Why George Clooney and Angelina Jolie are waging war on the Daily Mail

George Clooney and Angelina Jolie are both waging a public campaign against Britain's Daily Mail

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 4:19am

It takes a celebrity both brave and secure in their own status to first demand an apology from a media empire like the Daily Mail and then reject that apology as insincere and deceitful.

Unluckily for the Mail, George Clooney is both those things.

And he has further escalated his showdown with the British newspaper and its entertainment-based website, Mail Online, now the world's most-read internet paper.

On Friday, in a statement to USA Today, he dismissed the title as "the worst kind of tabloid".

He rejected a rare apology offered by the Mail earlier last week and accused the tabloid of a "premeditated lie" and being engaged in a cover-up.

The confrontation began on Wednesday, when he demanded a retraction after Mail Online reported the Lebanese mother of his fiancee, Amal Alamuddin, objected to the pair's impending marriage on religious grounds.

At the time, Clooney said the article was entirely fabricated and designed to stir up non-existent religious differences.

It was "at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous", Clooney said.

The Mail, which had reprinted a truncated version of the online piece in print, almost immediately apologised.

But managing editor Charles Garside said the sources for its Clooney story, while wrong, were credible. He said the story was based on "conversations with senior members of the Lebanese community".

This response served only to infuriate Clooney further. He said the article did not cite the Lebanese community as its source, but rather "a family friend".

Clooney is not the only star on the warpath against the title.

Angelina Jolie has reportedly begun legal action after Mail Online published a video from the 1990s purporting to show her involved in heroin use.

The row comes less than a year after a row between the tabloid and the British Labour party leader Ed Miliband, who complained when the paper called his late father, the Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband, "The man who hated Britain". But while the Labour leader was provoked by the newspaper, the row with Clooney stems from the Mail Online site.

In the past, experts say, major celebrities could partly ignore the British tabloid press.

But this has become less of an option when faced by a global player like Mail Online, with around 11 million readers a day, more than half outside the UK.

A rising number of stars have opted, like Clooney, to rubbish the messenger, said Mark Borkowski, a veteran PR expert.

"But do you know what? Readers don't really care," he added.

Figures from the Press Complaints Commission show that between 2011 and last year, the Mail saw more than twice as many confirmed code of practice breaches than any other paper.

The Mail says this is due mainly to the huge story volume on its website.

Dominic Ponsford, editor of the trade publication Press Gazette, said there is a distinction between the Daily Mail, where the stories are carefully checked and put to subjects before publication, and Mail Online. "I don't think it's particularly in the culture of the people there to be making phone calls and doing extra checks," he said. "Most people's job is to repackage stuff."

But both the website and the paper have fallen out with a series of public figures, with some disputes going to the courts.

Recent libel actions include damages to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling in May after the Mail said she recounted a misleading "sob story" for a charity article. It also paid out £125,000 (HK$1.6 million) last year to the psychic Sally Morgan, who was falsely accused of using a hidden earpiece to trick audiences.

"The Mail is probably the paper which pays out most frequently in libel damages," said Ponsford. "To a certain extent they take it on the chin as a cost of doing business."