The Guardian is to hire a former Daily Mail journalist who authored controversial stories about Jo Cox’s murder and Jeremy Corbyn’s political sympathies, Novara Media can reveal.
In an email sent to all editorial staff on Wednesday 2 February, editor-in-chief Katharine Viner announced that Emine Sinmaz would soon be joining the newspaper as a senior reporter, after spending over a decade at the Daily Mail.
A number of longtime Guardian editorial staff expressed consternation about the news to Novara Media, setting it in the context of a perceived rightward shift.
In November 2016, Sinmaz penned a report for the paper – her co-author Chris Greenwood is now head of media at the Metropolitan Police – speculating that Thomas Mair murdered Jo Cox because “he feared losing his home of 40 years to an immigrant family” and “believed the Labour MP would not help him”.
Yet it is a report from August 2018 for which Sinmaz is best known.
Entitled ‘Corbyn’s wreath at Munich terrorists’ graves’, the report refers to a visit the then Labour backbencher made to a Tunisian cemetery in 2014. There, the article says, Corbyn was seen holding a wreath near the graves of members of Black September, the Palestinian militant group responsible for the kidnap and murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Munich Olympics. According to Corbyn and his spokespeople, the suggestion the Islington MP was at the cemetery to mourn those responsible for the Munich attack was fabricated.
On multiple occasions, Labour stated that Corbyn’s visit was to honour the 47 people killed in 1985 when the Israeli Air Force struck the Tunis headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) – an attack so unjustified that the United Nations Security Council declared it a violation of the UN Charter, and said that Tunisia deserved reparations from Israel.
The original story started circulating as early as 2016, though only began gaining traction in May 2017 when versions of it appeared in the Sunday Times, the Telegraph and the Sun. Like many stories relating to Corbyn, it was repeatedly dredged up by editors hungry for dirt on the Labour leader. Sinmaz’s version offered to extend the story with on-the-ground reporting.
For her report, Sinmaz was dispatched to Tunis, where she discovered that the monument to the 1985 attack was “15 yards from where Mr Corbyn is pictured”, and that Corbyn was pictured standing beside a plaque dedicated to three members of Black September.
The implication that Corbyn had been at the cemetery to commemorate the Munich massacre was forcefully rejected by Corbyn and his spokespeople, one of whom described the Mail article to Novara Media as “‘unbelievably dishonest”. The party complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation about the incident, though later dropped the complaint.
Yet the damage was done. “It was one of those stories which took on a life of its own,” a source close to Corbyn told Novara Media. “It created an image of Jeremy Corbyn in people’s minds and was incredibly damaging to his personal reputation.” The story came to be routinely cited as evidence of Corbyn’s antisemitism and terrorist sympathies, and formed the basis of further splashes by Sinmaz.
Despite its widely questioned validity, the story is no source of embarrassment to Sinmaz: it features prominently on both her Twitter and LinkedIn profiles.
Sinmaz is by no means the first Daily Mail journalist to be hired by the Guardian. In her new role, she will be working for Fay Schlesinger, her former colleague at the Mail, hired by the Guardian in 2020 as head of news to inject Fleet Street’s belligerent management style into a soporific, genteel newsroom. Novara Media understands that this initially made Schlesinger unpopular with colleagues, who say she has since moderated her approach.
For many journalists at the paper, however, the issue is not the Guardian’s adoption of more tabloid-style methods – on the contrary, some believe the paper should take a feistier approach to newsgathering – but its changing political outlook.
According to a number of Guardian journalists, both former and current, the paper’s decision to hire Schlesinger and Sinmaz reflects the rightward direction in which Viner has taken the paper since her appointment in 2015.
These journalists say that Viner craves the approval of the media and political classes; one former senior staffer recalled Viner’s disappointment at not receiving an invitation to dinner with Keir Starmer.
They said that Viner’s ambition for the paper has shifted from informing its readers to influencing those in power. Within the newsroom, this has meant a reluctance to pursue stories – with the exception of the Panama Papers, on which the Guardian reported as part of a journalistic consortium, and Windrush – that challenge establishment interests. This, they say, was only exacerbated by Viner’s disbanding of the investigative team in 2016.
In 2019, Declassified UK published an investigation into the relationship between the Guardian and the British security state. In it, former Guardian journalists said that “[e]ffective scrutiny of the security and intelligence agencies […] appears to have been abandoned,” and that it “sometimes seems the Guardian is worried about upsetting the spooks.”
While criticised internally for attempting to appease the establishment, one former senior Guardian journalist suggested that Viner has sought to sideline staff deemed excessively leftwing, particularly in the aftermath of the Corbyn years. They cite the recent demotion of opinion editor and former head of long reads Jonathan Shainin; the departure of Dawn Foster, Paul Mason and Gary Younge; and what Novara understands are repeated attempts to get rid of Owen Jones.
They added that while the Guardian did still employ leftwing journalists – notably new columnist Nesrine Malik – the balance was in favour of those with vanilla politics or, like Sinmaz, questionable track records. They also suggested that Viner’s political rebalancing may have implications for her paper’s financial sustainability.
Over the last decade, the Guardian has pivoted from advertising towards readers to fund its work. The strategy has been successful: in 2020 the paper turned a small profit for the first time in 20 years, and this year plans to hit two million supporters. Yet as Viner apparently leads the paper away from the fearless journalism on which it has built its reputation to a more milquetoast output, reader support may wane.
In her 2017 mission statement, Viner warned that “the press […] risks becoming wholly part of the same establishment that the public no longer trusts” and that to combat this, news organisations must offer “serious reporting that […] carefully uncovers the facts”. Many Guardian readers will be left wondering how Viner’s decision to hire Sinmaz furthers that mission, and whether she is falling into the very trap of which she once warned.