Indy editor-in-chief determined to appoint Liddle

The row over racist and sexist comments allegedly made by Rod Liddle continue. This blog has learnt that Independent editor-in-chief Simon Kelner still wants Liddle.

The heated row over racist and sexist comments allegedly made by controversial media pundit Rod Liddle have strengthened the desire of The Independent’s editor-in-chief Simon Kelner to appoint Liddle as editor of the flagship Independent title, Left Foot Forward has learnt.

Even after the Liddle row deepened this weekend, Simon Kelner has been telling people that the row is the best publicity that The Independent has had for years.

The publication of a large number of crude racist and sexually explicit comments, under Liddle’s user name on a Millwall supporters’ public forum, have been widely thought to have damaged his credentials as a potential editor of the serious liberal broadsheet. ┬áBut Kelner is increasingly determined to stick by his recommendation to potential new owner Alexander Lebedev that he should appoint Liddle as editor if, as widely anticipated, the Russian billionaire completes his purchase of the title shortly.

Simon Kelner has had a relatively low profile outside the media industry during more than a decade as editor then editor-in-chief of the Indy. His role in the Liddle affair may now come under increasing scrutiny given his apparent determination to make as controversial an appointment as possible as a way of getting the paper noticed.

Many media experts are sceptical as to how controversy generated by The Independent courting Liddle’s almost uniquely toxic public reputation could be translated into sustainable increases in circulation, as Kelner appears to believe, particularly when over 4,000 people have joined a Facebook group saying they would refuse to buy the paper if Liddle was editor.

Independent staff are making efforts to go beyond Simon Kelner to ensure that Alexander Lebedev and his advisors understand the level of staff and reader concern. Lebedev has relatively little knowledge of the British media scene having bought the Evening Standard only six months ago, so Kelner’s experience means his advice could prove decisive.

One senior Independent voice told Left Foot Forward that, if the Kelner gamble on Liddle is endorsed by Lebedev, senior staff believe that it could lead to the newspaper folding before the end of 2010.

Liddle claims that some of the comments have been made by somebody else, though he told the Mail on Sunday that “most” of the comments were his. He has tried to avoid being drawn into the details of his account of events, or over which of the comments under his username he claimed not to have made.

To date, he has only specifically denied making one comment – about black people having lower IQs than whites – after earlier retracting his denial to the Mail on Sunday of another crude and explicit race comment which he now admits making.

On the Guardian website on Monday, Liddle also admitted making comments on the talkboard about the Auschwitz concentration camp: these involved him attacking fans who complained that jokes about the gas chambers were in poor taste.

Perhaps most strikingly, there has been to date no significant mainstream reporting or commentary over the crude and often highly personal sexually explicit comments on women in the media made under Liddle’s online username. Surely, a newspaper should find out whether Liddle admits those comments. Even in 2010, there are not many senior women in British journalism; but making the author of those comments the editor of a national title would suggest a quite astonishing tolerance towards grossly offensive sexism at the top of the Independent.

Liddle this week accused veteran Guardian media reporter Roy Greenslade and bloggers highlighting his comments on the public forum of engaging in “fascism”.

Our guest writer is an concerned hack who wishes to remain anonymous

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