Steven Cohen: The bleat goes on
JUST over two and a half years ago (November 2006), Kelvin MacKenzie (editor of The S*n in 1989) was giving a speech when he suddenly referred to his infamous front page ‘œThe Truth’ story by saying that he would not make any apology for ‘œtelling it like it was.’ He also said, in reference to his decision to publish the fabricated story, ‘œI was not sorry then and I’m not sorry now.’
He went on to explain that the only reason he backed down from the story shortly after it first appeared was that the owner, Rupert Murdoch, ordered him to do so. It’s hard to believe that this man was the editor of a ‘œnewspaper.’ The story didn’t even have one piece of evidence to support it, and has been shown many times over and over again to be false. But why let truth or facts get in the way of a good story that is intended to sell newspapers? We’d be happy to forget the whole sorry story, but some people are determined to perpetuate the lies.
It was also more than two years ago (December 2006) that I was shocked to hear reports that the host of an American television football program had lost his cool during an exchange of opinions and began ranting and raving about the ‘œhorrors’ of Liverpool FC. This was of course the famous outburst by Steve Cohen, host of the ‘œFox Football Fone-in’ which is broadcast on the Fox Soccer Channel. Mr. Cohen’s loudly voiced opinions can also be heard on Sirius Satellite radio, and is available as a podcast for those who just can’t get by without hearing the ranting of this self-confessed Chelsea supporter.
The beginning of all this was Mr. Cohen’s venomous attack, saying that he was ‘œsick of hearing Liverpool’s constant bragging about how many trophies they have won,’ or words to that effect. It could have stopped there, but he just had to say more. ‘œThere’s a disgusting side of Liverpool’s history that I’ll be happy to talk about’ after which he went on to claim (loudly) that Liverpool supporters ‘œdirectly caused the two worst disasters in English football history’ – in reference to Heysel and Hillsborough. He went on to say that he was ‘œsick of Liverpool fans ramming their success down his throat ‘¦ there should be 39 coffins to go with the 5 stars on the badge.’
This type of misdirected attack, using falsehoods and insinuation, is exactly the same kind of ‘œtruth’ that Kelvin MacKenzie believes in. That is, if you say it often enough, and loud enough, and with enough conviction, then it must be true. Of course, no discussion followed the statements from this ‘œexpert’ nor was any time given for any caller to challenge the statements that were made. The only justification from this malicious ignoramus was that he was ‘œentitled to his opinion’ and he has ‘œa right to speak freely’. If it was only an opinion, then it may be acceptable. But saying something that is plainly wrong and that goes against all of the facts is inexcusable. Freedom of speech applies to facts or opinions, not to lies. As a well respected writer once said, ‘œAre you entitled to your opinion? No! You are entitled to your informed opinion.’
A week later, he attempted to make amends for his outburst. His entire speech took about thirty seconds, during which he made a few excuses and then the supposed apology came at the end. He admits to having ‘œmade some very disparaging remarks about Liverpool Football Club and their supporters.’ His excuse is that, ‘œin the heat of the moment’ he made the comments in response to some attacks against his beloved Chelsea, and claimed that ‘œI know that I’m a passionate Chelsea fan and it takes up almost all of my waking hours.’ He goes on to say ‘œI also know that when I am wound up about comments against Chelsea that like many fans I resort to insults that can be very hurtful. As a broadcast professional I should know better and not let it get to this stage. I’ve apologized on our radio show ‘˜World Soccer Daily’ and I’ve also apologized to the management here at Fox Soccer Channel. But most importantly I wish to apologies to all our viewers.’
The apology comes across like it was prepared by a public relations department, who then had him read it out word for word on air. It’s exactly the type of speech that you would hear from a politician or a celebrity who has been told to make ‘œa statement’ which is then supposed to be accepted by the general public as a way of saying ‘œsorry, I didn’t mean it’. Any of us could do the same; just take some previous statements and copy and paste as needed. It’s not exactly a sincere apology, nor are the excuses acceptable. The worst part is that in his list of those he has apologized to, he badly misses the mark – he should be begging forgiveness from the families of the 96.
At it again
Still, I was willing to forget the whole thing and ignore him and others who continue to spout lies about Hillsborough. But once again it’s not possible. Just before the twentieth anniversary, on April-13-2009, Mr. Cohen was at it again. This time he was claiming that Liverpool supporters have to take some ‘œshared responsibility’ for the disaster, and not just blame others such as the South Yorkshire Police, or the FA, or Sheffield Wednesday FC. His main point was that 6-8,000 ticketless fans had forced their way in and thus caused the fatal crush. Once again, the story continued the following week when he felt he had to respond (reluctantly) in some way to the numbers of e-mails he had received.
‘œPeople think I do it solely for a wind-up. It’s not solely for a wind-up. People think it contributes to why I don’t like Liverpool ‘“ it’s the sole reason I don’t like Liverpool. It has nothing to do with the 11 or 17 [sic] players they put on the pitch’¦At the very least there is a degree of depraved indifference here from the people who stormed in.’
When questioned on his assertion that it was 6-8,000 ticketless fans pushing their way in, and that he should apologise and retract his comment if that number was wrong, he replied ‘œIf what we’re arguing about here, the difference in the exact numbers, then my argument is made for me because whether it’s 25, 2500 or 25,000, it has contributed to what happened ‘¦What I am saying, and I will continue to say it, ‘¦ and I’ve had e-mails from a myriad of different Hillsborough groups, all very respectful and very nice, asking me to read this or read that, blah blah blah. ‘¦ The point is that if the people hadn’t been outside it never happens [sic]. This is a stadium that had no problems prior to this particular day. That’s a fact.’
When further pressed about the number of ticketless fans (he originally claimed 6-8,000), his response once again was that the exact number doesn’t matter and even if he is wrong his point is made for him: ‘œThere were people there who shouldn’t have been there because they didn’t have tickets and they were hell-bent on getting in. I’m sorry, but those are the facts ‘¦ I’m telling you now that this is how I feel about it ‘¦ What I am talking about is shared responsibility ‘¦ It is not possible, in my estimation, for this kind of tragedy to be had, whether the number is 8,000, 800, or 80 outside, there is no way that you can say that there are not some shared responsibilities. And I don’t care what reports come out from the British government, I don’t care how early they come out, and I don’t care about the Taylor Report. This is a logical argument; a logical argument.’ (Italics are his emphasis).
Well, in fact there had been problems before at this stadium (in particular in 1981, 1987, and 1988), but like Mr. MacKenzie, why let the facts get in the way of a good dishonest rant? The ‘œlogical argument’ of how the exact number of ticketless fans, and whether it’s 25 or 25,000 makes his point or his argument for him, is well beyond my understanding. It must be some form of logic that I haven’t experienced yet. Clearly if 25,000 tried to force their way in to an area with a capacity of 10,100 then you’d expect serious problems. If 25 forced their way in to that same area of 10,100 then I can’t believe that it would result in 96 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. Of course, if you had read the Taylor Report you would have seen that the actual number estimated to be in that area (according to a combination of turnstile counters, eye-witnesses, and CCTV camera evidence) was in fact a range of from 9,267 to a maximum of 10,124. Also, ‘œthere was not an abnormally large number of fans without tickets on this occasion’ and ‘œ’¦ police witnesses ‘¦ did not consider the number of ticketless fans to be inordinately large. This accords with two other sources of evidence.’ Both quotes are taken from the Interim Taylor Report, but of course Mr. Cohen ‘œdoesn’t care about the Taylor Report.’ Would that be because it disagrees with his ‘œfacts’? We can probably assume that he’s also not interested in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent assessment of the tragedy when he said: ‘œ’¦ people understood that the behaviour of Liverpool fans in helping each other was, as I think the judge said, ‘˜magnificent’; that it was wrong for people to blame, as some did, Liverpool fans on that day.’ Mr. Cohen probably also doesn’t care that the current Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police, Meredydd Hughes, recently stated ‘œSouth Yorkshire Police fully accept their responsibility for the Hillsborough disaster’ and went on to explain that every aspect of policing before, during, and after a football match has completely changed as a result of the Final Taylor Report.
Considering his recent comments and continued attacks, deliberately timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough, how sincere does that previous (more than two years old) apology look now? Mr. Cohen still wasn’t willing to end there either. He followed up his ridiculous rants by challenging anyone to a ‘œdebate’ on Hillsborough. I put the word debate in quotes simply because I can see the type of debate that this would turn into ‘“ most likely of the Bill O’Reilly variety. He’s sometimes described as ‘œThe most powerful name in news’ by some, or ‘œOne man who has raised the volume and lowered the tone of US television news’ by others who are not so taken with his style. His form of discussion with a guest he disagrees with turns into a diatribe instead of a debate. In one famous episode, not long after September 11th 2001, he was interviewing Jeremy Glick whose father had died in the World Trade Center attacks. The problem was that Mr. Glick held an anti-war point of view and disagreed with the idea that the US should bomb innocent civilians in a foreign country. Mr. O’Reilly became more and more enraged that he should be disagreeing with his pro-war opinion, and instead of letting Mr. Glick finish speaking, started to yell ‘œShut Up!’ at him and then turned to his floor staff saying, ‘œCut off his mic.’ After the show aired, Mr. Glick revealed that he was then physically threatened by the host (O’Reilly), who said ‘œGet out of my studio before I tear you to f’¦g pieces.’ In another well known episode, supposedly debating with a foreign journalist, he referred to the damage that the French economy had suffered as a result of not joining the US invasion of Iraq. He claimed that according to the Paris Business Review, France had lost billions of dollars in trade as a result of US boycotts of French products. The problem with those statements is that trade between USA and France had actually increased during that period, and there’s no such publication as the Paris Business Review. It might be okay to pass this off as harmless entertainment, but when it’s presented as news (after all, it’s broadcast on an all-news channel) then it’s taken by most people to be accurate, or that they can safely assume it’s so.
A study by the University of Maryland showed that 80% of people who watch Fox News exclusively, believed one or more of the common myths about the Iraq invasion: i.e. Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9-11 attacks, that the US had found weapons of mass destruction, and that most of the other countries of the world agreed with the US invasion. What was even more interesting was that the study showed that the more that people watched Fox News, the more likely they were to believe those myths. That is, the more you watch, the dumber you get! I would say that the same applies to anyone who reads Mr. MacKenzie’s newspaper ‘œreports’, or listens to Mr. Cohen’s ‘œopinions.’
It may be okay for some people to be misinformed or unaware of facts; but when someone who is in a position where they should know the truth but ignores it, then there is a serious problem. When those people are then given a public platform to spread the inaccuracies, then it compounds the problem even more. We rely on our newspapers and television reports to give us facts, not lies. They should take that responsibility seriously and treat us with the respect that we deserve. I’m not one to give much time to conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder about this: The Fox Soccer Channel is part of the Fox television empire, which is also responsible for the Fox News channel, all of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch. That’s the same individual who owns ‘œthat tabloid rag of a newspaper’. Is that really just a coincidence, or do I see more in it that than I should? There’s a definite pattern with all of these examples, so perhaps it’s not surprising that all of them depend on style over substance, or sensationalism before accuracy. It’s all about audience numbers, and if that means lowering journalistic standards to increase those numbers then so be it.
Marshall Mcluhan famously said that the modern methods of mass communication would replace the print media through a process of ‘œelectronic interdependence’ leading to a new form of virtual society he called the ‘œglobal village.’ It’s easy to see that this is taking place as radio, television, internet blogs, and podcasts take the place of traditional in-depth written reporting. The sad part is that now any fool can have access to various mass media, and unfortunately many of them do. The global village is now a reality, and clearly we have more than a few global village idiots to contend with.
Finally, in response to Mr. Cohen’s challenge to a ‘œdebate’, I’ll throw down the gauntlet myself and invite him to come here to Vancouver to take part in a real Hillsborough discussion. Not a debate, because there’s nothing left after 20 years of studies and inquiries left open to debate. I’ll have a colleague or two on my side, and Mr. Cohen can bring one or two of his allies to support his side (if he has any!). We’ll find a suitable venue (one of the local colleges or universities would be ideal), we’ll find a moderator that we can both agree on to direct the proceedings and keep things in order, and then we’ll find out who has the true story and who’s spreading lies. I can’t wait to hear from him and find out more about his ‘œlogical’ arguments. But I won’t be holding my breath.