Albion Monitor /Commentary
[Editor's note: According to the Drudge Report, television ratings have jumped since coverage began of Diana's death. Dateline NBC has produced five specials in six nights, and both ABC and CBS are producing special "news" programs. All networks are providing live coverage of the Saturday funeral.

Drudge writes that Editor Tony Frost of the tabloid Globe apologizes for their current headline, which was printed before the accident: "To Di For," which heads a story about Diana's swimwear. The August 4 edition of the Globe will be a 64-page special issue on Diana. ]

Chasing Celebrities to Death

by Walt Brasch

No one takes responsibility -- not the paparazzi, nor the media, nor the world-wide public whose insatiable demands for fuzzy pictures drove the media to sell their editorial souls for circulation revenue
In the past week there has been enough blame passed around as to who or what caused Princess Diana's death, and those of her companion and chauffeur. But no one takes the responsibility, not the paparazzi who incessantly chased her for 17 years, nor the media which paid several million dollars to the freelance photographers, nor the world-wide public whose insatiable demands for fuzzy pictures taken from 1,000 yards away drove the media to sell their editorial souls for circulation revenue.

Some of the righteous claim the fault is that of the driver, that if he had not been driving so fast, then lost control, three people would still be alive. They say if he had slowed down, so would have the pursuers. But, fear is one of the most basic of all human emotions, and when a gang of seven people on motorcycles and scooters are pursuing you, it's not possible to know if they plan to shoot you with a Leica or a Lugar.

Even if the driver was drunk (his blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit), it's still the paparazzi who are at fault, wail millions of righteous folks who have never sold a photo in their lives. If they hadn't intruded upon the privacy of others, if they hadn't been so aggressive, if they hadn't pursued the princess to her death, if they hadn't been so greedy, none of this would have happened, they moan.

It's the tabloids who pay the outrageous prices for celebrity photos, shriek millions of those righteous folk who buy at least 10 million tabloid newspapers every week in America alone and give TV tabloid shows high enough ratings to justify paying thousands of dollars for "exclusive" and intrusive video clips of celebrities.

Without question, it's definitely those evil tabloids, sanctimoniously preach righteous editors from the nation's "establishment" press. "We never buy [photos] from the paparazzi," Janice Min, senior editor of People magazine, told a CNN audience the morning after Princess Diana's death. "We compete against them all the time [for pictures]," retorted Stephen Coz, senior editor of The National Enquirer.

People has published 47 cover photos as well as hundreds of inside candid photos and innumerable gossip stories of Diana since she first became a celebrity. People will publish at least one more cover photograph of the princess.

While in denial over their role in publishing or broadcasting celebrity gossip and paparazzi photos, the media have published and broadcast innumerable pictures of the car
Almost every daily newspaper, general circulation magazine, and network news show has run stories and pictures not only of Princess Diana but most superstar celebrities, often republishing the same information while sanctimoniously saying how bad the tabloid press is. People's August 25th 8-page spread about the new romance of Di and Dodi even featured thumbnail pictures of British tabloid front pages.

Katherine Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, who occasionally played tennis with the princess, told Mike Wallace on a special edition of "60 Minutes" how wonderful Diana was -- and that the Post wouldn't ever stoop to the level of the tabloids. But the Post, the haughty but sainted New York Times, and more than 1,000 daily newspapers publish gossip columns that clue in their subscribers to which celebrity is doing what with whom and where it's being done.

While in denial over their role in publishing or broadcasting celebrity gossip and paparazzi photos, and claiming they would never buy photos taken by the paparazzi at the death scene, the media have published and broadcast innumerable pictures of the car. This is also the same media which give scanners, two-way radio communications, cell phones, and pagers to their staff photographers to make sure they get the first pictures from fires, traffic accidents, and crime scenes.

TV stations canceled programming to broadcast network- created tributes for at least two days. Community newspapers, which boast how little national and world news they publish, opened up two to three full pages to stories about the princess, including interviews with local residents whose only knowledge of the royal family came from the media themselves. These were the same media which published only a few inches or broadcast not more than a couple of minutes of news about the 100,000 who were evacuated in floods in North Dakota or the half-million killed in a massacre in Rwanda.

In less than a year -- two months in some cases -- dozens of book publishers will churn out Princess Di books, loaded with photos, rumors, innuendos, and maybe some facts. Their marketing and promotion departments are now designing extraordinary ways to place their products onto best-sellers lists that could include three or four Princess retrospectives at once. For their parts, the bookstores will buy more copies of Princess Di books than anything about contemporary social and consumer issues.

And that leaves the righteous public which condemn paparazzi and the media. But, the American culture is obsessed by celebrities. Unable to be a part of their lifestyle, they live fairytale lives by fixating upon the media's reporting of every intimate fact, factoid, or ridiculous rumor. The media response, when not hog-tying themselves in righteous contradictions, is "The public has a right to know," "It's in the public interest," and "We're only giving the public what it wants."

Charles Spencer, in mourning for his sister, told a news conference, that he had long ago said, "the press will kill her in the end. Every editor has blood on his hands." Perhaps he might have added, "and so does every person who read or watched gossip stories about any celebrity."

Dr. Brasch, a national award-winning former newspaper reporter and editor, is a media analyst and professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

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Albion Monitor September 3, 1997 (

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