The Guardian’s editor: some background
Once upon a time, the Guardian lived up more fully to its ancient reputation as a snoot’s paradise: educating and elevating its sandal-eating, muesli-wearing demographic with weighty articles on weighty things that happened in Biafra or the TUC. Often written-off as a lightweight, Rusbridger was the Militant Tendency of the middlebrows. He had a feel for the popular, and he wasn’t afraid to follow it. He was the first guy to do “consumer journalism” in the Guardian - where should I go on holiday? What should I wear while I’m consuming that holiday? What insurance policy should I buy to protect what I’m wearing while I’m holidaying? The sort of stuff that seems pretty standard today, but in the context of what the paper was back then? Well, needless to say, haters hated.
Around the time Rusbridger was becoming editor, in 1995, the old left-rightism was already melting away into a soft lava lamp of Blair-Clinton Third Ways. Rusbridger, with his perfectly ovoid head unsullied by dogma, was well positioned to slip into a philosophy that history was creating: left, right - so long as we’re all getting richer, what does it matter? Thus, his ideology was that design items should get more rounded, and that we should all eat vegetables with Italian names. And it was the perfect ideology. These days his philosophy is that we should be able to google recipes for Italian vegetables without the government spying on us. Again, it is the perfect ideology for our time and as such he is becoming the hero of international anti-government internet liberals.
He began his career by having a cabinet minister - Jonathan Aitken - sent to jail for perjury after his libel case against the ‘paper collapsed. He continued by busting 90s punchline Neil Hamilton for accepting brown envelopes and stinging corporate blue whales like Trafigura and BAE Systems. These days he’s not so much going after whales but small galaxies, like the NSA. As a man who, as a cub reporter, once ran an expose on the head of his own orchestra, Al has proven himself both determined and determinedly unsentimental in his pursuit of a great story. Even if that means, as he announced this week, getting some big magnets and a hammer and punching the living daylights out of a MacBook in order to “destroy” NSA data and prevent it being handed back to the British government.
Vice’s story does miss one highlight of Rusbridger’s editorship. The attempt to influence the 2004 US Presidential election by getting Guardian readers to lobby Americans in a swing Ohio county. Backfired somewhat.