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7 July 2011

The phone hacking scandal is a disgrace. And it will all happen again

The media acts as it does because it's the way we like it.

By Dan Hodges

It will happen again. We’ll have our debates, enquiries and investigations. People will resign and get sacked and go to jail. And then it will all happen again.

There is a simple reason why the parents of a murdered schoolgirl lived with false hope, and the investigation into their daughter’s brutal killing jeopardised. Because that’s the way we wanted it. Not just Glenn Mulcaire or, possibly, Rebekah Brooks. All of us.

Oh, it’s unfortunate, of course. We feel sympathy for the Dowlers; it would be inhuman not to. But our humanity never actually extended so far as doing anything to prevent it. Doing anything to break the cycle, the synthetic outrage and cover up.

The relationship between politicians, press and police has always been a perverse one. You scratch my back, I’ll stab yours. But when push came to shove, and the chips were down, the unholy trinity rallied round to protect their own.

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Yes the press have been drunk on power. But only because the politicians kept handing them the bottle and refusing to call last orders. And when anyone complained about their loutish and unruly behaviour, the forces of law and order were on hand to discretely move people on their way.

Tom Watson, likely to be just about the only person to emerge from this sordid episode with his reputation intact, claimed on Newsnight that the inaction of politicians was motivated by fear. They dare not move against the media through trepidation over the personal and professional consequences.

He’s wrong. Politicians refused to ring the bell of the last chance saloon because they loved it in there. I know. I spent many happy hours propping up the bar with them.

When Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell were at the height of their powers, which media organisation did the chose to go to war with. News International? No, the BBC. When Damian McBride was compiling his dossier on David Cameron who do you think he was planning to give it to? The Independent?

As soon as Labour got into power we didn’t just dance with the devil. We piled into his chauffer-driven limo, grabbed the cigars and the strippers, and went on a decade long bender with him.

We loved that we could use our erstwhile media enemies to “do a number” on our political opponents. We bragged about our contacts and new found press relationships. Mocked the Tories for their laughable efforts to match our prowess at media manipulation.

And you think we didn’t know? How our new friends worked. What they were up to. I remember a colleague excitedly regaling with me with the tale of how having planted a story on an errant Tory politician, one of the tabloids was going to track him down. Bribing employees of credit card companies for hotel details. Airlines, to obtain passenger lists. Mobile companies for phone records.

We weren’t ignorant of the way the press worked. Or shocked by it. We were titillated by it. Here were the dark arts laid out before us. We had arrived.

And you seriously think those days are now behind us? The Rubicon is finally about to be forded.

By who? David Cameron? The man who had Coulson on his staff and Brooks on his Christmas dinner party list. By Ed Miliband? Who at the start of the year was sending out emails imploring his MPs not to link the BSkyB deal with phone-hacking, and telling them if they’d had their own phones hacked they were on their own and it wasn’t a matter for him or the Labour Party.

Trust me. There will be lots of rage and anguish. Much of it will be sincere. But those advertisers will eventually want to sell their products. The police will start to miss their back-handers. And a year out from an election, those News International endorsements are going to look enticing. You think poor Mr and Mrs Dowler are going to be allowed to stand in the way of all that?

The media acts the way it does because it’s the way we like it. Politicians, police and press.

And those other co-conspirators. The great British public. Phones are bugged because we want to read what’s on them. Police are bribed because we want to hear the stories they have to tell. Politicians acquiesce because despite out strenuous denials, when they tell us how to vote, we listen.

“David Cameron has jumped into the sewer,” said Peter Oborne over the Prime Ministers relationship with the Murdoch press. He’s right, he has. And we’re all in there splashing happily along beside him.

In a democracy, we get the press we deserve. And boy, do we all deserve Rebekah Brooks and Glenn Mulcaire.

Weep for Milly Dowler, her parents and their torment. But hold a tear or two back. Because all this will be happening again.

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