YOU know your life amounts to no more than being associated with someone infamous when a stranger buttonholes you in the street and asks: “Aren’t you a mate of that Kelvin MacKenzie?”
It happened to me in Berwick-upon-Tweed the other day. “Do I know you?” I inquired, pleasantly enough, of the man who accosted me.
“No, but you used to write about the bastard in your newspaper column and I recognise you from your byline picture in The Newcastle Journal!”
It will be different, of course, for Kelvin former-editor-of-The-Sun MacKenzie (and yes, he IS still my friend): he will realise the game is up when next he visits my local to discover that his permanent recommendation (“Great meal! Great welcome!”) has been scrubbed off the ‘Specials’ blackboard and hastily replaced with a “Local line-caught cod!” sign. How have the famous fallen!
“I had to do it,” said Iain, owner-chef at the gastropub in Milfield, Northumberland. I took MacKenzie there for lunch a few years ago when my former editor colleague was lying low after yet another flare-up of the anger among Liverpudlians over his horrid Hillsborough tragedy headline ‘The Truth!’.
“We don’t get a lot of Scousers in here,” said Iain, “but who’s going to want to stop for a meal recommended by a man who has now turned BOTH sides of a city of half-a-million against him?”
He has a point. Not content with outraging the red side of avid newspaper readers in a city which has, as a result, boycotted Murdoch’s Sun for the past 28 years, his last (and it WILL be his last!) column likening an Everton player with a Nigerian grandfather to “a gorilla” has appalled Merseyside’s ‘blues’ sufficient to create the most unlikely union since Putin’s Kremlin played kingmaker to Donald Trump.
Having said that, let me tell you this: MacKenzie is NOT a racist. In the 45 years I have worked with him (in New York), for him (at the Sun) and against him (when he edited the Sun and I the Daily Mirror) I never once heard him rail against minorities on the basis of colour or creed.
He IS outspoken. He IS a hater: of hijabs, Brussels, ‘them Northerners’ in general and ‘Liverpudlian layabouts’ in particular, anyone on benefits, foreigners ‘who take OUR jobs’, the BBC, miners, union members, the Labour Party, wishy-washy liberals. . . practically everything and everyone, in fact, that I support and stand for.
No, MacKenzie is NOT a racist. I believe he is being truthful when he insists he was unaware of footballer Ross Barkley’s mixed race background.
But, as brilliant a populist tabloid editor as he was, he IS bigoted, far to the Right of mainstream Conservatism, closer to UKIP and – for a leading practitioner of a craft that requires honesty and objectivity – distressingly closed-minded.
He was WRONG about Hillsborough, choosing to believe rumour and police scuttlebutt above the facts and distressing lack of supporting evidence his own senior and very talented reporting team produced after many days of investigation in Sheffield; and he was WRONG to make offensive and personal attacks on a footballer he regards as “dim” or “dull-eyed” (not forgetting that privately-educated Kelvin himself scored only a single GCE at his posh, Southern school).
And one final point: at least THREE senior Sun executive journalists (the paper’s editor, features editor and chief subeditor) should have read and approved his comments before publication, will have created and approved the headline and inserted the ‘gorilla’ eyes illustration that accompanied the article as well as possibly hearing the misgivings of the subeditor who handled the inflammatory copy.
Rupert Murdoch is a hard master. Newspapers may now be but a minor part of the multi-billionaire’s global portfolio but he has a sense of pride and demands professionalism of his lieutenants.
Expect more than MacKenzie’s head to fall. . .