Another piece of I have written for Jason Walsh's brilliant Forth.ie web magazine
THE news that Islamophobic, climate change-denying, radical anti-feminist and self-proclaimed sectarian columnist Rod Liddle is first choice to take the editorial reins at Britain’s Independent newspaper might at first sight be the kind of storm in the liberal intelligentsia teacup the man himself loves bashing most.
As a Sunday Times and Spectator columnist, Liddle has manufactured a successful niche as the ‘go to’ gobshite for knee-jerk right wing cack since his resignation from the editorship of BBC Radio 4’s flagship morning news programme Today in 2002.
In the intervening time he has accused radical feminism of leaving Britain with a generation of single mothers, confessed to being a fan of Rangers football club on purely sectarian grounds and decried climate change evidence on the basis that it’s snowing where he lives.
However, in the last weeks of 2009 he hit the controversialist trail with a vengeance and with the kind of brass neck which, to borrow a phrase from Hunter S Thompson, would even have seen Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and the assorted loons at Fox News standing behind him whistling and revolving fingers around their temples in the international sign of the fruit loop.
On his Spectator blog in November he first accused Celtic fans of singing rebel songs during the minute silence for Remembrance Day inside the ground at Falkirk. The song - ill-advisedly - sung was actually about Aidan McAnespie and was being sung outside the ground by a small number of hammer throwers that follow the club (that I, incidentally, support). Ultimately, it set a record for getting things wrong in only two paragraphs.
But trump this poorly reported and ill-judged nonsense he could, first with a piece (right) which sensitively opened with: ‘Time for a quick update on what the Muslim savages are up to.’ It’s not exactly up there with the great opening pars of credible journalism but could be argued to fit with the sensitivities of those who frequent the blog of the Spectator.
However, he then out did it with a piece written from his rented rural 18th Century Wiltshire farmhouse which erroneously stated that the legacy of unfettered immigration has led to the majority of serious crime in London being perpetrated by young black men of African and/ or Caribbean origin. As one poster to the forum of The Word magazine said: ‘Say what you want about Rod Liddle, but he never makes life easy for himself.’
All three pieces illustrated the hysterical short form opinionated rubbish which is beginning to characterise the blogosphere of supposed prestigious news organisations.
The template seems to be: get a rent-a-gub and give them free rein to antagonise sections of the public and then revel in the shit storm of even more tedious rebuttals/ agreements which sink to the same low of the original post all the while garnering thousands of unique page visitors and whatever online ad revenue they may accrue . It couldn’t be further away from the high minded narratives of the democratic role of the media which has buttressed generations of journalism ideology.
But there are other reasons to oppose Liddle as editor of the Indie.
One is that, although bearing a name which evokes a cut price German grocer, Liddle has skilfully become a kind of Waitrose or Browne Thomas version of Richard Littlejohn - the Daily Mail’s Tesco own brand faux working class, anti-intellectual, right wing, elf and safety Nazi baiting, firebrand loon.
The only difference between the two is that Liddle rarely publishes apologies, Littlejohn has the grace to commit many to print.
Liddle may write for the prestigious old journalism marques of the Speccie and The Times, but his shtick is of the decidedly new school, disingenuous sub-White Van Man variety.
It’s the kind of cack which sees Jeremy Clarkson qualified to denounce literally anything that he may perceive to be liberal, lefty or intellectual. Theirs is a damaging baggage of cultural inverted snobbery writ large and prospering in a national media, which in an era of declining sales, hits the outrage button rather too easily.
So why has any of this anything to do with the Independent? Well, the Indie for many of its faults (overwhelmingly metropolitan, steadfastly high brow, often boring and humourless) is still a newspaper which tries to do the right thing journalistically. It’s stoic in its centrism and tries to give a voice to as many commentators from across the political divide as possible – it brings together columnists as diametrically opposed as the right winger Bruce Anderson, the multi-culturalist Yasmin Alhibai-Brown and the incorrigibly left wing comedian Mark Steel. A Liddle-helmed Independent would perhaps challenge that ethos and we in Britain would be worse off for it.
Why? Well, despite declining sales (less than 100k at full price, currently), the Indie is one of only three national papers without a Tory bias. We seem to have reverted to the dark days in British journalism that the academic and author Jeremy Tunstall pointed to in his wonderful book Newspaper Power in 1996. He illustrated that by the mid 1990s, despite there being only a few points between the Tories and Labour, the press was 72% Tory leaning (in terms of daily and Sunday sales).
A perpetuation of that kind of narrow political discourse is even more damaging in the current era of media feeding frenzy when the broadcast organisations slavishly comment on the agendas of the print sector.
Getting Liddle in to edit the Indie (however small the circulation) may see a further homogenisation of the political comment available in Britain. It’ll either send Indie readers scurrying to the blogosphere where their voices will become lost in a cacophony of hysterical spleen venting or, more damagingly, they’ll just do what many others have done which is to simply switch off. In the long-term, despite possible short term gains, it will further diminish the power of news organisations to set a rational agenda.
Right, I’m off to attack a Muslim terrorist humming Sean South ushering in Sharia law by writing a fact-free two par blog entry. Post your replies...