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."