A bitter row over alleged censorship at The Guardian grew last night as it emerged a piece written by David Hockney was discussed at the highest level before being refused by the paper.
In the piece, described by Hockney as a letter, the 82-year-old wrote: ‘Now we have Covid-19, and surprise, surprise, a lot of reports are coming out saying that smokers rarely get it. Could there be something in this?’
Artist David Gower (pictured) told the Daily Mail that the Guardian refused to publish a letter written by him outlining his opinion that smokers could protect people from coronavirus
Following claims the daily newspaper had decided not to run the work, a Guardian spokesman said: ‘We are not aware of recently receiving a letter from David Hockney.’
But the Daily Mail now understands that Hockney’s article was discussed by a number of senior members of staff including the newspaper’s editor before being rejected.
Hockney was told that The Guardian would not publish the letter because the claims he made that smoking could protect people from coronavirus were ‘pretty questionable’.
The artist was told his opinion ‘would leave [The Guardian] and [Hockney] open to the charge that we’re spreading misinformation’.
Hockney condemned The Guardian’s decision as ‘cowardly’ and claimed the newspaper ‘cannot face’ aspects of his argument.
Hockney has been a smoker since the age of 16 but his letter was rejected by the Guardian newspaper as it risked spreading misinformation to the public
‘It’s shocking that their agenda doesn’t allow them to engage in open debate on this,’ he said.
Hockney wrote in yesterday’s Daily Mail that he has smoked since he was 16 and ‘the only time I gave up for a while was in 1969 because the person I lived with then didn’t like it’.
While speaking exclusively to Mail+ in his first ever Zoom interview, Hockney told Daily Mail Editor Geordie Greig: ‘I wrote that letter to The Guardian and The Guardian has an agenda and that’s what contradicted their agenda, I think. They were cowardly about it I think.’
It is understood that Hockney responded directly to The Guardian’s refusal to publish his work by telling the newspaper: ‘I think you’re terrible.’
The artist added: ‘You’re part of the terrible demonisation of tobacco that has gone on in England too long.’
Hockney (pictured) spoke exclusively to Mail+ in a Zoom call with Daily Mail editor Geordie Greig
The artist, who created the artwork ‘Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy’ (above), has called the Guardian newspaper ‘terrible’ and ‘cowardly’ for not publishing his argument
Defending his viewpoint to the Mail, Hockney pointed out that Greece has seen one of the lowest coronavirus death rates in Europe despite having an above average number of smokers.
He also said: ‘I can remember a time when the first reports of smoking and cancer were published, they also thought it might be petroleum fumes, but they went after the easier option: cigarettes.
‘Who would have given up cars in 1950 – everybody wanted one?’
Hockney’s theory that smoking could prevent coronavirus has split opinion.
Previously Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It is abundantly clear… that smoking makes the impact of coronavirus worse.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock disagreed with Hockney’s point of view, by saying that the impact of coronavirus is worse for smokers
And Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty advised: ‘If you are going to give up smoking, this is a very good moment to do it.’
But scientists at Paris hospital Pitie-Salpetriere said they planned to give nicotine patches to key workers to test the theory it could be a preventative ‘treatment’.
That came after a study found that just 5 per cent of 482 Covid-19 patients spoken to were daily smokers, despite the fact that a quarter of French adults smoke.
Research in France and China claimed that nicotine could prevent the virus from reaching certain cells in the body and stop the body’s immune system from overreacting
Neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, who reviewed the study, said he believes nicotine could stop the virus reaching certain cells and prevent the body’s immune system overreacting. The findings echoed similar discoveries made in China.
But an analysis of 11,590 Covid-19 cases by researchers at the University of California found the risk of disease progression for current and ex-smokers was nearly double that of non-smokers. They were also more likely to die.
A Guardian spokesman said: ‘Our letters desk had no record of receiving a letter from Mr Hockney.
On further investigation, it appears he offered an article to another Guardian department, which we politely declined.’