Don’t let the posh accents fool you: British politics and media are at least as cutthroat as the American versions, and backstabbing is considered a patriotic pastime.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron, far from respecting the independence of the free press, actively tried to get the editor of Britain’s biggest newspaper fired for his unwavering support for Brexit in the lead-up to the referendum in June 2016.
According to BBC Newsnight, which first reported the story, Cameron pressured the owner of the middle-market tabloid the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, to fire editor Paul Dacre, given the newspaper’s strident stance in favor of Britain leaving the European Union.
In the months preceding the referendum vote, Daily Mail published numerous stories and editorials purporting to document the various disadvantages of EU membership, often in lurid or exaggerated terms, including alleged spending outflows and the prospect of uncontrolled immigration.
Cameron first invited Dacre to meet him privately at the prime minister’s residence in February, in hopes of persuading him to moderate the Daily Mail’s editorial stance by detailing concessions he had won from the EU. However, Dacre rebuffed him at the meeting, saying he had been opposed to EU membership for over two decades and wasn’t prepared to reverse course.
In March, the prime minister tried a different tack, by asking Lord Rothermere to sack him. Lord Rothermere refused, but Dacre caught wind of Cameron’s request from an unnamed source and was reportedly furious, prompting him to redouble his efforts in favor of Brexit.
Daily Mail’s support for Brexit, along with a number of other newspapers, was widely viewed as a key factor in the victory of the “Leave” campaign in the June referendum.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, researchers at Britain’s Loughborough University conducted a study of 1,127 articles about the referendum and related issues from early May to mid-June. When the circulation of newspapers publishing articles is taken into account, UK newspapers favored Brexit by a whopping margin of 82% to 18%.
The huge skew was mostly the result of popular tabloids with large readerships – most notably The Sun, with a circulation of 1.7 million, Daily Mail, with a circulation of 1.5 million, and The Daily Telegraph, with a circ of half a million – declaring support for Leave.
A number of smaller circ papers, including the Daily Mirror, The Observer, The Guardian and the Financial Times, all backed Remain.