Home Secretary Charles Clarke launched a stinging attack on the press on Monday, singling out three national newspaper columnists. Zoe Smith and Dominic Ponsford report his comments and their responses
Clarke vs Carr
Charles Clarke accused Independent columnist Simon Carr (pictured) of making "numerous and unprofessional leading statements" in a piece in The Independent on 15 April which listed 34 "measures and defects" that undermine democratic society.
Clarke said Carr had repeated numerous "myths", such as "damaging crops is defined as a terrorist act" and that people wearing satirical T-shirts in a designated area could be arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Carr said: "It’s like me calling Charles Clarke a fat fool. It’s a perfectly reasonable piece of abuse. It’s a piece of abuse that sketch writers are used to."
He added: "I think they feel on very strong ground here because they feel they have a much more popular point of view on it than we have. The smack of firm government goes down very well at this time and that’s what they’re publicising."
Clarke vs Russell
Of Guardian columnist Jenni Russell, Clarke said she made "ridiculous assertions, unsupported in a long article by any hint of understanding the balance of powers which currently exists in our society".
Russell’s 6 April article had said: "Tony Blair’s administration is removing the safeguards that protect all of us from the whims of a government and the intrusion of a powerful state."
She said: "When he says that I don’t understand the balance of powers, it is exactly the balance of powers which I do understand and which I am concerned about.
"No one would have been more delighted than me if he had said all you journalists are wrong and here is why… "It was just such an extraordinary mish-mash of ideas. On the one hand he was saying there were people who use these words: ‘police state’, ‘fascist’, ‘creeping authoritarianism’, the ‘holocaust’, ‘gulag’, ‘apartheid’ as he says in his piece in today’s Guardian attacking me. I’ve used none of those phrases. I did grow up in apartheid South Africa so I know what it’s like. Britain isn’t it.
"Basically he seemed to be saying: ‘Don’t criticise us on these grounds — we will not be criticised’."
Russell said she had met Clarke on a number of occasions and previously thought his reputation for being a bruiser was mostly "quite unwarranted".
Clarke vs Porter
Clarke slammed Henry Porter’s articles in The Observer as an example of the "pernicious and even dangerous poison now slipping into at least some parts of the media". He said Porter was among the commentators using language such as "police state" and "fascist" which mean "truth just flies out the window, as does any adherence to journalistic standards".
Porter said: "If you read the speech, there is nothing except for a bully-boy attack on the media. Very unimpressive language, very low bullying technique, which wasn’t going to cut it at the LSE.
"He was hardly critiquing our work, he was just attacking us. He knows that he wants to push us off into a little ghetto of paranoid liberal journalists.
That’s the idea there. Single them out, pick them off one by one. It’s a very unpleasant technique. These guys are not paranoid conspiracy theorists, they are people who are looking at the legislation — and that’s what the Government doesn’t want.
"Up until now there has been very little coverage of civil liberties in the papers. I think they didn’t take any notice and didn’t care about it. I don’t think they’ve been given a rough ride on civil liberties at all. Not, in any stretch of the imagination, compared to what they’ve done to civil liberties.
They got off extremely lightly."