It gets me every time, that picture of lovely, tanned, smiling Milly Dowler in her buoyancy jacket, standing behind the wheel of a speed boat, beneath blue skies on some perfect family holiday. It’s the unabashed way she looks into the camera, knowing that life is good and that it’s only going to get better. There’s no inkling – why should there be? – of the hideous fate awaiting her a few months hence at the hand of a powerful and grotesquely corpulent serial killer.
Do you remember the name of the creep who did it? I do because I remember how good it felt when they nailed the bastard. His name was Levi Bellfield and it deserves to live in infamy. But it hasn’t done and here’s the reason: the Milly Dowler story has weirdly mutated into something else entirely. Not the deeply affecting, horribly disturbing and – for any parent – ‘there but for the grace of God goes my child’ story about a delightful girl snatched for no reason in the prime of her life. But instead a story in which the main culprit is not a vicious, remorseless serial killer but the tabloid press – especially Rupert Murdoch and whichever hacks it was who illegally listened into the messages on poor dead Milly’s phone.
Now I’ve no doubt that Rupert Murdoch has his faults, as do some tabloid journalists, as did the defunct News of the World. But what they’re definitely not is in the same league of grotesque evil as Levi Bellfield. And one of the many things that has been bothering me about the Leveson inquiry is the way two very different crimes – one enormous: the random, brutal murder of a child; one rather less so: the hacking of a teenager’s mobile phone – appear to have been conflated in the public imagination.
“So you don’t think the gutter press should be brought to account?” runs the subtext of the current witchhunt hysteria. “Huh. And I suppose you’re the kind of person who doesn’t actually care that Milly Dowler got murdered. And I bet you think it was hilariously funny when nice Hugh Grant, who has brought so much pleasure to millions, got dragged through the muck over that prostitute incident in LA. And I bet you’re the kind of person who, before Charlotte Church came of age, would have bid in an internet auction to be the first to deflower her. And I bet if a small, fluffy kitten appeared at your front door mewling for cream….”
The tyranny of emotional correctness is an ugly and scary thing. We experienced it after the death of Diana and we’re experiencing it now: this prevailing sense that something has happened to our culture of such overwhelming momentousness that the time has come to suspend all rational argument and simply give ourselves over to pure feeling.
Another name for this phenomenon is “mob rule” and one of the best-ever analyses of it was written by the French psychologist Gustave Le Bon in his landmark study The Crowd. It was written as long ago as 1895, though you’d never guess it, for its insights seem so modern and relevant. That’s probably because it has gone on to influence everyone from Freud to Hitler and Mussolini, using methods still employed by politicians and spin-doctors to this day.
The trick, these masters of the dark arts have realised, is to harness popular hysteria and shape it to your own ends. We’ve seen this recently in the way people like Al Gore have grown hugely rich and powerful by ramping up public paranoia about “climate change”. Something similar is being practised by the various left-leaning lobby groups – from Hacked Off, the Media Standards Trust and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, plus, of course, the Guardian and the BBC – agitating for more regulation of the media. What they mean, of course, is regulation of the “wrong” sort of media: ie their ideological enemies at the Mail group and, most especially, in the Murdoch press.
This left-liberal axis has been trying to get Murdoch for years. But it wasn’t, really, till Milly Mania took hold that they hit the jackpot. Just as the architects of the French revolution mobilised popular hysteria against the aristocracy, and Hitler exploited popular hysteria against the Jews, and Pol Pot drew on popular hysteria against the intellectuals, so the cultural Marxists of the Guardian/BBC axis have achieved their nefarious ends by successfully whipping up a popular frenzy against the “gutter press.” Really – whether cynically planned or merely felicitous – it was a stroke of diabolical genius. Never mind that the most shocking aspect of the Milly story – the one about those tabloid hacks having deleted her messages, thereby giving her parents a false sense of hope – wasn’t actually true. What counted, what stuck in the public imagination, was the emotional truth: that somehow, in some weird way, it wasn’t that man Levi Bellfield who was responsible for Milly’s death – it was Rupert Murdoch and his News Of The World.
There are lots and lots of reasons why more stringent press regulation on the lines advocated by Lord Justice Leveson are a terrible idea. I’ve discussed a few of them in this piece here.
But, unfortunately, in order to be persuaded by these arguments you first have to engage your brain. You have to be aware of history; you have to study the facts on the ground; you have to believe in what is true rather than what feels right in your bones.
And for all those well-meaning useful idiots out there who’ve been unwittingly help the cultural Marxists increase their stranglehold over our culture, engaging the brain is rather too big an ask.