Today The Sun has a headline: “The Real Truth”. 23 years ago it published a headline – “The Truth” which led an article blaming drunken fans without tickets for the tragedy which ensued at Hillsborough – 96 football fans lost their lives. In the paper today it apologises for the slur and calls it the darkest day in it’s history. Liverpool has never forgiven the tabloid.
In the article the paper apologises for it’s decision to publish the news reports it had received. Kelvin MacKenzie, the Editor who made the decision at the time, issued his own statement saying that he did so after receiving two reports, one from South Yorkshire Police and another from a senior Sheffield MP. This is a highly experienced journalists who chose to ignore hundreds of eye witness accounts in favour of two that made a profitable headline. He created the news rather than reported it.
For me whole Hillsborough tragedy is shocking in that it highlights the complete moral bankruptcy of the times. That a police service, which subsequent investigations would find to be institutionally racist and corrupt, felt able in South Yorkshire to coordinate a mass cover up. That a Government was quick to jump on a bandwagon because it served its own political message at the time (some more apologies to come there I think). That journalists were given a free reign to turn two scant reports, constructed in the heat of the moment, into a headline condemning victims and supporters at a time they were in mourning. That football supporters were all treated as animals because a small minority behaved like animals.
It would be easy to look at the story in the way The Sun appears to have. It stood by its original headline based on those two reports for 23 years when everyone around was expressing doubts. Only now, after all that time, is the truth emerging they would have us believe. As soon as the truth emerges they think they have done the right thing and apologised.
Sadly, although it may have been The Sun’s darkest day, many of our tabloid newspapers have a lot of gloomy ones. They are well versed in apologising and compensating and also at defending press freedom. There are very few Bernstein and Woodwards around but plenty of Watergates.