There is one story that, purely by coincidence you understand, our free and fearless press has kept off its front pages today, but which could have severely adverse consequences for one of them. That is because the story concerns Manchester United, one of the biggest names in sport, and the apparently less than totally ethical behaviour of the Murdoch press. There are some organisations you should not mess with; Man U is one of those.
The backstory is straightforward: a group of supporters rocked up outside the home of club executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward last month, chanting that he was “going to die”. As the BBC has reported, “A video posted on social media showed an individual throwing a red flare over a large gate, while others sang songs aimed at the 48-year-old. Woodward, who is married with two young children, was not present at the time”.
But the Murdoch Sun went further, quoting a spokesman for the mob telling “Woodward has been a disaster as chief executive and needs to leave the club. Lots of people have said it but he doesn’t seem to listen - perhaps because he’s getting paid £4m-a-year. So we decided to pay him a visit to tell him to his face”. How did they know who to ask?
Moreover, it was dark when the group congregated outside Woodward’s house, and the photos look exceptionally clear. This was not the work of a passer-by with an iPhone.
So it should have been no surprise when the club released a statement letting the world know “Manchester United has made a formal complaint to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) regarding The Sun newspaper and its coverage of the attack on the house of Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward”. There was more.
“The Club believes that The Sun newspaper had received advance notice of the intended attack, which included criminal damage and intent to intimidate, and that the journalist was present as it happened. The quality of the images accompanying the story indicate that a photographer was also present”. Richard Moriarty is the name on the by-line. He is, it seems, the paper’s deputy Northern news editor. But back to Man U’s statement.
“Not only did the journalist fail to discharge the basic duty of a responsible member of society to report an impending crime and avert potential danger and criminal damage, his presence both encouraged and rewarded the perpetrators. We believe that this was a clear breach of both the IPSO Editors' code and journalistic ethics”. Well, well.
While Zelo Street regulars savour the prospect of sham press regulator IPSO finding itself in one of those Very Difficult Positions, there is the added suspicion that this may not be the Sun’s first offence. When Wayne Rooney was rumoured to be on the verge of leaving Man United back in 2010, perhaps even to join arch-rivals Manchester City, a group rocked up at his place. At night. Recorded by some rather clear photos.
Very clear photo taken in the dark: Woodward attack 2020 ...
The Sun’s article appears to have gone missing. But the Daily Mail’s hasn’t. And it quotes the Sun, suggesting it was lifted from the Murdoch press’ original. Here’s what it says.
“Wayne Rooney faced an angry mob outside his home on Thursday night as enraged Manchester United fans reacted to the possibility of their star striker making a sensational move to arch-rivals Manchester City … The group buzzed repeatedly on the player's intercom. One man was overheard to say: 'We want to talk to you, Wayne. We want you to explain the real reason you want to leave. We're not going to hurt you.’”
... and another, taken outside the Rooney house in 2010
Do go on. “The mob's leader, who refused to be identified, told The Sun: 'We don't believe what Rooney has said about his reasons for leaving the club. We want answers. The club is struggling for money but it was struggling for money four months ago - so what's changed?’” The mob’s leader told the Sun. And how did they “overhear” what was being said over the intercom? And who took those nice clear photos in the dark?
Right now, my Occam’s Razor is pointing at the Woodward coverage not being the Sun’s first offence. And another thought enters: you don’t mess with the Royals, and when the late and not at all lamented Screws did just that, it began the chain of events that culminated in the paper’s closure. You don’t mess with Man U either.
The Murdoch press may be about to live in yet more interesting times. More on this later.
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