LIKE many people, I really enjoyed Channel Four News chief correspondent Alex Thomson’s doorstepping of Kelvin MacKenzie.
It made for great TV. Who could fail to be amused by the sight of a man once among the most powerful in Fleet Street reduced to cowering in his own home? That he should be so perturbed by the tactics he established as the modus operandi of the tabloids was particularly apposite.
By the time MacKenzie scarpered in his car (likely destinations: layby, golf club, BBC studio) I was ready for the rest of the report, detailing the latest revelations turned up by journalists scouring the hundreds of thousands of primary source material released by the independent panel last week.
Instead we cut back to Jon Snow in the studio and the programme moved on.
This, then, was essentially pantomime. The TV equivalent of the stocks, inviting us all to gather round as Thomson lobbed rotten fruit.
In one way, fair enough. Who could be more deserving of a greengage in the eye? But in another, it represented a worrying development in the way the unfolding scandal is being covered.
There’s a sense that decision-makers across the media are beginning to get slightly itchy feet. They’re sort of aware that this should stay in the news, but starting to feel like readers and viewers might be switching off.
It’s a common theme in journalism – the search for a new line. After all, it is called news. So the biggest police cover-up in modern history has been exposed – but what’s the new line?
In a minor way this was at the root of the MacKenzie issue in the first place. The clue is in the timing. By April 19 editors up and down the land were becoming restless. 94 (at that time – Lee Nicol was to die on the day of publication) people were dead, but that was already, in the minds of the likes of MacKenzie, old news. To keep the story going, the editors needed a new line.
This desire for a fresh angle without the journalistic commitment to do the work on the ground played into the hands of Sheffield news agency White’s and, ultimately, their sources – senior police officers and MP Irvine Patnick.
So vested interests concocted a story, White’s sold it in and everyone had their new line. MacKenzie, of course, went further in his vindictiveness than the rest but the story’s very existence was the result of the process of journalism, and the extent to which the consumers of news are patronised and looked down upon by many of its producers.
Fundamentally, they don’t think we’re clever enough or interested enough to take it all in. Although this time their intentions are generally benign, they still ultimately think we’ll grow tired of the real story and look for the comfort of our bread and circuses again.
Who better to be their clown than MacKenzie?
He’s been the smirking face of Hillsborough denial for so long he’s at times seemed to enjoy it, revelling in his ‘outrageous’ reputation without a moment’s understanding of the pain he caused. On some level he will be pleased to imagine he’s still the story.
MacKenzie’s recognisable, thanks to the BBC’s bizarre obsession with hiring him as a proxy for a ‘man on the street’ who hasn’t existed for a generation, if he ever existed at all. He makes for good copy; good entertainment.
Many less well-known faces have reason to be grateful for his work as their frontman. Some are dead, while others remain in positions of power and influence. All have been insulated from scrutiny to some extent by the existence of such a convenient Guy Fawkes.
You’d call him a useful idiot, were he not clearly possessed of a low cunning which has allowed him to stay in with the right people at the right time and keep himself in casual shirts and decorative twigs for his Surrey porch.
It’s a concern that a renewed focus on the ultimately pathetic figure of MacKenzie, along with recent attempts to shift the focus on to a simple Liverpool fans v Manchester United fans narrative, will deflect attention from those who should be held accountable for this human tragedy and national scandal.
If we’re going to be doorstepping people, let’s start with those with knighthoods and take it from there.