George Clooney chose not to ignore the Daily Mail when the British tabloid published an online story about his fiancée's mother.
And he didn't sue them.
The public smackdown came after the British tabloid posted a story about Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, saying that Alamuddin’s mother disapproved of the match for religious reasons. Amal is a London-based human rights attorney who originates from Lebanon, where her father still resides.
For a tabloid magazine that is no stranger to celebrity gossip, they may have considered the story fairly safe and relatively run-of-the-mill to publish.
Clooney, however, didn’t think so. And after the op-ed ran, Clooney got an apology from the Daily Mail and they removed the story from their website, according to Time.com.
Clooney insists that none of the story is true, but that by itself doesn’t explain why he chose to take a public stand against this article in particular. In fact, Clooney writes that he is “used to the ‘Daily Mail’ making up stories” about him. So why does this one call for special action? If the story is so bad, he could just sue – J.K. Rowling and Elton John have both won libel suits against the paper.
Clooney says that he is speaking out for more important reasons.
According to Clooney, the Daily Mail article said that Alamuddin’s mother was a member of the Druze religion, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and that it was because of this that she was opposed to the marriage. Clooney denies that his future mother-in-law is Druze, and that she opposes the marriage, but he also says inaccuracy is not the real problem with the story.
This lie involves larger issues. The irresponsibility, in this day and age, to exploit religious differences where none exist, is at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous. We have family members all over the world, and the idea that someone would inflame any part of that world for the sole reason of selling papers should be criminal.”
Clooney’s outrage seems to be directed at the inflammatory comments made by the Daily Mail concerning the Druze religion and women, including jokes “about traditions in the Druze religion that end up with the death of the bride.”
As someone who follows Sudan closely, Clooney's concern may have been shaped by the situation faced by Meriam Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a Sudanese woman who was charged and convicted of betraying her father's faith, Islam, by marrying a Christian, and was set to be hanged. She was released by remains in legal limbo inside the US Embassy in Khartoum. Could Druze or Islamic extremists charge Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin with a similar "crime" for marrying outside her faith?
The actor, notes Time.com, is the son of retired broadcast journalist Nick Clooney, and as such, respects the right of free speech despite the "inconvenience" of invasions of his privacy. But Clooney says that inflammation of sensitive and personal topics such as religion just for the sake of selling papers is not just bad journalism – it’s dangerous, for both his family members and for the world.
The Daily Mail crossed a line, “far beyond just a laughable tabloid and into the arena of inciting violence,” writes Clooney.
The actor’s point resonates beyond a simple critique of bad or fabricated celebrity gossip - or even the Daily Mail. It's a not-so-veiled criticism of more reputable news institutions who picked up this story (and others) and referred to it or republished it widely on the Internet without proper fact-checking or follow-up reporting. He called out "Boston.com, New York Daily News, Gulf News, Emirates 24/7" for publishing the Daily Mail report.
Time.com reports that a MailOnline spokesman said that the “story was not a fabrication but supplied in good faith by a reputable and trusted freelance journalist … However, we accept Mr. Clooney’s assurance that the story is inaccurate and we apologize to him, Miss Amal Alamuddin and her mother, Baria, for any distress caused. We have removed the article from our website and will be contacting Mr. Clooney’s representatives to discuss giving him the opportunity to set the record straight.”
Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.