To many, he’s the most brilliant and successful British newspaper editor of his generation. To others, he’s the archenemy of women, immigrants, and countless other minorities who has done more to stoke up hatred and division in his home country than anyone else.
After over a quarter of a century in his role, Paul Dacre is stepping down as editor of The Daily Mail.
Dacre, who’s led one of Britain’s most-read newspapers since 1992, has used his enormous influence over the country’s public life to steer six different prime ministers and promote the views of the conservative, Brexit-voting public. During his reign, the paper has pushed a hard-line on immigration, but also run effective campaigns against issues such as plastic in oceans. He won Newspaper of the Year six times at the annual British Press Awards.
The deeply controversial editor is also public enemy No. 1 for many of those who dare to err from his newspaper’s core demographic. Many erupted in celebration at the announcement of his retirement—due to take effect in November—seeing it as the end of 26 years of him using his unrivaled platform to push his personal right-wing views.
The newspaper’s staunchly anti-immigrant coverage became increasingly frenzied in the run-up to and in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum that saw Brits vote to leave the European Union. His newspaper’s coverage of Europe and immigration over the past decades undoubtedly affected the Brexit vote.
One cartoon published after the Nov. 15 Paris terror attacks pictured bearded Muslims, armed with guns and accompanied by rats, crossing a border with the sign: “Welcome to Europe, our open borders, and the free movement of people.” The New York Times described it at the time as being reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.
But Dacre’s most controversial front-page of recent years saw him picture three British judges who ruled that Parliament had the right to vote on leaving the EU and brand them as “enemies of the people”—which some saw as an incitement of hatred and violence against them.
Conservative lawmaker and grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, showed the depth of the controversy surrounding Dacre with his reaction to the retirement. “It’s impossible to overestimate Dacre’s poison at The Mail. No man can be called a ‘great’ editor who permits the headline that the judges are the ‘Enemies of the People,’” he wrote.
In its story on the judges, The Mail described one as “openly gay,” which critics saw as further evidence of its anti-gay agenda. Indeed, the newspaper has long been criticized for its coverage of LGBT people. An infamous headline from 1993 welcomed news of the supposed discovery of a “gay gene” by saying: “Abortion hope after ‘gay genes’ findings.”
Patrick Strudwick, the LGBT editor of BuzzFeed UK, wrote after the retirement announcement: “Paul Dacre has run a newspaper that has demonized, stigmatized, and bullied lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people for decades. His legacy is one of division, bigotry, and fear-mongering. Britain—and the media—will be a better place without him.”
Dacre’s coverage of women, and particularly women in politics, has also been controversial. One 2016 front page on a meeting between the two most powerful women in Britain—British Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon—pictured the two in skirts and was accompanied by the headline: “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”
Some in the British newspaper industry did have kind words to say about the outgoing editor. Lord Rothermere, chairman of the Mail’s parent company, called Dacre “the greatest Fleet Street editor of his generation”—referring to the London street where British newspapers were traditionally headquartered—who had “given a voice to the voiceless and often set the political agenda through six prime ministerships.”
Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times and former Mail journalist, said: “There isn’t a prime minister over the last 30 years who hasn’t been looking over their shoulder wondering what Paul Dacre thought of them. A lot of them didn’t like that very much and there are members of the public who don’t like that situation either. Thing is, people, when he got it right, Paul Dacre was a bloody genius.”
But Dacre’s legacy, particularly as the U.K. hurtles toward exiting the EU in March next year, will undoubtedly be one of controversy. Many believe Britain is a worse place for his influence, and that his newspaper’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has poisoned discourse in the country forever. Some accused him of leaving the post to evade accountability for his unmatched influence.
“Just like that despicable belch of beery flatulence, Nigel Farage, claiming that he never said Brexit would improve our nation’s circumstances, Dacre is now trying to evade responsibility for his lies and shameful provocations,” wrote broadcaster James O'Brien. “Soon, they’ll all be at it.”