The Sun's vulgar campaign against Brown

Murdoch should call off this shameful and tawdry campaign

The Sun has never handled politicians with kid gloves. During the exchange rate mechanism crisis in 1992, the then editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, famously told John Major: "I've got a large bucket of shit lying on my desk and tomorrow morning I'm going to pour it all over your head." But the paper's personal campaign against Gordon Brown marks a new level of vulgarity.

Its decision to attack Brown relentlessly over the spelling errors in a letter of condolence, with little or no reference to his damaged eyesight, was questionable enough, but it's the tabloid's persistent exploitation of a mother's grief for political purposes that is truly shameful.

There is no doubting the sincerity of Jacqui Janes, the mother of the dead soldier, but are we really to believe that she decided of her own volition to record her painfully awkward exchange with the Prime Minister?

The scribblers of Wapping would do well to listen to their former colleague George Pascoe-Watson, who has publicly expressed his concerns over the Sun's coverage. As John Rentoul reports, the red-top's former political editor said that it was "reasonable" to argue the paper was using Janes's grief to attack Brown and declared that there was no doubt Brown "cares passionately about the care of our troops".

I agree with those who say Brown's letter should have been given a quick once-over by a No 10 aide, but one could equally point to this as a refreshing departure from convention. A meticulously edited letter may have been more popular. It certainly would have been less personal.

It is something of an irony that this renewed assault on Brown should follow Rupert Murdoch's public expression of regret over the Sun's stance. In his most recent interview he said: "The editors in Britain, for instance, have turned very much against Gordon Brown, who is a friend of mine. I regret it."

Murdoch's words have been dismissed as a cynical front by Roy Greenslade and Michael White, but they reflect what Michael Wolff, author of the Murdoch biography The Man Who Owns the News, has long reported: that Murdoch has never been personally enthusiastic about the Sun's defection to the Tories and only nodded through the decision to keep his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch, onside.

As Wolff, who spent more than 50 hours interviewing Murdoch, wrote shortly after the Sun's announcement: "There may not be another politician in Rupert's nearly 60 years of helping to shoehorn the leaders of three countries into office who has personally appealed to him as much as Gordon. Rupert's voice changes when he talks about him. He gets ruminative (and Murdoch is not a ruminative man), and sentimental, and almost glassy-eyed."

It's partly a family thing: like Brown's father, the Reverend John Brown, Murdoch's paternal grandfather was a Scottish Presbyterian minister.

If he has any sense of dignity or loyalty, Murdoch should get on the phone to Wapping and call off this shameful, tawdry campaign.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.