After Andrew Neil suffered his on-air meltdown when confronted with Owen Jones’ refusal to be a good little boy and shut up, his problems began to grow, multiply even. The debate over the increasingly alt-right Spectator and some of the views it has published recently has intensified. Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr has seen evidence that Neil does indeed interfere in the magazine’s content. So out have come the excuses.
First with the apologia has been Nick Cohen, who, as a defender of Ms Cadwalladr’s journalism, must find himself in one of those Very Difficult Positions right now. “As I see the tutus are fluttering among the Twitter corps de ballet, can I say that I have worked for @FraserNelson for years and he has never told me what to write. Indeed he has allowed me to abuse his dearest friends and closet political allies without restraint” he has asserted grandly. And he had more to say on the subject.
“As for @afneil, he's never even spoken to me about my writing for @spectator. Mussolini was once asked whether it was difficult governing Italians. ‘Not difficult, just pointless’ he replied. My ambition is that all my editors will say the same of me”. He was then joined by Alex Massie, who might have been best advised keeping schtum.
“For what little it may be worth, I concur. @frasernelson is occasionally exasperated by what I write but he nonetheless encourages dissent & in ten years has never issued me instructions. The Spectator’s view is found in the editorial column, not mine … I sometimes consider that view eccentric but there are few publications that actively encourage blue-on-blue action like The Spectator does. As for @afneil, I am sensible enough to avoid being disobliging about Paisley but that is the limit of his influence”.
Let’s pick the bones out of all that. Neither Cohen nor Massie denies that their content may have been subject to amendment. Neither of them denies that Neil may have interfered in the running of the magazine. There is a yawning chasm between “never told me what to write” and “never issued me instructions” and the taking of the editor’s pen to an article - or, indeed, refusal to publish. And Peter Jukes of Byline Media had more on that subject.
“So @alexmassie says @FraserNelson has never told him what to say in 10 years. So who did get him to change his ‘Day of Infamy’ piece about Jo Cox, amending references to @michaelgove and @BorisJohnson? Was it @afneil? Historians will look hard at that moment in British politics”. Another of those Very Difficult positions for Massie.
The article Jukes references underwent a significant transformation between its original version and the final one. Three substantial paragraphs were deleted - in their entirety - with three rather less substantial ones inserted in their place. Massie’s sentiments were very clearly watered down. Did he volunteer to do the watering down himself, with no external prompting? Did he suddenly and spontaneously have second thoughts?
More pertinently, are we expected to believe that he was not leaned on to tone down the rhetoric by the management of a magazine for whom that rhetoric would have proved uncomfortable in the run-up to a referendum in which it had backed the Leave side?
No prizes for guessing where my Occam’s Razor is pointing right now. Cohen and Massie are trying just a little too hard to defend Brillo. And it’s not working.
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