The rudest things they ever said about the Guardian

This newspaper has upset public figures from Blair to Trump. Here we look at some of the resultant indignation

The Guardian has never tried to ingratiate itself with the rich and powerful. But its reporting has, over the years, provoked indignation, pique and even rudeness from prime ministers, presidents and corporate titans as well as the odd pop singer and Hollywood movie star.


Conservative leaders probably don’t expect a particularly warm reception at the Guardian’s offices when invited to set out their policies to the paper’s editors and commentators. But nor it seems did Tony Blair.

Soon after he was elected leader of the Labour party, in 1994, Blair marched into the Guardian’s offices on Farringdon Road with a stack of clippings and his new spin doctor, Alastair Campbell. While Blair spoke, Campbell sat in the editor’s chair, swung back and put his feet on the desk, the Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland remembers.

“It was like being hauled before the headteacher,” recalls the editor at the time, Alan Rusbridger, of the meeting with Blair and about 20 senior Guardian editorial staff. “He told us off for various articles, dropping them on the floor one at time, and then warned us that he would tell Labour party members to read the Telegraph because it was fairer.”

Rusbridger, who was newly installed in his role at the time, says he was “secretly longing” for Blair to follow through with his threat. “Money couldn’t buy that kind of marketing.”

Alastair Campbell, press secretary to Labour leader Tony Blair, fends off the political hacks as Tony Blair gives an interview, 1998
Alastair Campbell fends off the political hacks as Tony Blair gives an interview in 1998. Photograph: Don McPhee

Several Tory MPs have pursued the Guardian through the courts, not very successfully. Most dramatically, Jonathan Aitken added some poetic invective to his 1995 lawsuit after the Guardian revealed that he allowed aides of the Saudi royal family to pay his £1,000 hotel bill during a stay at the Ritz in Paris.

“If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play, so be it,” he intoned. Unfortunately, he lost the case, lied on the witness stand, and had to take both sword and shield with him to a seven-month stint in jail.

But Aitken was by no means the first, or last, to call the Guardian names. Donald Trump called Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill a “nasty, nasty guy” in 2016, when the mild-mannered Scot pointed out that Trump was “toxic” in the UK and mainstream British politicians did not want to be seen meeting him.

Donald Trump calls reporter Ewen MacAskill ‘a nasty, nasty guy’ – video

MacAskill had already ruffled more than a few feathers after interviews with Edward Snowden in 2013 revealed the scale of US government surveillance.

David Cameron, when prime minister, ordered the Guardian to destroy hard drives of computers that had contained top secret documents leaked by Snowden. Under the watchful gaze of two technicians from the British government spy agency GCHQ, senior journalists took angle grinders and drills to the internal components, rendering them useless and the information on them obliterated.

“The plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security and in many ways the Guardian themselves admitted that when they agreed, when asked politely by my national security adviser and cabinet secretary to destroy the files they had, they went ahead and destroyed those files,” Cameron said at prime minister’s questions.

The former Labour home secretary Jack Straw accused the Guardian of “indulgent irresponsibility” and “adolescent excitement” in publishing the leaks, which he said had put lives at risk. “I’m not suggesting for a moment that anybody at the Guardian gratuitously wants to risk anybody’s life. But what I do think is their sense of power of having these ‘secrets’ and excitement, almost adolescent excitement, about these secrets, has gone to their head.

“They’re blinding themselves about the consequence and also showing an extraordinary naivety and arrogance in implying that they are in a position to judge whether or not particular secrets which they have published are not likely to damage the national interest, and they’re not in any position at all to do that.”

A deep scepticism of war has, over the years, generated plenty of name-calling.

When the Guardian voiced concern about the looming conflict with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, the Sun warned of “the traitors in our midst”, such as “the pygmy Guardian”.

Slurs, outrage and death threats

The Guardian’s dogged reporting has often gotten under the skin of business leaders. In 2003 Topshop’s Philip Green described the Guardian’s then financial editor, Paul Murphy – born in Oldham and raised in Portsmouth – as a “fucking Irishman” who “can’t read English”. In the short conversation with the Guardian, which the newspaper printed in full, he said the words “fuck” or “fucking” 14 times. Green, who lives in the tax haven of Monaco, eventually apologised to Ireland.

More recently, Green threatened Guardian reporters with “unpleasant things” when they tracked him down to his £100m superyacht in Monaco to ask him about the looming collapse of his Arcadia retail empire putting 19,000 jobs at risk.

The Tesla billionaire Elon Musk emailed a reporter in 2018 to tell them that the Guardian “is the most insufferable newspaper on planet Earth”, in response to a question about whether it was appropriate for the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest companies to smoke marijuana on a live web show.

The Guardian G2 section’s lighthearted attempt to influence the 2004 US presidential election by pairing up undecided voters in a swing county with passionate letter writers in the UK and elsewhere wasn’t met with the good humour that the then section editor, Ian Katz, intended. “A quixotic idea dreamed up in a north London pub had morphed into a global media phenomenon complete with transatlantic outrage, harrumphing over journalistic ethics, grave political predictions,” he says of Operation Clark County.

The US radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh devoted a whole programme to questioning the Guardian’s ethics, the website was attacked by hackers and thousands of American’s wrote to castigate the Guardian. One wrote: “Keep your fuckin’ Limey hands off our election. Hey, shitheads, remember the revolutionary war? Remember the war of 1812? We didn’t want you or your politics here. That’s why we kicked your asses out.”

Public death threats, though, came not from politics but our coverage of a 1979 production of Hamlet. Steven Berkoff issued the warning to the Guardian’s then theatre critic, Nicholas de Jongh, after he described Berkoff’s production as “fatally miscast”. The threat was reportedly considered so seriously that police protection was felt necessary.

More recently, another artist expressed his fury at Guardian criticism in a less threatening but equally unambiguous fashion. After articles expressed dismay at Morrissey’s support for a far right group, he performed in Los Angeles wearing a vest with a simple slogan: “Fuck the Guardian.”

Making a splash: the best – and funniest – Guardian headlines over 200 years This charming man, unknown, 2019. Morrissey proudly wears “Fuck the Guardian” T-shirt on stage.
Morrissey wears ‘fuck the Guardian’ T-shirt on stage. Composite: Guardian


Rupert Neate

The GuardianTramp

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