The Daily Telegraph has come out swinging against Jeremy Corbyn's recent video attacking Britain's right-wing newspapers, calling the Labour leader "creepy" and suggesting his message is "worthy of a leader in Moscow, not London".
Corbyn released the short video on his social media channels on Tuesday night after fielding several days worth of questions relating to accusations made by a former Czech spy.
The Sun, Daily Mail, Express and Daily Telegraph have all prominent run stories relating to claims from Jan Sarkocy that Corbyn had been recruited as an intelligence asset in the 1980s.
"In the last few days, The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph and The Express have all gone a little bit James Bond," said Corbyn in the video.
"Publishing these ridiculous smears that have been refuted by Czech officials shows just how worried the media bosses are by the prospect of a Labour government.
Corbyn also said Labour "don't want to close (the free press) down, we want to open it up", ending with the line: "Well, we've got news for them: Change is coming".
In the wake of the video, The Daily Telegraph sent BuzzFeed News the newspaper's editorial column it intended to run on Wednesday, which unloaded on Corbyn, calling him "disturbing" and "creepy":
There is something deeply disturbing about the leader of a major political party in this country telling the British journalistic industry – one of the most vibrant and free in the world, and an essential guard against complacency and corruption – that 'change is coming'. For those who still dismiss Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn as a harmless old fool, his message yesterday ought to serve as a wake up call.
Mr Corbyn is facing questions over meetings with a Czech spy during the Cold War. It is not in doubt that these meetings took place, or that a Stasi dossier exists to this day which could confirm details of any assistance he may have provided to brutal regimes that, as allies of the Soviet Union, were adversaries of postwar Britain. He could have addressed these questions with straightforward interviews with broadcasters or newspapers of his choice. He could also have elected to open up his file in the Stasi archives. Instead, in a video produced by Labour’s own propaganda department, he has decided to round on newspapers asking perfectly legitimate questions.
Quite frankly, it is rather creepy. Mr Corbyn seems to imply, in the manner of an old-school Soviet stooge, that the whole episode is a Right-wing plot. Instead of addressing the substance of the allegations, he goes on the attack. With a closing rictus he promises newspapers including this one that we will be forced to change our “bad old habits” under a Labour government. If he means asking inconvenient questions of those in power, without fear or favour, we will never do so voluntarily. Does he mean to use force? Such implicit compulsion is worthy of a leader in Moscow, not London.
A Labour source close to Corbyn dismissed the Telegraph's suggestion that the Labour leader should subject himself to an interview on the subject: "Our media plans are not dictated to by a paper that has repeatedly published the claims of a serial fantasist and got its facts wrong."
The Sun and Daily Mail newspapers also released statements to BuzzFeed News, which steered clear of attacking Corbyn's character, instead focusing on their questions for the Labour leader.
"Instead of releasing videos on social media Jeremy Corbyn should be going before Parliament to answer the following questions," a Daily Mail spokesperson said.
"1. Precisely how many times did he meet Jan Sarkocy when Mr Sarkocy was spying for Czechoslovakia, and what exactly did he tell him? 2. Is he aware of the existence of a file in his name, compiled by East Germany’s Stasi secret police? 3. If there is such a file, and he has nothing to hide, then why doesn’t he agree to its publication?’"
“We would urge Mr. Corbyn to answer the questions that have already been put to him, as well as to open up the Stasi file kept on him that he has so far been content to leave in storage," said The Sun's spokesperson. "Mr. Corbyn has been admirably open and transparent on issues such as his tax return – a story we have reported on more than once, as well as his demand for the Prime Minister to do the same."
Jeremy Corbyn's office declined to comment on Tuesday evening, but pointed to a recently published Guardian report, which claimed there was no "Stasi file" on the Labour leader in the German archives. The office has also accepted that Corbyn did meet Jan Sarkocy on one occasion.
Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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