Why Keir Starmer’s interview with The S*n was wrong, why it still matters not just to the people of Liverpool, and why he should say sorry…
ONE thing you can always guarantee when Merseyside’s continuing boycott of The S*n reaches the national news agenda once again is that someone somewhere will question it.
It has of course been back there recently thanks to the ill-judged actions of the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who thought it would be just fine to write an opinion piece for the ‘newspaper’ earlier this month.
That despite acknowledging during his campaign to become Labour leader in 2020 that “this city [Liverpool] has been wounded by the media… And I certainly will not be giving an interview to The S*n during the course of this campaign.”
Here’s Keir Starmer saying he wouldn’t speak to the Sun while seeking the Labour leadership. Now he is writing Op-eds for them.
Where a politician writes for is ultimately their call, but this illustrates a major point: Starmer is as dishonest as Johnson pic.twitter.com/cDVP56BPof
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) October 2, 2021
Starmer’s piece for the ‘newspaper’ this month rightly sparked anger. He knew what he was doing. As undoubtedly did his closest advisors. Yet he and they chose to ignore how 1.4 million on Merseyside might feel about it (and the countless others from outside the area that support and adhere to the boycott) and cracked on regardless.
And perhaps here lies the problem. A problem that is too often seen as ‘only Merseyside’. Or ‘only Liverpool’ or ‘Liverpool supporters’. Or ‘only about Hillsborough’. Or even only about the left of the Labour party.
A piece on Spiked written by Fraser Myers headlined ‘Why shouldn’t Keir Starmer write for The S*n?’ told us: “A Keir Starmer opinion piece on supermarket shortages isn’t something that should inspire strong feelings from anyone.”
It went on: “As with nearly every attack on the press, it is the readers who are the real targets of this Corbynista fury. They are railing against working class voters’ refusal to support Labour and the Corbyn project – not The S*n’s dodgy journalism in the 1980s.”
A few things. Merseyside — aside from Conservative Southport — is red on the political spectrum. Disregarding the strong feelings of people that helped your party retain 14 seats at the last General Election will likely upset folk. Especially when those feelings were born from an establishment cover up, a deep sense of injustice and anger that remains at three lost decades punctuated by slurs, abuse and frustration.
Isn’t it obvious? Like blindingly, slap-in-the-face-with-a-wet-fish obvious?
And ‘dodgy journalism in the 1980s’? One, there has been plenty more since from that rag, which I’ll come on to. And two, being instrumental in one of the biggest cover ups known to man, central to the delaying of an accepted truth, key to the escape from justice for those with blood on their hands… That’s just ‘dodgy journalism’, is it? That’s the best way you could think to describe it?
Maybe Mr Myers and a few others out there need a reminder or two of how it all went.
The S*n presented it as ‘truth’ — unequivocal, unquestioned as they presented it — that “drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims of the Hillsborough soccer disaster”.
It said: “police officers, firemen and ambulance crew were punched, kicked and urinated upon by a hooligan element”.
The S*n said Liverpool fans “rifled the pockets of injured fans as they were stretched out unconscious on the pitch”.
It also reported: “In one shameful episode a gang of Liverpool fans noticed that the blouse of a girl trampled to death had risen above her breasts.
“As a policeman struggled in vain to revive her, the mob jeered: ‘Throw her up here and we will **** her’.”
The S*n reported the “tanked up on drink” line, it carried allegations that “ticketless fans” had caused the Hillsborough disaster “either by forcing their way in or by blackmailing the police into opening the gates”.
It used the words “thugs”, “hooligans” and “animals” to describe Liverpool supporters. Ordinary people. People of all ages and backgrounds. Fans who just went to a football match.
And sadly, for so long, the shit that was flung stuck.
Back then, to many, The S*n was relevant. It was the best-selling newspaper in the country. And grieving families, struggling with not only their loss, but horrendous treatment from the police, woke up to that.
There is more, much more. And maybe people like Myers should bother to familiarise themselves with it before telling others how to feel.
Then editor Kelvin Mackenzie has long been associated with the Hillsborough coverage, infamously being the person who wrote the headline ‘The Truth’ after being talked out of using ‘You Scum’ by colleagues.
Not only has he been associated with it, he has revelled in it, apologising and retracting, taunting, teasing and best of all, laughably, implying he has been a victim.
He wrote in The Spectator: “It took 23 years, two inquiries, one inquest and research into 400,000 documents, many of which were kept secret under the 30-year no-publication rule, to discover there was a vast cover-up by South Yorkshire Police about the disaster. Where does that leave me?”
Where does that leave you? Who cares?
Mackenzie, by the way, continued to edit paper for another 15 years after Hillsborough.
The odious cretin aside, who some seem to view as some kind of panto villain, how many in 2021 consider the actions of William Newman, then Managing Editor of The S*n?
After bereaved families and survivors wrote letters to challenge the story, Newman replied with a letter that he didn’t even bother to personalise or sign.
“We are sorry that, possibly clouded by grief, many have not understood that it is The S*n’s duty as a newspaper to publish information, however hurtful and unpalatable it may be at the time,” he wrote.
“On reflection, we accept the way in which the article was displayed could have given cause for offence. For that we apologise. For the substance we do not.
“We cannot possibly apologise for facts and to do so would be an abdication of our responsibility to a wider public beyond the city of Liverpool. If the price of a free press is a boycott of our newspaper, then it is a price we will have to pay.”
“Facts”, he writes in that arrogant, unfeeling, careless reply. When they were anything but. As has now, after decades of fighting, hurting and heartache, been proven. With no thanks to The S*n.
So yes, a boycott is the price they have to pay.
Before widening the point, would it shock you that in 2016, when the inquests jury ruled the people who died at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed, The S*n didn’t think the verdict merited front-page coverage? Or that it ran less words on the inquest verdict than every other national newspaper?
No, me neither. So not everything is about the 1980s. Who knew?
Back in 2012, it was the late publicist Max Clifford who suggested that we should all be moving on now: “It’s a bit like we won’t speak to Germans any more because we had a war with them a long time ago. Obviously in Liverpool The S*n is a bad name but not anywhere else in the country.
“It will be judged by its own commercial values. If people like what they come up with they will buy it, if they don’t they won’t.
“The S*n has still been the most successful newspaper in Britain for donkey’s years and so was the News Of The World.
“It may be different in Liverpool but the rest of the country don’t feel like that.”
It’s obviously nothing like any situation with Germany. Not least, fairly obviously, because Germany doesn’t act now like it did during the war.
The S*n though? Well, has it really changed its approach since it blackened the name of Liverpool, peddled lies, and pointed fingers?
The problem with Clifford’s argument, and arguments like it, is that there are plenty of reasons to give that publication a wide berth full stop. Hillsborough is the obvious starting point. Particularly for us. But there are plenty more besides. It’s not all about Liverpool and us not letting go, which is often the insinuation.
A few examples (there are undoubtedly more):
- In 2019 The S*n paid ‘substantial damages’ to England cricketer Ben Stokes and his mother after printing details of a tragedy involving the family on its front page. The tabloid also apologised to the pair, agreed to pay their legal costs and issued a public statement saying the story, about an incident that took place before the cricketer was born, should never have been published.
- The S*n’s behaviour was detailed in a report from The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance for “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology”. It cited Katie Hopkins’ infamous column in The S*n, where she likened refugees to “cockroaches” and a debunked claim in a headline that stated “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis”.
- In 2017, The S*n published an apology to Ross Barkley after Kelvin Mackenzie — then working as a columnist for the ‘newspaper’ despite his past actions — compared the mixed-race footballer to a gorilla.
- In 2003, The S*n reported on former boxer Frank Bruno being taken to a psychiatric hospital with the headline “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” while the story described him as a “nut”.
- In 2021, the S*n was successfully sued for unlawful information gathering regarding ex-Lib-Dem MP Simon Hughes. Previously the ‘newspaper’ had hidden behind the criminality that took place at sister title The News of the World.
Just in the past? 1980s? It’s all changed now and it’s a legitimate media platform for the leader of the Labour party to be engaging with free of any criticism?
Clearly not. So very clear.
The S*n’s sales, or lack of, in Merseyside, have cost News International millions of pounds. But the boycott has never only been about that. Yes, it was about shunning something that warred against Liverpool and its people and caused pain which is hard to imagine. But it’s also about standing together against something that is wrong. About highlighting behaviours and standards that should be questioned. In the most basic of terms, about saying something isn’t right.
It’s not the same newspaper, some say. It’s not the same staff, say others. And yet, the standards remain the same: breeding division, targeting minorities, shaming people, and chasing headlines with no regard to the people it hurts.
The S*n disregarded the feelings of the families of the bereaved and the survivors of Hillsborough. It doubled down on it. And then it moved on to make more lives a misery.
So a Labour leader writing for the rag does hurt. It does bother people. And it does matter.
Starmer and his team took a calculated gamble, lost somewhere in a mindset that a ‘newspaper’ with declining sales and influence remains relevant in 2021 and represents a gateway to success for Labour.
It’s failed. It’s backfired. And the very least he could do is say sorry.
In the meantime, fuck The S*n.