Editor Rod Liddle?

What the blogosphere makes of the prospect of Rod Liddle editing the Indie

It might be a return to the editorial big time for the columnist and controversialist Rod Liddle, if the papers are to be believed. Media Guardian reported on Friday that:

The Sunday Times and Spectator columnist is understood to be the favoured candidate [for the editorship of the Independent] of the Russian businessman and London Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev if he succeeds in buying the paper in the next few weeks.

There are lots of "ifs" involved, obviously -- Lebedev has yet to buy the beleaguered titles, and there's the small matter of the existing editor, Roger Alton.

But when has uncertainty ever stopped a good bit of debate, speculation and outrage?

A Facebook group, called "If Rod Liddle becomes editor of the Independent, I will not buy it again", already has 878 members at the time of posting, so I think it's safe to say it's not a hugely popular prospect among Indie readers.

Alex Higgins, who set up the group, writes:

Rod Liddle would be a disappointing choice for the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail. For the Independent, it represents a direct affront to the readership . . .

. . . Independent readers deserve some respect -- the appointment of Rod Liddle is a clear act of contempt. If we wanted to read aggressive, bigoted, sarcastic ignorance, we would buy the Daily Express.

In particular, he takes issue with Liddle's past comments on women (who could forget the Harriet Harman "would you?" incident?) and race (he defended himself on this count on our blog). Higgins also makes the valid point that a defining feature of the Independent is its extensive coverage of global warming and other environmental issues -- sometimes, in the past, in defiance of the mainstream news agenda. Liddle has denied the evidence for the anthropogenic global warming theory.

It's probably fair to point out that, as editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Liddle increased the show's audience to roughly seven million and took criticism in his stride as part of the job. This is fortunate, as the signs are that those at the Indie are no happier than the Facebook vigilantes about the possibility of his rule. The Guardian report points out that the Independent on Sunday called Weekend, Liddle's short-lived political programme for the BBC, "the worst programme anywhere, ever, in the history of time".

Sunder Katwala points out that Liddle courts controversy in the eyes of the public, but even apart from staff opinion is the problem posed by his lack of experience in the newspaper world.

Guido Fawkes also weighs into the debate. He, too, opposes the idea, but (predictably) is not aligned with the Indie's core readership. Instead, he says, Lebedev should appoint Matthew d'Ancona and

. . . move the Indie from the Guardian-dominated liberal-left space to the market opportunity on the liberal right.

I'm not so sure about this -- that would leave just the Guardian representing centre-left opinion in the mainstream press, and it's important to maintain a balance. It does prompt the question, though: Is anyone in favour of Rod Liddle being editor? Are you listening, Mr Lebedev? What's going on in there?

In the proliferation of tweets on the matter, I haven't yet seen a single positive one, although this caught my eye: "On the plus side, he might have less time to churn out tedious and reactionary articles."

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.