black, he has left it to Sir David English (Chairman of Associated) and Paul Dacre (Editor of the Daily Mail) to defend the honour of the Daily Mail.

Conrad Black

Having emerged from the frozen north of Canada to construct an international newspaper empire from scratch, the 49-year-old proprietor of theTelegraph is as pugnacious as he is rapacious.

Driven apparently by a sense of divine destiny he tends to heap unholy abuse on those who thwart his acquisitive ambitions. His verbal assaults are often elaborately phrased, reflecting his rich vocabulary and immense erudition. Not much consolation to those on the receiving end. But it's wiser to exchange insults rather than punches. As one biographer said, he has "the physique of a prizefighter and shoulders as broad as an Alberta buffalo".