It takes a celebrity both brave and secure in their own status to first demand an apology from the media behemoth that is the Daily Mail empire and then reject that apology as insincere and deceitful. Unfortunately for the Mail, George Clooney is both those things.
Further escalating his three-day showdown with the British newspaper and its entertainment-based website, Mail Online, now the world's most-read internet paper, Clooney on Friday aggressively dismissed the title as "the worst kind of tabloid".
Giving a statement to USA Today, the actor and director rejected a rare apology offered by the Mail earlier this week, and accused the tabloid of a "premeditated lie" and being engaged in a coverup.
The confrontation began on Wednesday when Clooney demanded a retraction after Mail Online said the Lebanese mother of his fiancee, Amal Alamuddin, objected to the pair's impending marriage on religious grounds.
At the time, Clooney said the article was entirely confected, and was designed to stir up non-existent religious differences in a celebrity story. It was "at the very least negligent and more appropriately dangerous," Clooney complained.
The Mail, which had reprinted a truncated version of the online piece in print, almost immediately apologised. But the newspaper's managing editor Charles Garside went on to say that the sources for its Clooney story, while wrong, were credible, having been based on "conversations with senior members of the Lebanese community".
This response only served to infuriate Clooney further. He said that the article complained of did not cite the Lebanese community as its sources, but instead "a family friend" – effectively accusing the Mail of changing its story.
His statement on Friday added: "The problem is that none of that is true," pointing to what he said were inconsistencies in the statement source, saying: "So either they were lying originally or they're lying now."
He wrote: "So I thank the Mail for its apology. Not that I would ever accept it, but because in doing so they've exposed themselves as the worst kind of tabloid. One that makes up its facts to the detriment of its readers and to all the publications that blindly reprint them."
So intense was Clooney's second outburst that the Mail unusually chose not to comment. It is understood to want to avoid a tit-for-tat battle with the Hollywood A-lister while an internal investigation into the story continues.
Clooney is not the only star on the warpath against the title. The actor Angelina Jolie has reportedly begun legal action after Mail Online published a video from the 1990s purporting to show her involved in heroin use.
The row comes less than a year after a confrontation between the tabloid and Labour leader Ed Miliband, who complained when the paper called his late father, the Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband, "The man who hated Britain".
But while the paper set out to provoke the Labour leader, the public dispute with Clooney stems from the Mail Online site. In the past, experts say, major celebrities could partly ignore the British tabloid press, but this has become less of an option when faced by a global player like Mail Online, with around 11 million readers a day, well over half of them outside the UK.
Increasing numbers of stars have opted, like Clooney, to rubbish the messenger, said Mark Borkowski, a veteran PR expert. "Mail Online has taken things to a new level, and it's difficult to defend against it beyond having strong-arm tactics from lawyers, but that becomes very expensive. Some stars are now taking the opportunity to be aggressive by trying to cause reputational damage to the integrity of the site. But do you know what? Readers don't really care."
The challenge for Mail Online is how to guarantee accuracy on a website which maintains its huge readership by producing hundreds of photo-heavy articles a day. Figures from the Press Complaints Commission show that between 2011 and 2013 the Mail saw more than twice as many confirmed code of practice breaches than any other paper. The Mail says this is mainly down to the huge story volume on its website.
Dominic Ponsford, editor of the Press Gazette trade publication, said there is a distinction between the Daily Mail, where the stories are carefully checked and put to subjects before publication, and Mail Online. "I don't think it's particularly in the culture of the people there to be making phone calls and doing extra checks," he said. "Most people's job is to repackage stuff."
However, both the site and the paper have fallen out with a series of public figures, with some disputes going to the courts. "The Mail is probably the paper which pays out most frequently in libel damages," said Ponsford. "To a certain extent they take it on the chin as a cost of doing business."
Recent libel actions include significant damages to Harry Potter author JK Rowling in May after the Mail said she had recounted a misleading "sob story" for a charity article, and a £125,000 payout last year to Sally Morgan, a TV and theatre psychic which the title falsely accused of using a hidden earpiece to trick audiences.
But there are also feuds generated mainly by differences of opinion, with some celebrities and politicians objecting to the title's polemical rightwing stance. Into this camp fall the likes of Stephen Fry, who labelled the paper "wrong about everything" when it criticised his political activism.
Borkowski offers advice to all those trying to face down the might of the Mail: firstly be realistic, then take the long view.
"A story like the George Clooney one is like an unwanted tattoo," he said. "Even if you spend a lot of money trying to laser it off Google the scar remains. These things don't disappear. You've got to have a rhino-like hide.
"And you've got to be patient. You've got to realise that as a public figure it's a series of ongoing battles, and not until your career's over do you have a view of whether you won the war. It's like the French revolution – it's too early to say yet."
JK Rowling: Received an apology and significant damages after the Mail said she had confected a "sob story" for a charity article
Paul Weller: Awarded £10,000 for his children from Mail Online after it posted photos of a family day out
Sally Morgan: The psychic won £125,000 in damages after the Mail falsely said she used a hidden earpiece in a theatre show
Neil Morrissey: There were "substantial" damages for the actor after the paper wrongly reported that he had been banned from a French bar for drunkenness
Parameswaran Subramanyam: The Tamil hunger striker sued after the Mail falsely reported that he had eaten in secret.
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