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Maxwell, the Hersh Allegations and British Readers

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Maxwell, the Hersh Allegations and British Readers

Article excerpt

Maxwell, the Hersh allegations and British readers

The mysterious, sudden death of New York Daily News publisher Robert Maxwell is the stuff make-believe spy novels are made of.

In fact, there is speculation the press baron's demise might somehow be connected to author Seymour Hersh's controversial book, The Sampson Option, which accuses Maxwell of ties to Israel's secret service, the Mossad.

The British love spy dramas, normally centered on quiet-spoken old Cambridge University graduates who wind up working for the Russians and finally are unmasked during retirement.

So it became an instant media hit when Hersh's book broke precedent and took the genre to new vistas by accusing Maxwell and his then London Daily Mirror foreign editor Nicholas Davies of being in league with the Israeli secret service.

According to Hersh, the pair were into everything from selling arms to Iran to selling out a fleeing Israeli traitor.

The merits of Hersh's claims will not be discussed here, except that both Maxwell and Davies had branded them "ludicrous."

However, it was later learned that Davies lied about one thing. He said he had never been to Ohio, where he was supposed to have seen an American arms dealer. This was proven untrue and he was quickly fired by Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott.

This happened a week before Maxwell died.

Backtracking a bit, when Hersh visited London shortly after his book had caused a sensation there, a fuming Maxwell and an indignant Davies hit the author with libel suits.

For his part, Hersh shot off his own libel suit against Maxwell as he left for New York.

The Maxwell newspapers are the only ones that openly support the Labor Party. The majority of British national sheets are staunchly in the Conservative camp. Add to this, Fleet Street's almost juvenile need to poke fun at anyone who stands out in the crowd, and Captain Bob was a perfect target.

Yet Hersh's book was not well known in Britain and Maxwell's and Davies' part in it was not known at all. It needed a national airing to make news. That came when two members of Parliament, Rupert Allison and George Galloway, read the book and became so incensed they tabled motions in the House of Commons. They accused Davies of being a spy for Mossad and Maxwell of having links with Mossad agents.

This was all Fleet Street needed. Tabloid headlines blared: "Mirror Man Spy!" The Mirror fought back with: "Dishonorable Men and Dirty Tricks," referring to the MPs.

The Mirror's front-page splash story read: "If either Mr. Allison or Mr. Galloway had the guts of a louse, an altogether higher form of life, they would stand outside the priveleges and protection of Parliament and repeat those allegations where they can be sued."

Well, Allison took up the challenge and did just that - to the media's glee. "I couldn't really care less about a writ [libel suit]," Allison said.

For now at least, the story seemed to reach its climax when Hersh flew into London Oct. 24 to defend his charges, or possibly do a promotion for his book.

Facing the assembled media, he stood by his claims, knowing all this hoopla, writs and all, meant mucho sales.

The next bit of fun-and-games could happen when any of the libel actions might come to court or if the Fleet Street tabs are not getting enough mileage out of the Royal Family during a given week.

Then there is the not-too-distant election campaign. With the ruling Conservative Party currently trailing in the polls, any anti-Labor ammunition will be used by the rabid Tory press in Britain. …

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