The Despicable Kelvin McKenzie
The road to redemption from Hillsborough has been a lengthy and painful for many, many people. Hundreds of people lost family members or friends on that day in April 1989, and the feeling that the establishment was closing ranks in order to cover up the truth behind what exactly happened to result in the deaths of ninety-six innocent people has been a bitter pill for those that survived or have otherwise had to live with their loss to have to swallow. After twenty two and a half years, however, it was starting to feel as if change was in the air. On an emotional evening at parliament, a vote to release all government documents was passed, meaning that we may finally get to learn a little more about what was going on inside the corridors of power all those years ago. Those that died that day can never be brought back but perhaps – just perhaps – the road towards closure has finally started to become visible in the distance.
For everything, though, the deniers remain, spreading their poison and seeking – whether to protect themselves or merely for their own amusement – to cloud the waters surrounding the disaster, and their patron saint is the wretched, despicable Kelvin McKenzie. McKenzie was, of course, the editor of The Sun at the time and it was under his instruction that the infamous headline of “The Truth” – a headline which summed up, whether inadvertently or not, everything we could ever need to know about the moral values of that newspaper under his editorship and, it hardly seems unreasonable to say, the man himself – which sought, somehow, to pin the blame for what happened at Hillsborough on the supporters of Liverpool Football Club. There was precious little “truth” in the story as The Sun published it, and McKenzie himself has since compounded his lies with pathetic attempts at self-justification such as, “All I did wrong was tell the truth”, “I only apologised at the time because Rupert Murdoch told me to” and, “I was not sorry then, and I am not sorry now”.
McKenzie’s claims that the source from which he and his newspaper obtained its lies was a Liverpool news agency is nothing new. He made the same claims on the BBC’s Question Time in January 2007. Times, however, have changed since then and when he repeated those claims on the BBC’s occasionally inadvertently surreal political programme This Week on Thursday night, he was merely repeating the implication that somehow Liverpool, as a city, was to blame for the release of the false story to the media. The imminent release of government documents relating to the disaster has created a culture in which a degree of near-unanimity has been reached over what happened that day. This time, Liverpool’s main news agency, the Mercury Express, has been described as considering legal action against McKenzie.
The temptation of wishing to seek McKenzie in court, seeking to defend his lies in front of a judge, is a tempting one, but the danger is, of course, that he may bat away any legal action against him. The sight of McKenzie, mugging for the cameras with utterances about victory for free speech coming from the spit-flecked garbage can that passes for his mouth is perhaps not worth the risk of the satisfaction that any successful legal action may bring. Similarly, there is little point now in demanding apologies from him. His actions on this subject over the last year or so can only lead us to the conclusion that any apology that he did ever issue would be further insincerities, in all likelihood issued with his fingers crossed behind his back. A written apology wouldn’t be worth the paper upon which it was written and a verbal apology wouldn’t be worth the air that came from his mouth in making it.
None of this, however, means that there isn’t action that supporters of all clubs can take against McKenzie. This is, after all, a man that continues to enjoy a healthy media career. Both of the statements referred to above came as a result of appearances on the BBC. Now, can ponder whether the BBC would publicly argue that it merely seeking a full range of opinions on their political programmes whilst secretly delighting at the controversy that his verbal spewing provokes and the increase to viewing figures that may come with this. The protest against The Sun in Liverpool has been remarkably successful and has led to News International losing millions of pounds worth of lost sales over the last two decades or so. Perhaps it is time for supporters – and not just Liverpool supporters, as Hillsborough was something that happened, ultimately, to all of us – to make it clear to all broadcasters that McKenzie’s appearances on the television will be greeted by protest. After all, in the case of the BBC it is our money that is being used to pay him to spout his opinions and lies.
Of course, it would be easy to merely try and close our ears in the hope that the likes of Kelvin McKenzie can be tuned out, but one of the key attributes of the attack dogs of the far right is that they will not adopt the moral code of others. They will lie, they will shout and they long ago began to claim victim status when it usually they that are doing the victimising. In a reasonable and sane world, he would have become a pariah on account of his actions whilst at The Sun, and not only for the decisions that he took regarding Hillsborough. That he continues to enjoy such a media profile is a damning indictment of the priorities of the media in Britain over the last two decades, and he deserves to be challenged in the strongest terms possible for every comment that he has ever made in defence of his behaviour whilst in charge of The Sun. Closure will come for the relatives of those that died at Hillsborough, and justice will be done, but Kelvin McKenzie will be nowhere near the source of this. That he continues to slander twenty-two years after the event is as much as any of us need to know about the character of this despicable individual. Meanwhile, at Anfield this afternoon Joey Barton received a rapturous reception from the Kop for his role in raising the profile of the petition over the release of documents relating to the disaster. In terms of legacy, it’s not difficult to see which be the preferable to leave.
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