IT TOOK a while to work out why I failed to enjoy Tuesday night’s aggressive “doorstepping” of Kelvin MacKenzie by Alex Thomson, of Channel 4 News.
On paper it sounds brilliant: a despicable tabloid bully finally getting a taste of his own medicine, cringing behind his door while a brutish hack hollers questions through the letterbox.
Then, a short while later, an increasingly high-pitched MacKenzie begging Thomson to be “reasonable” as the Channel 4 man badgered him in his car.
MacKenzie looked rattled and slightly scared. That should be a televisual treat for any right-thinking person. So why did it leave such an unpleasant taste in my mouth?
At first I thought it might be the mismatch. MacKenzie is a tubby pensioner (he turns 66 next month) who appeared to be home alone. Thomson, although no spring chicken at 51, is a strapping six-footer who was accompanied by a cameraman and quite possibly a soundman and producer. That is not a fair fight.
On reflection, however, I realised there must be more to my discomfort than that.
So perhaps it was the sanctimonious tone that grated, as the lofty minds of the media intelligentsia played at being lowlife hacks. I spent many years in the press pack (never for the Sun) and, believe me, it was we grubby hacks who did the spade work on every story – knocking doors, chasing leads, mining information – before the likes of Channel 4 News wafted in with their shiny shoes and umbrellas, asking us (very nicely) where to find the key players.
No, it was not that either. Thomson is the real deal: a time-served war reporter with bags of experience. He has earned his spurs.
Then, finally it struck me, as a smirking Jon Snow urged us to enjoy more footage of the Thomson-MacKenzie clash on the website.
The source of my discomfort was neither the gratuitous skewering of MacKenzie, who deserves no better, nor the showboating of a telly glamour puss.
It was the sense that Channel 4 News was using the tragedy of Hillsborough – and the heightened emotions which followed the Liverpool fans’ long-awaited vindication – to create jolly entertainment.
Thomson and his editors cannot have expected MacKenzie to give a doorstep interview. They did not want answers but simply a moment of drama when he inevitably refused, to score a few easy points with the people of Liverpool, maybe make a splash on Twitter and drive up the website traffic.
It probably worked, too. Social media was buzzing and I doubt Thomson will ever have to buy his own drinks in Liverpool again.
But, personally, I would prefer all media – even the lofty minds of Channel 4 – to follow the dignified lead of the grieving families, who have never sullied the memory of the 96 by stooping to MacKenzie’s bull-headed level – no matter how tempting that might be.