The Sun has said that public interest in the Jeremy Corbyn “Agent Cob” stories are “blindingly obvious” after Labour’s Tom Watson likened national news coverage of it to “propaganda”.
The Sun’s exclusive lead story on Thursday, headilned: “Corbyn and the Commie Spy”, alleged that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met with a communist spy during the Cold War and “warned him of a clampdown from British intelligence”.
In a column today for the Independent, Watson attacked newspapers including the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Times that have run stories following up on the claims against Corbyn.
Watson wrote: “Over the past week some Tory-supporting publications have published a string of completely false and ridiculous smears, calling Labour politicians traitors and linking them with Soviet bloc spies.
“Let’s call these stories out for what they are – propaganda, not journalism. They are not worth the paper they are written on.”
He added: “Newspaper proprietors in this country abuse their power. It’s a unique kind of self-harm for a newspaper to print a story they know is poorly sourced, decide to run it regardless because it suits their political agenda, and pass it off as news.
“There are many reasons for declining newspaper circulation but there can be no doubt the public is beginning to tire of the fact that too many papers routinely present smears, lies and innuendo as facts.”
A Sun spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We stand by our exclusives, which are based on archived documents found in the Czech security archive. Mr Watson is welcome to see them at any time.
“It is blindingly obvious that it is in the public interest for there to be transparency around the activities of the Leader of the Opposition before he came to public prominence.”
A Daily Mail spokesperson said: “Fact – Let’s not forget Tom Watson is a master of smear campaigns.
“He enthusiastically promoted the fantasist ‘Nick’, whose anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations of a Westminster paedophile ring led to the trashing of the reputations of Lord Bramall, Lord Brittan, Lord Janner, Edward Heath and Harvey Proctor.
“Fact – Tom Watson is bankrolled by former Formula One boss Max Mosley, who has given him £500,000.
“Fact – Max Mosley has launched legal complaints against four national newspapers, demanding they expunge all reference to the fact that he took part in an orgy that led to the most high-profile privacy trial of the last 20 years, and that he bankrolls the state-approved press regulator Impress to the tune of nearly £1m a year.
“Fact– Jeremy Corbyn had a series of meetings with a Czech spy, who described him in official records as a ‘person of interest’, and said ‘he has an active supply of information on the British intelligence services’.
“Question – When will Mr Corbyn authorise the release of any information on him held in the Stasi files?”
Press Gazette has also contacted the Times, Telegraph for comment.
Picture: Reuters/Darren Staples