Over the past few months, the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics has dragged some of the lowest forms of human life into the public spotlight. One of the most loathsome appeared before the inquiry earlier this week; former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie.
MacKenzie, who described the setting up of the Leveson Inquiry as “ludicrous”, was editor of the quasi-fascist-leaning Sun for more than a decade, presiding over some of the most despicable acts of gutter journalism. The most famous occurred in April 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in the overcrowded Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield. The Taylor Report, which was later set up by the British Government to establish the cause of the disaster, firmly pointed the finger of blame at the “failure of police control”. Kelvin MacKenzie apparently knew better, however. Just days after the horrific disaster, MacKenzie conspired with elements in the police to shift the blame onto the Liverpool fans. “The Truth,” bellowed The Sun’s front page in huge black letters. Vicious, baseless smears, accusing fans of stealing from the dead and urinating on police officers, littered that particular edition of The Sun. To this day, a city-wide boycott of the paper remains in place.
Eddie Spearritt, whose 14-year-old son Adam died at Hillsborough, movingly told journalist John Pilger:
“As I lay in my hospital bed, the hospital staff kept the Sun away from me. It’s bad enough when you lose your 14-year-old son because you’re treating him to a football match. Nothing can be worse than that. But since then I’ve had to defend him against all the rubbish printed by the Sun about everyone there being a hooligan and drinking. There was no hooliganism. During 31 days of Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry, no blame was attributed because of alcohol. Adam never touched it in his life.”
The evidence given to the Leveson enquiry by broadcaster Anne Diamond, highlighted last month by Private Eye, gives a disturbing insight to the working practices of Murdoch’s “favourite editor”. Mrs Diamond told lawyers how she “had to flee hospital while in labour with her first child to escape a [Sun] reporter posing as a doctor”. Mrs Diamond was further harassed by the Murdoch paper while MacKenzie was editor after the cot death of her 1-year-old son Sebastian. Her evidence to the enquiry is perhaps the most unsettling yet. Less than an hour after baby Sebastian’s death, Mrs Diamond said, “our front door very quickly was surrounded with hundreds of newspaper photographers and reporters literally just sitting there waiting for something to happen, constantly ringing the doorbell”. She spoke of one female hack trying to “rush” her front door: “She rang the bell and she had a big bouquet of flowers to give us and when the door had to be taken off the chain to accept the flowers she rushed in and two grown men had to push her back out of the door.”
It doesn’t stop there, however. Speaking about her son’s funeral, Mrs Diamond said: “We were at our possibly most private moment and we were long lensed at that point.” She and her husband had written to every major newspaper in Britain requesting they stay away from the funeral after the media “circus” that surrounded the death of Eric Clapton’s son. She said:
“They all did, except one photographer who took photos of the funeral from the road. I don’t even need to say that that’s the most private moment you could possibly go through. Within a few hours of the funeral the editor of The Sun rang my husband and said, ‘we have a picture, it’s an incredibly strong picture and we would like to use it’. And my husband said, ‘No, we’ve asked all of you to stay away. No.’ And the editor said, ‘Well, we’re going to use it anyway. We’ll use it with or without your permission.”
The next day, The Sun, in its typical tasteless fashion, published the photograph of her and her husband carrying their child’s coffin on its front page.
This is just one example of how the warped Kelvin MacKenzie works. In his journalistic masterpiece, Hidden Agendas, John Pilger wrote: “MacKenzie is exactly what Murdoch wanted: someone with the ‘knack…an incisive and intelligent mind, quick to exploit the weaknesses of others and with a hard edge of cruelty which gave no quarter’.” These traits run through all of MacKenzie’s scrawling “journalism”. Whether his target is black people, dead football fans, hungry miners or refugees fleeing famine and war, MacKenzie prided himself in cruelly attacking the most vulnerable in society. He sanctioned and participated in acts of gutter journalism that would make the recent phone hacking scandal pale in comparison.
It’s astounding that this malicious hack continues to be treated as a reputable commentator by many in the media.