Few journalists have been more celebrated by the liberal elite than Alan Rusbridger. The longtime editor of the Guardian for twenty years, a winner of the Marie Colvin prize for improving British journalism and a former head of an Oxford college: there are few baubles which have eluded his grasp.
But now the Roy Greenslade scandal has cast a belated shadow over his former editor’s career. Back in 2014, Greenslade wrote an article in his capacity as the Guardian’s media commentator about Mairia Cahill in which he questioned her motives in going public about her sexual abuse at the hands of an IRA man.
The piece, published 28 October 2014, and titled ‘BBC programme on IRA rape allegations flawed by lack of political balance,’ was controversial at the time but was not removed from the Guardian’s website until March 2021 after Greenslade admitted to being a secret supporter of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles. The subsequent controversy led to Rusbridger resigning from his post on the Commission on the Future of the Media in Ireland.
Prior to his resignation, Rusbridger maintained that he had no involvement with the article. On 9 March 2021 he wrote to Catherine Martin, the Irish minister for media, to claim: ‘The original piece he wrote a BBC Spotlight programme concerning Mairia Cahill in 2014 was an online blogpost. I did not read it at the time’ adding ‘I did not read this piece either before or after publication.’
In a separate media statement he said: ‘I did not read his [Greenslade’s] post on Mairia Cahill and was not made aware of a complaint about alleged factual inaccuracies (mainly about the dates of Ms Cahill’s political allegiances) until last week.’
Now internal emails seen by The Spectator have raised fresh questions about Rusbridger’s role in events. They show that a complaint was submitted on 31 October 2014 to Rusbridger by a former editor at Open Democracy who criticised Greenslade for ‘traducing Mairia Cahill, as if one could dismiss a rape victim by implying her claims stemmed from a purported political allegiance.’
A lengthy reply was sent from Alan Rusbridger’s Guardian email account on 12 November 2014 which defended Greenslade’s article and quoted from it. It said: ‘I do not believe Roy was dismissive of Ms Cahill in the article; indeed he said “That is not say to say that she was not raped. Nor does it negate her view that the IRA handled her complaint clumsily and sensitively”.’
Cahill told Steerpike: ‘Even if Rusbridger didn’t read the blog, an email was sent in his name from his email address, standing by his journalist. You would expect that he would have made it his business to know about a high-profile rape case that was being debated at the time in the UK and Irish Parliaments. Did other people regularly draft his emails, and why did he not mention that an email had gone in his name defending Greenslade, amid public furore in 2021?’
She continued: ‘Rusbridger emailed me twice in respect of this issue – not once did he mention that an email purportedly from him was sent to another journalist stating he didn’t feel Greenslade had been dismissive of me. If he didn’t write it, there is an onus on both him and the person who did to give a full and frank explanation. The Guardian should also publish the unredacted emails in the interests of transparency and in the public interest.’
Cahill added that in the 53 pages of emails released under a subject access request that there was no reference in the unredacted content to his email being drafted by someone else. When asked by Mr S, Rusbridger maintained that the 12 November 2014 email was not drafted by him and that he had not read Greenslade’s article at that time.
He said: ‘As far as I can ascertain at a distance of seven years just one complaint about Roy Greenslade’s 2014 blogpost was received by my office. In addition, there was correspondence between Ms Cahill and the Readers’ Editor, of which I was not made aware until earlier this year.
‘The letter to the editor was (as in commonplace in news organisations) handled by the managing editor, who drafted a response, which was then sent out from my email address.’ He added: ‘To the best of my knowledge I did not read it [the 2014 article] until after the Greenslade BJR piece this year.’
All very encouraging for the hacks at Prospect magazine – where Rusbridger has just resumed his editorial career.
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