Have a read of this and then just thank your lucky stars that Rupert’s Australian tabloids aren’t nearly as bad as The Sun in the UK.
The Sun has literally funded Rupert’s global empire throwing off many billions in cash thanks to its outrageous and often unethical editorial standards.
Crikey was curious as to why The Sun had published this week’s editorial but it all made sense when someone pointed us to this recent piece in The Guardian.
Rupert and The Falklands war
A new Britain, a new kind of newspaper. One paper stood out – for its xenophobic, bloody-minded, triumphalist coverage. It was Kelvin MacKenzie’s Sun. Roy Greenslade worked there at the time.
Most people probably think of the Falklands war as Thatcher’s war. For me – and, I suspect, for a good many other journalists, that bizarre spasm of post-imperial imperialism was really the Sun’s war. Or, to be more precise, Kelvin’s war. Kelvin MacKenzie’s Falklands coverage – xenophobic, bloody-minded, ruthless, often reckless, black-humoured and ultimately triumphalist – captured the zeitgeist. Here was a new Britain and a new kind of newspaper heralding the emergence of a transformed culture.
I was assistant editor to MacKenzie and anything but a gung-ho war supporter. When news broke of the invasion, I was on holiday and read with amusement in the Times of Malta that Thatcher was contemplating sending a task force to oust the Argentinians. On returning to the Sun I remarked to features editor Wendy Henry that it was a ridiculous expedition. “Be careful,” she replied. “That’s a very unpopular view to hold round here.”
A visit to the newsroom showed me why. News editor Tom Petrie was wearing some sort of naval officer’s cap and told me he now wished to be known as Commander Petrie. A map of the south Atlantic was pinned on the board behind him under a picture of Winston Churchill. Reporter Muriel Burden, who ran a pen pals service, was christened the “Darling of the Fleet”.
I soon realised that Bouverie Street was the unofficial war office with MacKenzie playing chief of staff and Petrie as his aide-de-camp. When a compromise solution looked possible, the Sun’s famous response in a splash headline was “STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA!” Within a week, thousands of T-shirts bearing that slogan were being sold by the paper.
The Sun heralded the retaking of South Georgia with the headline: “INVASION!” Single-word headlines were the Sun’s trademark throughout the war. A couple of days later, seizing on unconfirmed reports about a landing on the main islands, it jumped the gun with a story headlined “IN WE GO!”
Sun reporter Tony Snow, aboard HMS Invincible, was prevailed on to “sponsor” a missile and to sign it “Up Yours Galtieri!” Then, in an echo of its splash 11 days before, the story appeared under the headline: “STICK THIS UP YOUR JUNTA: A Sun missile for Galtieri’s gauchos.” The cod picture of the missile was captioned: “Here it comes, Senors.” Two days later Snow triumphantly reported: “I saw my missile hit the back of the enemy aircraft. It exploded as advertised. His plane was in flames.”
Whether Snow wrote those words, or anything like them, is doubtful: his copy was routinely rewritten and embellished.
By chance, the war coincided with a pay strike by the journalists’ union so, on the evening of May 2, only a dozen executives, including me, were producing the paper when the first genuinely dramatic war news broke. A news agency reported that the General Belgrano had been hit. Wendy Henry shouted “Gotcha!”, not as a suggested headline but as a spontaneous reaction, the kind of black joke common to every newspaper office. MacKenzie seized on it and designed a front page which said: “GOTCHA. Our lads sink gunboat and hole cruiser.” The first edition was off stone before more detailed news of the Belgrano’s sinking arrived.
It dawned on us that there might have been a huge loss of life, and as Petrie read the agency reports aloud, the mood changed. Realising that “Gotcha” might be inappropriate, MacKenzie drew up another front page with a new headline: “Did 1,200 Argies drown?” The Sun’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, happened to walk on to the floor as MacKenzie was completing the new layout and said he didn’t see the need to replace “Gotcha”. MacKenzie disagreed and subsequent editions carried the less controversial line.
Without a strike, it’s likely that the original page one would have been altered so quickly that few copies would have left the building. But the time it took to make the change ensured that hundreds of thousands of the first edition were published and “Gotcha” came to symbolise ever after the Sun’s, and MacKenzie’s, cynical, jingoistic, bloodthirsty war coverage.
Despite his change of heart, MacKenzie happily embraced the legend of “Gotcha”. Indeed, the day after the Belgrano’s sinking, the Sun’s front page, “ALIVE! Hundreds of Argies saved from Atlantic”, played down the fact that 368 men were killed. Later, comparing death to a game of football, MacKenzie produced the headline: “BRITAIN 6 (Georgia, two airstrips, three warplanes), ARGENTINA 0.”
By now, MacKenzie had opened a second front, seizing the chance to fight another war – for circulation – by attacking the Daily Mirror which, alone among the tabloids, adopted an anti-war stance. A Sun leader spoke of “the traitors in our midst”, such as “the timorous, whining Mirror” (and, incidentally, “the pygmy Guardian”). MacKenzie was making an overt attempt to win over the Mirror’s audience by appealing to their sense of patriotism. The Mirror hit back with an editorial headlined “The Harlot of Fleet Street”, which called the Sun “coarse and demented”, a paper which had “fallen from the gutter to the sewer”, and concluded: “The Sun today is to journalism what Dr Joseph Goebbels was to truth.”
Though Petrie later argued that the Sun had supplanted the Mirror as the paper beloved by soldiers and sailors, the paper’s official historian quoted a serviceman who said, “Your headlines often made us feel sick”, and that there were “ritual burnings of the Sun” on the task force vessels.
MacKenzie, convinced that he was properly articulating his readers’ views, was unconcerned. He even laughed off Private Eye’s spoof Sun headline, “KILL AN ARGIE AND WIN A METRO”, joking: “Why didn’t we think of that?”