Stott: "The Sun was not my paper"
Former Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott was offered the editorship of The Sun by Rupert Murdoch but turned it down for political reasons.
Stott, who edited the Daily Mirror and The People twice before taking the helm of the ill-fated Murdoch paper Today, was offered the job on two occasions as the News International boss was considering closing Today, he reveals in a book out this month.
Tony Blair, then leader of the Opposition and hoping for Murdoch’s support at the next election, forcefully urged Stott not to turn the job down, saying: "Bloody hell, Richard, I’ll kill you if you do that."
Stott, whose autobiography Dogs and Lampposts is published by Metro on 14 October, said simply that The Sun was "not my paper".
"It was not where I belonged. I knew The Sun and Murdoch were and still are unreconstructed Thatcherites. That’s why they are now having such difficulty in supporting the New Labour line."
The first offer came in 1995. Newly appointed chairman and chief executive Les Hinton was by Murdoch’s side when he told Stott Today was to close.
"I was appalled, but more surprised by his next announcement. As a prelude he laid on the famous Murdoch flattery with a trowel," Stott writes.
Murdoch told him: "You are one of the best three editors I have known in my time," and asked him to edit The Sun, then edited by Stuart Higgins.
"I told him I would not edit a paper that supported the Tories and he gobsmacked me even more by saying, ‘It doesn’t have to be like that, it could support Labour’."
At the time Murdoch appeared to accept Stott’s reasons for turning down the job, but he raised the subject again later, insisting that columnists such as Joe Haines and Anne Robinson, who had followed Stott from the Daily Mirror to Today, could "easily fit into the Sun, which, in his view needed to be taken a notch or two away from the bottom end of the market. In short, it needed to be de-Kelvined."
Blair’s outburst came at one of News Corporation’s three-yearly junkets at Hayman Island.
Stott writes: "Tony wasn’t worried about Today, but he was enraged about The Sun as he saw my going there as the chance to swing the paper behind Labour."
Stott said he contacted Higgins recently to tell him of the offer. "It has never come out before, much to Les Hinton’s surprise."
By Philippa Kennedy