All credit, `The Sun' done well for the boss

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The Independent Online
"THE SUN has gone completely overboard this time." The comment on the Murdoch-owned newspaper's unrelenting campaign supporting the Manchester United takeover came not from its arch-rival The Mirror, but from an insider at The Sun's News International stablemate, The Times.

"We all think The Sun coverage has been appalling," said another Times insider. Others in the press say The Sun is simply doing what it always does - producing outrageously over-the-top headlines that further the interests of its proprietor.

"It's just the way it is," said a Sun journalist. "Rupert phones the editor, and the line comes down. When The Sun came out for Labour at the election, there were very senior detractors on the paper. When Murdoch invested in the [Millennium] Dome, the paper changed its position overnight.

"With the Man United decision, no one thinks it worth saying they disagree. There's no point. And it's fair enough. When you join the paper, you know its pro-Murdoch."

The Sun has effused constantly since the news broke on Sunday, and the paper responded on Monday with a huge banner headline proclaiming: "Gold Trafford". It has ensured that every pro-Murdoch angle is expressed, and every anxiety assuaged.

Readers were told that Manchester United would be able to buy the "greatest players on the planet". Brazil's Ronaldo was one option, Italy's Vieri another, and Argentina's Ortega was "just the sort of player Fergie could afford".

Throughout the week, big names have been selectively quoted and presented as enthusiastic supporters of Mr Murdoch. While ordinary fans were "buzzing with excitement" at the news, the former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty was praising Mr Murdoch's "fantastic business coup".

The team manager, Alex Ferguson, said Sky had done a "fantastic job" for football, while Ron Atkinson, another former manager, declared that Ferguson would now "have the financial clout to dominate the superstar market".

The Times has kept its dignity with straighter news reporting. "We object to being tarred as Murdoch's tool," said one insider. But despite its protests about The Sun, much of The Times's other coverage has been unashamedly helpful to its proprietor.

It has consistently failed to carry a leader on the subject, which would be odd for any non-Murdoch paper, and it has produced pro-Murdoch opinion on the sports pages that critics have found overly gushing. "Toeing the line is something that does not need to be enforced," said a senior editor. "We've done it so many times that it just comes naturally."

Fans' objections came "in a moment of irrational panic caused by the fear of change", the paper said on Monday. And by Wednesday, when others were suggesting that the Sports minister, Tony Banks, might resign if the Murdoch deal was supported by Government, The Times was referring to "hysterical opposition that has been voiced by the politicians".

The Sun has also taken the opportunity to rekindle hostilities with The Mirror, and its editor, Piers Morgan. A Sun editorial declared: "One paper, edited by an immature joker with a somewhat limited future in journalism, portrayed him [Murdoch] as a red devil ... Anyone who thinks The Sun will now be biased in favour of Manchester United is either brain dead, or the jealous editor of a rival paper."