English tabloids are honestly the worst purveyors of media in the world. They make the New York Post look like a goddamn academic journal by comparison, and this is coming from someone who respects and works for a self-described tabloid. Of all the English tabs, though, The Sun is the absolute worst. Therefore Kelvin MacKenzie, who edited it for 13 years and is now a Sun columnist, is almost by definition the worst journalist in the world.
A quick bit of backstory: MacKenzie was editor of The Sun during the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, when it published front page accusations that Liverpool fans beat medics trying to save lives, pissed on cops, and pick-pocketed the dead, all of which were untrue and for which the paper was forced to apologize for 22 years later.
Most shops in Liverpool refuse to carry The Sun to this day, Billy Bragg released a song about it, The Sun reporters aren’t given credentials to Liverpool matches, and cross-town rival Everton have considered a similar ban. Both The Sun and MacKenzie’s Wikipedia pages are basically just listings of all of the heinous shit they’ve done, much of it hand-in-hand.
This morning, The Sun published a column by MacKenzie, which is a gossipy riff on politicians, celebrities, and current events. One of the current events it discussed was Everton midfielder Ross Barkley recently getting punched while out at a bar. Here is the title and art from that section:
And the first two paragraphs:
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.
While Ross Barkley was born in Liverpool and has played for Everton since he was a youth, one of his grandfathers is Nigerian, and he was eligible to represent Nigeria in international soccer. You see, it’s a funny racist joke.
MacKenzie went on with one of his trademarked digs at Liverpudlians:
The reality is that at £60,000 a week and being both thick and single, he is an attractive catch in the Liverpool area, where the only men with similar pay packets are drug dealers and therefore not at nightclubs, as they are often guests of Her Majesty.
The entire bit about Barkley has since been deleted; you can read an archived version here. The Sun has since suspended MacKenzie, though of course they’re the institution that published the column in the first place.
After publication, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson tweeted that he had reported the article to police as a racist slur, and the BBC confirmed with police that they are investigating the “full circumstances” of the article. England has much stronger hate speech laws—or weaker freedom of speech protections, depending upon your perspective—than the United States, and it’s not unlikely that MacKenzie did indeed commit a crime.
On a broad level, England’s press laws are much worse than America’s. It is so easy to win a libel suit in England that it is the main destination for libel tourism. Powerful institutions escape necessary scrutiny because the media is so afraid of being sued out of existence, and celebrities routinely obtain pre-publication injunctions against reporting that would inconvenience them. As heinous as MacKenzie’s column is—very heinous—I am uncomfortable with the police determining just how racist a column is, people being arrested for gross—but unthreatening—tweets, and sports teams banning reporters they don’t like.
All of that being said, Kelvin MacKenzie and The Sun can get fucked, now and forever.