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April 5, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:36am

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson claims power of editors ‘comically overstated’ in 500th issue under his editorship

By James Walker

Fraser Nelson has argued the power of editors over writers is “comically overstated” in a column marking his 500th issue as Spectator editor.

His comments, featured in this week’s magazine, follows criticism of Nelson and several of the Spectator’s regular writers – particularly Rod Liddle, Taki and Brendan O’Neill.

The Spectator and Liddle were criticised after he wrote that there was “not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party” in a column for the title last August.

The passage was removed from the standfirst but is still in the body of the article.

A Taki column headlined “In praise of the Wehrmacht” published in May 2018, sparked a another backlash on social media that led to the online headline being changed to “The other side of D-Day”.

In the Spectator this week, Nelson wrote: “The power of editors is comically overstated. I’m struck by the number of politicians who imagine that there’s a hierarchy: that editors shape the opinions of columnists who, in turn, shape opinions of readers.

“The truth, I’m afraid, is that the hierarchy works in the other way. People like reading well-argued pieces with which they might disagree.

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“Editors and writers alike serve at the pleasure of those readers. If they find writers boring, unoriginal, repetitive hectoring then they stop buying the publication and choose another.”

He added that editors could “hire or fire columnists” or “steer them towards a topic (or away from one)” but that no editor tells columnists what to say.

“And if what they write causes a stir,” he wrote, “our job is to defend to the death their right to say it.”

He went on to add that several Spectator readers had asked him not to “tone down” Rod Liddle.

Nelson has sat in the Spectator editor’s chair for 10 years, replacing Matthew d’Ancona in 2009.

The magazine now has a circulation of more than 100,000 copies per issue, according to the latest ABC figures.

Picture: Policy Exchange/Flickr

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