Ex-Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has said Fleet Street titan Paul Dacre’s verbal attack on him at the Society of Editors’ conference was “terribly myopic” and that “some of it felt a bit Steve Bannon”.
Dacre dedicated much of his speech opening this year’s Society of Editors’ conference on Sunday to dismantling Rusbridger’s Guardian and his recently published book Breaking News.
The ex-Daily Mail editor said Rusbridger had reduced the newspaper to an “economic basket case” while editor, which he described as “a textbook case for journalism schools on how not to do things” in his speech on 4 November in Manchester.
Writing in the New Statesman, Rusbridger said something in his book must have “detonated another volcanic eruption” in Dacre, whom he revealed he used to meet annually for lunch prior to the Leveson Inquiry.
“Some of it felt a bit Steve Bannon,” said Rusbridger, in reference to the former Breitbart executive chairman and Trump campaign strategist.
“Most of it seemed terribly myopic and insular and – for a man with such success, riches, power and acclamation behind him – incoherently angry.”
Rusbridger, who stepped down as Guardian editor in 2015 after more than 20 years in charge, said his book, published in September, only contained “two mentions of Dacre and two footnotes”.
In his New Statesman article, Rusbridger also remarked that the Daily Mail had “undergone a marked change” since new editor Geordie Greig took over the UK’s second-biggest selling newspaper a couple of months ago.
Dacre is now chairman and editor-in-chief of Mail publisher Associated Newspapers after he stepped down as Daily Mail editor this summer having spent 26 years in charge.
The paper under Greig is “more reasonable, less fulminating – not so obsessive and more inclusive,” said Rusbridger, who is now an Oxford University academic.
“It has stopped behaving like a punch-drunk old bruiser lurching around in search of a brawl. Instead, it feels like it might be ready to be part of a broader, calmer conversation about the future.”
He added: “If Greig can detoxify the Mail brand and prove that a tabloid can be ethical, successful and reasonably nice, what would that say about the ‘nasty’ Dacre model? The very thought must make him very unhappy.
“Dacre was a big beast of a Fleet Street that no longer exists. That must also make him unhappy. Whatever his Pop Larkin nostalgia for newspapers, digital has already begun to eclipse print. He would be the first to admit he is utterly at sea in understanding the ethos or popularity of social media.
“He owns 17,000 acres in the Scottish Highlands. There’s a very nice life after editing if he could only allow himself to imagine it. We might even have lunch.”