HOW telling that The Times should apologise for not featuring the Hillsborough verdicts on its front page. And how interesting that one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers should know where to look up ‘sorry’ in the dictionary.
The Sun never managed to find that word, infamously preferring to use two simple words that caused unimaginable hurt to the families of those who died. The tabloid is still hated in Liverpool for publishing an article headlined “The Truth” days after the tragedy in 1989, alleging fans were to blame.
That attack on people who had been killed by the errors of officialdom, and then put at fault posthumously, was a stain on the memory of those who died and on the character of a city.
Both The Sun and The Times are owned by Mr Murdoch’s News Corp group, a combative outfit which has done both good and bad in the name of journalism. Plenty of people will decry the idea that Murdoch has ever done a good deed in this world; but the man loves newspapers and has invested much in keeping his inky sheets afloat.
I guess the good is only that if you believe newspapers are a beneficial part of life; as for the bad, so much of that is sewn into the opportunistic soul of the Sun.
That original hateful report days after the tragedy in which 96 people died so horribly and without need showed the worst sort of journalism: utter confidence in the ‘story’; arrogant belief in the rightness of what was being splashed all over the pages; and not a thought for the people involved, those who had died and those left to grieve.
So when a jury this week exonerated Liverpool supporters after the long decades, neither the Sun nor The Times printed anything on their front page. The Times was criticised for this oversight or lack of respect – even, reportedly, by journalists on its own sports desk.
By the second edition, a main picture of a man clearing snow was replaced by one showing relatives of the victims cheering at the result of the inquest.
The Times did not exactly grovel, instead pointing out that the digital editions led with the story all day, and that the verdict was also covered “with two spreads, the back page, the top leader and an interactive on the victims. We made a mistake on the front page of our first edition, and we fixed it for the second edition”.
But at least it was an apology. No such contrition from the Sun. It would have shown guts and sensitivity to report the verdict on the front page alongside an admission of past sins; to have owned up to being so hurtfully wrong in the past and to have at least attempted a stab at atonement.
Well, that would have been too much to expect: it is the Sun after all, so sure of itself, so good at what is does in many senses; and yet too wrapped up arrogance and swagger to swallow its pride.
Few in Liverpool start the day with the Sun, even all this time later. To have delivered such a big lie at such a time has never been forgiven, and the strength of feeling in the city was shown yesterday as thousands rallied outside St George’s Hall as they assembled to honour those who died and the long-delayed legal vindication for families who had fought for so long.
And what on Wednesday did the Sun choose to put on its front page instead? A bit of celebrity spittle about Rita Ora and a specious story about David Cameron’s aides sending group texts by WhatsApp to spin a line on the Europe vote.
In a sense that page, and those choices, betray the problem. If all those years ago the Sun could tell such lies about what happened to Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, why should we believe them on Cameron’s texting aides or anything else?
Sometimes a ‘good story’ in a newspaper is interesting and worth the read; sometimes it is only a scrap or two of rumour and speculation got together to support the headline; and sometimes, as with the Sun all those years ago, it wrong beyond measure.
Those, of course, were the years when Kelvin MacKenzie edited the paper with such cruel swagger and occasional brilliance. Surprisingly, this morning’s Independent website reports that MacKenzie has now apologised for accusing Liverpool fans of being drunk and abusive during the tragedy. And you wouldn’t have put money on that.
Mind you, his contrition comes with a footnote: “As I have said before, the headline I published was wrong and I am profoundly sorry for the hurt caused. Clearly, I was wrong to take the police’s version of events at face value and it is a mistake I deeply regret.”
So it was all the fault of the police. Sorry but still wriggling.