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The Spectator caused controversy in 1994 when it printed an article entitled “Kings of the Deal” on a claimed Jewish influence in Hollywood, written by William Cash, who at the time was based in Los Angeles and working mainly for The Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph had considered the article too risky to publish, but Lawson thought Cash’s idea was as old as Hollywood itself and that his (Lawson’s) being Jewish would mitigate adverse reactions to publication. There was, however, considerable controversy. Although owner Conrad Black did not personally rebuke Lawson, Max Hastings, then editor of The Daily Telegraph, wrote with regard to Black, who also owned The Jerusalem Post at the time, “It was one of the few moments in my time with Conrad when I saw him look seriously rattled: ‘You don’t understand, Max. My entire interests in the United States and internationally could be seriously damaged by this’.”
The article was defended by some conservatives. John Derbyshire, who says he has “complicated and sometimes self-contradictory feelings about Jews”, wrote on National Review Online regarding what he saw as the Jewish overreaction to the article that “It was a display of arrogance, cruelty, ignorance, stupidity, and sheer bad manners by rich and powerful people towards a harmless, helpless young writer, and the Jews who whipped up this preposterous storm should all be thoroughly ashamed of themselves”.
Lawson left in 1995 to become editor of The Sunday Telegraph, and was replaced by a deputy editor of the same newspaper, Frank Johnson. After the 1997 election, Johnson averted a decline in The Spectator’s sales by recruiting “New Labour contributors”, and shifting the magazine’s direction slightly away from politics. In 1996 the paper featured an interview with The Spice Girls, in which the band members gave their “Euro-sceptic and generally anti-labour” views on politics. Shortly before her death Diana, Princess of Wales was depicted on the magazine’s cover as the figurehead of Mohamed Al-Fayed’s boat, the Jonikal.
Before joining The Spectator as editor, Johnson had worked for The Times, the Wolverhampton Express & Star, and The Daily Telegraph. He had also briefly been political commentator for The Spectator under Dominic Lawson, but Frank Johnson replaced him with Bruce Anderson in 1995. Succeeding Frank Johnson in 1999, Johnson soon established himself as a competent and “colourful” editor.
In the 2001 general election he was elected MP for Henley, and by 2004 had been made vice-chairman of the Conservative party, with a place in Michael Howard’s shadow cabinet. In 2003 he explained his editorial policy for The Spectator would “always be roughly speaking in favour of getting rid of Saddam, sticking up for Israel, free-market economics, expanding choice” and that the magazine was “not necessarily a Thatcherite Conservative or a neo-conservative magazine, even though in our editorial coverage we tend to follow roughly the conclusions of those lines of arguments”.
In October 2004, a Spectator editorial suggested that the death of the hostage Kenneth Bigley was being over-sentimentalized by the people of Liverpool, accusing them of indulging in a “vicarious victimhood” and of possessing a “deeply unattractive psyche”.’ Johnson had not written the leader but, as editor, took full responsibility for it. Michael Howard subsequently ordered him to visit Liverpool on a “penitential pilgrimage”.
At this time the paper began jokingly to be referred to as the ‘Sextator’ – a nickname for which Johnson himself was more than a little responsible – owing to the number of sex scandals connected with the magazine during his editorship. These included an affair between columnist Rod Liddle and the magazine’s receptionist, and Johnson’s own affair with another columnist, Petronella Wyatt. Johnson at first denied the relationship, dismissing the allegations as “an inverted pyramid of piffle”, but was sacked from the Shadow Cabinet in November 2004 when they turned out to be true. In the same year David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, resigned from the government after it emerged he had been having an affair with the publisher of The Spectator, Kimberly Quinn, and had fast-tracked her nanny’s visa application.
Circulation under Johnson reached record levels – as high as 70,000 by the time he left the magazine in 2005 to join David Cameron’s Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Minister for Higher Education. On the announcement of his departure, Andrew Neil, The Spectator CEO paid tribute to his editorship.
D’Ancona had been Deputy Editor at The Sunday Telegraph, and before that an assistant editor at The Times. During his four years as editor of The Spectator, he made several editorial and structural changes to the magazine, “not all of which were universally popular with readers”.
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