1821 to 1972
The Manchester Guardian was founded in Manchester in 1821 by cotton merchant John Edward Taylor with backing from the Little Circle, a group of non-conformist businessmen. They launched their paper after the police closure of the more radical Manchester Observer, a paper that had championed the cause of the Peterloo Massacre protesters. Taylor had been hostile to the radical reformers, writing: "They have appealed not to the reason but the passions and the suffering of their abused and credulous fellow-countrymen, from whose ill-requited industry they extort for themselves the means of a plentiful and comfortable existence. They do not toil, neither do they spin, but they live better than those that do." When the government closed down the Manchester Observer, the mill-owners' champions had the upper hand.
The influential journalist Jeremiah Garnett joined Taylor during the establishment of the paper, and all of the Little Circle wrote articles for the new paper.
The prospectus announcing the new publication proclaimed that it would "zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty […] warmly advocate the cause of Reform […] endeavour to assist in the diffusion of just principles of Political Economy and […] support, without reference to the party from which they emanate, all serviceable measures". In 1825 the paper merged with the British Volunteer and was known as The Manchester Guardian and British Volunteer until 1828.
The working-class Manchester and Salford Advertiser called the Manchester Guardian "the foul prostitute and dirty parasite of the worst portion of the mill-owners". The Manchester Guardian was generally hostile to labour's claims. Of the 1832 Ten Hours Bill, the paper doubted whether in view of the foreign competition "the passing of a law positively enacting a gradual destruction of the cotton manufacture in this kingdom would be a much less rational procedure." The Manchester Guardian dismissed strikes as the work of outside agitators: "[…] if an accommodation can be effected, the occupation of the agents of the Union is gone. They live on strife […]"
The Manchester Guardian was highly critical of US President Abraham Lincoln's conduct during the US Civil War (1861–65), writing on the news that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated: "Of his rule, we can never speak except as a series of acts abhorrent to every true notion of constitutional right and human liberty […]"
C. P. Scott
C. P. Scott made the newspaper nationally recognised. He was editor for 57 years from 1872, and became its owner when he bought the paper from the estate of Taylor's son in 1907. Under Scott, the paper's moderate editorial line became more radical, supporting William Gladstone when the Liberals split in 1886, and opposing the Second Boer War against popular opinion. Scott supported the movement for women's suffrage, but was critical of any tactics by the Suffragettes that involved direct action: "The really ludicrous position is that Mr Lloyd George is fighting to enfranchise seven million women and the militants are smashing unoffending people's windows and breaking up benevolent societies' meetings in a desperate effort to prevent him." Scott thought the Suffragettes' "courage and devotion" was "worthy of a better cause and saner leadership". It has been argued that Scott's criticism reflected a widespread disdain, at the time, for those women who "transgressed the gender expectations of Edwardian society".
Scott commissioned J. M. Synge and his friend Jack Yeats to produce articles and drawings documenting the social conditions of the west of Ireland (pre-First World War), and these pieces were published in 1911 in the collection Travels in Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara.
Scott's friendship with Chaim Weizmann played a role in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, and in 1948 The Manchester Guardian was a supporter of the new State of Israel.
In June 1936 ownership of the paper passed to the Scott Trust (named after the last owner, John Russell Scott, who was the first chairman of the Trust). This move ensured the paper's independence.
Spanish Civil War
Traditionally affiliated with the centrist to centre-left Liberal Party, and with a northern, non-conformist circulation base, the paper earned a national reputation and the respect of the left during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). George Orwell writes in Homage to Catalonia (1938): "Of our larger papers, the Manchester Guardian is the only one that leaves me with an increased respect for its honesty". With the pro-Liberal News Chronicle, the Labour-supporting Daily Herald, the Communist Party's Daily Worker and several Sunday and weekly papers, it supported the Republican government against General Francisco Franco's insurgent nationalists.
The paper's then editor, A. P. Wadsworth, so loathed Labour's left-wing champion Aneurin Bevan, who had made a reference to getting rid of "Tory Vermin" in a speech "and the hate-gospellers of his entourage" that it encouraged readers to vote Conservative and remove Attlee's post-war Labour government. The newspaper opposed the creation of the National Health Service as it feared the state provision of healthcare would "eliminate selective elimination" and lead to an increase of congenitally deformed and feckless people.
The Manchester Guardian strongly opposed military intervention during the 1956 Suez Crisis: "The Anglo-French ultimatum to Egypt is an act of folly, without justification in any terms but brief expediency. It pours petrol on a growing fire. There is no knowing what kind of explosion will follow."
On 24 August 1959, The Manchester Guardian changed its name to The Guardian. This change reflected the growing prominence of national and international affairs in the newspaper. In September 1961, The Guardian, which had previously only been published in Manchester, began to be printed in London.
1972 to 2000
Northern Ireland conflict
When 13 civil rights demonstrators in Northern Ireland were killed by British soldiers on 30 January 1972 (known as Bloody Sunday), The Guardian said that "Neither side can escape condemnation." Of the protesters, they wrote, "The organizers of the demonstration, Miss Bernadette Devlin among them, deliberately challenged the ban on marches. They knew that stone throwing and sniping could not be prevented, and that the IRA might use the crowd as a shield." Of the army, they wrote, "there seems little doubt that random shots were fired into the crowd, that aim was taken at individuals who were neither bombers nor weapons carriers and that excessive force was used".
Many Irish people believed that the Widgery Tribunal's ruling on the killings was a whitewash, a view that was later supported with the publication of the Saville inquiry in 2010, but in 1972 The Guardian declared that "Widgery's report is not one-sided" (20 April 1972). At the time the paper also supported internment without trial in Northern Ireland: "Internment without trial is hateful, repressive and undemocratic. In the existing Irish situation, most regrettably, it is also inevitable... .To remove the ringleaders, in the hope that the atmosphere might calm down, is a step to which there is no obvious alternative." Before then, The Guardian had called for British troops to be sent to the region: British soldiers could "present a more disinterested face of law and order," but only on condition that "Britain takes charge."
In 1983 the paper was at the centre of a controversy surrounding documents regarding the stationing of cruise missiles in Britain that were leaked to The Guardian by civil servant Sarah Tisdall. The paper eventually complied with a court order to hand over the documents to the authorities, which resulted in a six-month prison sentence for Tisdall, though she served only four. "I still blame myself," said Peter Preston, who was the editor of The Guardian at the time, but he went on to argue that the paper had no choice because it "believed in the rule of law".
First Gulf War
In the lead-up to the first Gulf War, between 1990 and 1991, The Guardian expressed doubts about military action against Iraq: "Frustration in the Gulf leads temptingly to the invocation of task forces and tactical bombing, but the military option is no option at all. The emergence yesterday of a potential hostage problem of vast dimensions only emphasised that this is far too complex a crisis for gunboat diplomacy. Loose talk of 'carpet bombing' Baghdad should be put back in the bottle of theoretical but unacceptable scenarios."
First Gulf War Plaque, Stafford War Memorial
But on the eve of the war, the paper rallied to the war cause: "The simple cause, at the end, is just. An evil regime in Iraq instituted an evil and brutal invasion. Our soldiers and airmen are there, at UN behest, to set that evil to rights. Their duties are clear. ... Let the momentum, and the resolution, be swift." After the event, journalist Maggie O'Kane conceded that she and her colleagues had been a mouthpiece for war propaganda: "... we, the media, were harnessed like 2,000 beach donkeys and led through the sand to see what the British and US military wanted us to see in this nice clean war".
Alleged penetration by Russian intelligence
In 1994, KGB defector Oleg Gordievsky identified Guardian literary editor Richard Gott as "an agent of influence". While Gott denied that he received cash, he admitted he had had lunch at the Soviet Embassy and had taken benefits from the KGB on overseas visits. Gott resigned from his post.
Gordievsky commented on the newspaper: "The KGB loved The Guardian. It was deemed highly susceptible to penetration."
In 1995, both the Granada Television programme World In Action and The Guardian were sued for libel by the then cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, for their allegation that Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed had paid for Aitken and his wife to stay at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, which would have amounted to accepting a bribe on Aitken's part. Aitken publicly stated that he would fight with "the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play". The court case proceeded, and in 1997 The Guardian produced evidence that Aitken's claim of his wife paying for the hotel stay was untrue. In 1999, Aitken was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
The paper supported NATO's military intervention in the Kosovo War in 1998–1999. The Guardian stated that "the only honourable course for Europe and America is to use military force". Mary Kaldor's piece was headlined "Bombs away! But to save civilians, we must get in some soldiers too."
senior news writer Esther Addley interviewing Ecuadorian foreign minister Ricardo Patiño
for an article relating to Julian Assange
In the early 2000s, The Guardian challenged the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Treason Felony Act 1848. In October 2004, The Guardian published a humorous column by Charlie Brooker in its entertainment guide, which appeared to call for the assassination of George W. Bush. This caused some controversy and the paper was forced to issue an apology and remove the article from its website. Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, The Guardian published an article on its comment pages by Dilpazier Aslam, a 27-year-old British Muslim and journalism trainee from Yorkshire. Aslam was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group, and had published a number of articles on their website. According to the paper, it did not know that Aslam was a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir when he applied to become a trainee, though several staff members were informed of this once he started at the paper. The Home Office has claimed the group's "ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic state (Caliphate), according to Hizb ut-Tahrir via non-violent means". The Guardian asked Aslam to resign his membership of the group and, when he did not do so, terminated his employment. In early 2009, the paper started a tax investigation into a number of major UK companies, including publishing a database of the tax paid by the FTSE 100 companies. Internal documents relating to Barclays Bank's tax avoidance were removed from The Guardian website after Barclays obtained a gagging order. The paper played a pivotal role in exposing the depth of the News of the World phone hacking affair. The Economist's Intelligent Life magazine opined that...
Accusations of anti-Semitism and bias in coverage of Israel
In recent decades The Guardian has been accused of biased criticism of Israeli government policy and of bias against the Palestinians. In December 2003, columnist Julie Burchill cited "striking bias against the state of Israel" as one of the reasons she left the paper for The Times. A leaked report from the European Monitoring Centre on Racism cited The Economist's claim that for "many British Jews," the British media's reporting on Israel "is spiced with a tone of animosity, 'as to smell of anti-Semitism' ... This is above all the case with the Guardian and The Independent". The EU said the report, dated February 2003, was not published because it was insubstantial in its current state and lacking sufficient evidence.
Responding to these accusations, a Guardian editorial in 2002 condemned anti-Semitism and defended the paper's right to criticise the policies and actions of the Israeli government, arguing that those who view such criticism as inherently anti-Jewish are mistaken. Harriet Sherwood, then The Guardian's foreign editor, later its Jerusalem correspondent, has also denied that The Guardian has an anti-Israel bias, saying that the paper aims to cover all viewpoints in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
On 6 November 2011, Chris Elliott, the Guardian's readers' editor, wrote that "Guardian reporters, writers and editors must be more vigilant about the language they use when writing about Jews or Israel," citing recent cases where The Guardian received complaints regarding language chosen to describe Jews or Israel. Elliott noted that, over nine months, he upheld complaints regarding language in certain articles that were seen as anti-Semitic, revising the language and footnoting this change.
The Guardian's style guide section referred to Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel in 2012. The Guardian later clarified: "In 1980, the Israeli Knesset enacted a law designating the city of Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, as the country's capital. In response, the UN security council issued resolution 478, censuring the "change in character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem" and calling on all member states with diplomatic missions in the city to withdraw. The UN has reaffirmed this position on several occasions, and almost every country now has its embassy in Tel Aviv. While it was therefore right to issue a correction to make clear Israel's designation of Jerusalem as its capital is not recognised by the international community, we accept that it is wrong to state that Tel Aviv – the country's financial and diplomatic centre – is the capital. The style guide has been amended accordingly."
On 11 August 2014 the print edition of The Guardian published a pro-Israeli advocacy advert during the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict featuring Elie Wiesel, headed by the words "Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it's Hamas' turn." The Times had decided against running the ad, although it had already appeared in major American newspapers. One week later, Chris Elliott expressed the opinion that the newspaper should have rejected the language used in the advert and should have negotiated with the advertiser on this matter.
In August 2004, for the US presidential election, the daily G2 supplement launched an experimental letter-writing campaign in Clark County, Ohio, an average-sized county in a swing state. The editor of the G2 supplement Ian Katz bought a voter list from the county for $25 and asked readers to write to people listed as undecided in the election, giving them an impression of the international view and the importance of voting against President George W. Bush. The paper scrapped "Operation Clark County" on 21 October 2004 after first publishing a column of responses—nearly all of them outraged—to the campaign under the headline "Dear Limey assholes." Some commentators suggested that the public's dislike of the campaign contributed to Bush's victory in Clark County.
In 2007, the paper launched Guardian America, an attempt to capitalise on its large online readership in the United States, which at the time stood at more than 5.9 million. The company hired former American Prospect editor, New York magazine columnist and New York Review of Books writer Michael Tomasky to head the project and hire a staff of American reporters and web editors. The site featured news from The Guardian that was relevant to an American audience: coverage of US news and the Middle East, for example.
Tomasky stepped down from his position as editor of Guardian America in February 2009, ceding editing and planning duties to other US and London staff. He retained his position as a columnist and blogger, taking the title editor-at-large.
In October 2009, the company abandoned the Guardian America homepage, instead directing users to a US news index page on the main Guardian website. The following month, the company laid off six American employees, including a reporter, a multimedia producer and four web editors. The move came as Guardian News and Media opted to reconsider its US strategy amid a huge effort to cut costs across the company. In subsequent years, however, The Guardian has hired various commentators on US affairs including Ana Marie Cox, Michael Wolff, Naomi Wolf, Glenn Greenwald and George W. Bush's former speechwriter Josh Treviño. Treviño's first blog post was an apology for a controversial tweet posted in June 2011 over the second Gaza flotilla, the controversy which had been revived by the appointment.
Guardian US launched in September 2011, led by editor-in-chief Janine Gibson, which replaced the previous Guardian America service. After a period during which Katharine Viner served as the US editor-in-chief before taking charge of Guardian News and Media as a whole, Viner's former deputy, Lee Glendinning, was appointed to succeed her as head of the American operation at the beginning of June 2015.
Gagged from reporting Parliament
In October 2009, The Guardian reported that it was forbidden to report on a parliamentary matter – a question recorded in a Commons order paper, to be answered by a minister later that week. The paper noted that it was being "forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented—for the first time in memory—from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret. The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck." The paper further claimed that this case appears "to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights". The only parliamentary question mentioning Carter-Ruck in the relevant period was by Paul Farrelly MP, in reference to legal action by Barclays and Trafigura. The part of the question referencing Carter-Ruck relates to the latter company's September 2009 gagging order on the publication of a 2006 internal report into the 2006 Côte d'Ivoire toxic waste dump scandal, which involved a class action case that the company only settled in September 2009 after The Guardian published some of the commodity trader's internal emails. The reporting injunction was lifted the next day, as Carter-Ruck withdrew it before The Guardian could challenge it in the High Court. Alan Rusbridger credited the rapid back-down of Carter-Ruck to Twitter, as did a BBC article.
Edward Snowden leaks and intervention by the UK government
In June 2013, the newspaper broke news of the secret collection of Verizon telephone records held by Barack Obama's administration and subsequently revealed the existence of the PRISM surveillance program after it was leaked to the paper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The newspaper was subsequently contacted by the British government's Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, under instruction from Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who ordered that the hard drives containing the information be destroyed. The Guardian's offices were then visited in July by agents from the UK's GCHQ, who supervised the destruction of the hard drives containing information acquired from Snowden. In June 2014 The Register reported that the information the government sought to suppress by destroying the hard drives related to the location of a "beyond top secret" internet monitoring base in Seeb, Oman, and the close involvement of BT and Cable & Wireless in intercepting internet communications. Julian Assange criticised the newspaper for not publishing the entirety of the content when it had the chance.
Manafort–Assange secret meetings
In a November 2018 Guardian article Luke Harding and Dan Collyns cited anonymous sources which stated that Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret meetings with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2013, 2015, and 2016. One reporter characterized the story, "If it’s right, it might be the biggest get this year. If it’s wrong, it might be the biggest gaffe." Manafort and Assange both denied ever having met with the latter threatening legal action against The Guardian. Ecuador's London consul Fidel Narváez, who had worked at Ecuador's embassy in London from 2010 to July 2018, denied that Manafort's visits had happened.