Habemus Papam! The conclave of cardinals had taken just over a day to elect a new Bishop of Rome, a new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion communicants of the Roman Catholic Church. Hacks and pundits waited expectantly for their first glimpse of the new man. But when Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who will style himself Francis I, emerged, there was a problem for Rupe’s downmarket troops at the Sun.
Because, in the week when the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands had voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the UK, the new Pope turned out to be an Argentine. Yes, Pope Frankie is an Argie. And we all know what the Sun said about Argies during the Falklands conflict. On top of all that, Diego Maradona was also an Argie, and he cheated at Football.
True, it was not the Sun that coined the catchphrase “Kill an Argie and win a Metro”, but Kelvin McFilth later admitted wishing he’d thought of it before Private Eye did. What MacKenzie certainly did coin was the infamous “GOTCHA” headline after the Argentine warship General Belgrano was torpedoed and sunk by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror with the loss of over 300 lives.
But here a problem entered: the Sun needs to retain as much of its circulation as possible in a world where print media is in decline. And the paper has already alienated – permanently – the people of Merseyside over another of Kelvin McFilth’s infamous front page splashes, that one being in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. Many Sun readers are Roman Catholics.
So today’s Sun front page could not call out the new Pope as an Argie, and nor could it comfortably discuss the ascent to the Top Job of a Jesuit by bringing any jingoistic comparison that brought up the Falklands conflict. So the temptation of “GODCHA” was avoided, and the Islanders’ vote not mentioned. Instead, Maradona’s explanation for his infamous goal was used.
And so it came to pass that, despite the earlier and very clear annoyance of Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn (who wouldn’t dream of bullying anyone, honest), Pope Francis was given the rare honour of being called an Argentinian: no mere Argie he. Added to this act of Murdoch modesty was “HAND OF GOD”, with the Falklands stuff saved for the small print.
All of which means that the Super Soaraway Currant Bun’s usual instincts have been lost in the laundry for public consumption. The fearless Sun hacks, knowing they have to cling on to a declining band of readers, have resisted temptation and climbed down. Kelvin McFilth would not have been happy. But Rupert Murdoch wants to keep making money, which is more important.
And that means being nice to people who go to Church. No change there, then.