The Sun has rightly suspended its former editor and current columnist Kelvin Mackenzie following a diatribe aimed at under pressure Everton footballer Ross Barkley.
If you have not seen it, in the column Mackenzie said: “Perhaps unfairly, I have always judged Ross Barkley as one of our dimmest footballers. There is something about the lack of reflection in his eyes which makes me certain not only are the lights not on, there is definitely nobody at home. I get a similar feeling when seeing a gorilla at the zoo. The physique is magnificent but it’s the eyes that tell the story.”
The comments are obviously offensive. More seriously, Barkley said that he has a Nigerian Grandfather, so they have a racial component too. The Sun’s parent company News UK said: “The paper was unaware of Ross Barkley’s heritage and there was never any slur intended.”
I believe this, but calling a footballer stupid is one thing, using a racial slur, whether you realise you’re doing it or not, is another.
The Truth? Kelvin Mackenzie should not write about Liverpool
Elsewhere in the column, Mackenzie said that the only people in Liverpool on similar pay packets to Barkley are “drug dealers” in prison. The question, therefore, is not whether it is right that Mackenzie should now face sanction. It is how on Earth that piece, by that columnist, in that paper, was published in the first place.
Mackenzie was, of course, the editor of the Sun exactly 20 years ago when he went with his infamous, and wrong, “The Truth” splash after the Hillsborough disaster. Despite various attempts to apologise, the city of Liverpool has never forgiven Mackenzie or the Sun.
All of this should have set off alarm bells as the piece was going through the various editorial layers prior to publication. Sub-editors would have seen the piece. Editors would have seen the piece.
City University’s Professor Roy Greenslade, writing for the Guardian, said: “What was truly extraordinary was that his piece ever got into the paper at all. Did the Sun executives responsible for his column not realise he should never be allowed to write about Liverpool?”
He is quite right. A lot of experienced, talented journalists work on the Sun at all levels of the paper. It is hard to imagine who thought printing such a piece would be a good idea. I am amazed it was published.
Kelvin Mackenzie and Liverpool do not mix. He should not be writing about the city, its people, or its football clubs. If he returns, the decent journalists at the Sun must intervene long before such comments appear in print ever again.
My first book "Not Buying It", looking at post-truth in media and politics, is being published by Unbound
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