Rusbridger called Telegraph’s piece "a storm in a lukewarm teacup"
There will be no hunt at The Guardian to find out how details of Chancellor Gordon Brown’s explosive views at an off-the-record briefing found their way into The Mail on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph.
The paper’s view is that this was cock-up rather than conspiracy. A memo from the 18 November breakfast briefing, when Brown’s antipathy to some of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policies surfaced, should have been faxed to members of The Guardian political team in the lobby. But it did not reach the recipients, said editor Alan Rusbridger, because they were on holiday or not in.
Rusbridger said: "As far as I understand, a copy may have been hanging around in a corridor and seems to have found its way into other hands."
He insisted that the memo was a broad synopsis of the briefing, very little of which was in direct quotes – "Yet some bits have been quoted as though it was direct speech from Gordon Brown."
The MoS and Telegraph stories were "a complete misrepresentation of the meeting", stressed Rusbridger. "That is the danger of reading other people’s notes that weren’t designed for publication."
MoS editor Peter Wright made a terse rebuttal: "As usual, The Guardian has got it wrong. There was no fax."
According to the MoS, Brown or, according to the Telegraph, his chief adviser Ed Balls, had pleaded with The Guardian not to run a front-page story. The story was toned down and put on page two, said the Telegraph. The MoS said the decision by Guardian executives had infuriated its journalists, "who claimed it was censorship".
The Guardian story by Patrick Wintour, published two days after the briefing, was checked with Brown’s office, acknowledged Rusbridger.
If the MoS denial of a fax sighting is correct and there was a leaker, it would be the second time the Associated Sunday had published a scoop that originally belonged to another paper. Reports of Fake Sheikh Mazher Mahmood’s interview with the indiscreet Duchess of Wessex for the News of the World first appeared in the MoS.
Rusbridger, however, refers to his rivals’ stories as "a storm in a luke-warm teacup".
"Brown came to us, as I think he has to most newspapers in the past year. We talked about a huge number of issues and at the end of it, someone wanted to write a story," he explained.
"I said it was an off-the-record occasion and ‘if you want to write a story, you had better check it’.
"I think if people tell you stuff on an off-the-record basis, it is fundamental journalistic practice to check the basis on which you can use or not use it.
"The story was absolutely as we wanted to write it. Any notion that anything was censored or pulled is rubbish."
By Jean Morgan