At the end of a week in which he resisted the temptation to slug it out with Alastair Campbell, and he evaded those journalists who turned up on his various doorsteps (Channel 4 reporter Alex Thompson's blog on this subject is very entertaining), the Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre chose the perfectly reasonable course of explaining himself in an authored piece in his own newspaper. It was, as you might expect, a strident and powerfully argued article in which he defended his newspaper's position over its controversial portrait of Ed Miliband's father as a “man who hated Britain”.
Mr Dacre had clearly spent last week gathering his thoughts as the furore raged aground him, because it was a weighty old response, occupying almost an entire two-page spread. If it was a tad too long, who was going to tell him that? “Great piece, Paul, but could you cut 300 words?” Hmm...maybe not. Actually, the defence of his newspaper's actions could have been encapsulated in just three words: freedom of speech.
Of course, Mr Dacre couldn't let the opportunity go by without launching a few rhetorical Exocets towards his time-honoured targets - the BBC, the Labour Party, Alastair Campbell, and that metropolitan, Russell Brand-loving, Groucho Club-going, Channel 4-watching elite who are corrupting decent British values - but his argument was quite straightforward, and was one which this particular liberal, metropolitanite could easily get behind.
Sure, the headline was a bit over-the-top (but students of the Daily Mail will not have not found that out of character), and the piece was written from a clear political standpoint, but so what? You don't have to agree with a single syllable of it, but I can't believe that anyone of sound mind would suggest pieces such as this should be banned, save any offence may be caused.
Mr Dacre dismissed those who marched on the Daily Mail's offices - “just 110 people”, he said - yet I would argue that, in an age where activism means sitting in a bedroom and composing a 140-character sobriquet, this is a reasonably significant body of people. But what did they want? A personal apology? Sanctions against the paper? A fist-fight with Mr Dacre? No, what they wanted to do was register their disapproval, which, in a free society, is simply the other side of the coin that permits newspapers to print opinions of which some may disapprove.
Mr Dacre is certain that the vast majority of his readers don't take exception to his world view, but while one can only admire the unshakeable belief in his understanding of his audience's tastes and inclinations, I'm not so sure. Throughout his article, he talks of “decent, working Britons” and “ordinary people who are our readers”, but I don't think life is as simple as that any more. The average Middle English family of today will probably have encountered issues with drugs, homosexuality or divorce and would harbour much more nuanced views than Mr Dacre might imagine. They may even love the BBC (as most people do, in fact). And they, like all of us, can take the ultimate sanction if they don't like what's in the Daily Mail: don't buy the bloody thing.