Two publications I don’t have much time for are The Sun and the Times Literary Supplement. Although I’m not from Liverpool or Manchester, as a lifelong Guardian reader I only ever flick through Rupert Murdoch’s flagship hatesheet over the occasional greasy spoon fry-up. As for the TLS, I already have enough on my hands with the London Review of Book’s biweekly 10,000 word articles on witchcraft in 13th century Romania. Also, the notion of an intellectual publication owned by the selfsame climate-lying Mugabe-resembling Trump surrogate Bond villain fails to convince.
Another thing that The Sun and the TLS have in common is leading personnel. The latter is now edited and ‘published’ by a character called Stig Abell. Strange name, dodgy geezer. Abell has been increasingly prominent of late. He’s very active on Twitter, where he entertains and enlightens his followers with remarks about subjects from Brexit to dog biscuits, and has also written the odd article for the New York Times. He also has a show on LBC, along with (ffs) Nigel Farage and (thank god) James O’Brien.
Until recently one of his colleagues at LBC was the far-right hate preacher Katie Hopkins. It wasn’t the first time they’ve worked together. As managing editor of The Sun he (presumably proudly) published a column by her in which she described refugees as cockroaches and called for them to be murdered en masse. He also oversaw The Sun’s coverage of the Hillsborough enquiry – or rather, didn’t, as the newspaper greeted its conclusions (that it has printed outright lies about the victims and survivors) by ignoring them altogether and refusing to apologise.
This q-and-a shows him to be articulate and seemingly thoughtful, but when it comes to answering specific questions his evasiveness and his cheerful ignorance of the things he’s employed to know about occasionally borders on the Trumpian. He finds Latin American literature ‘interesting’, likes wearing t-shirts and hasn’t read any Elena Ferrante, thinks post-modern writers are ‘just showing off’, is a fan of crime fiction (but can’t spell the name of his favourite writer) and feels that The Sun has nothing to apologise for. The impression of him as well-spoken but intellectually vapid is confirmed by other interviews in which it seems that he just wants to get on with his stellar career without too many awkward questions being asked, or as he puts it ‘without being disturbed by life’.
If his job is to promote the TLS, he doesn’t do a good job of it. In any case, the riddle of his meteoric rise remains, especially in the light of his failure to address the topic of, let alone apologise for, his direct role in the publication of some of the most hateful material seen in any British newspaper in living memory. How did someone of his limited intellectual means get to helm such an illustrious and (apparently) serious publication? One highly plausible solution is that he’s simply one of Murdoch’s favourite surrogate sons. Making him editor of the TLS is a bit like installing Eric Trump as head of NASA. Or it’s as if, I don’t know, Ivana Trump were to be put in charge of US climate policy. Oh wait, she has.