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Western Press Review: Looking For Meaning In A Royal Tragedy

  • Don Hill



Prague, 1 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- "It is in the nature of royalty that its entrances and exits demand responses beyond personal indifference, sadness and joy. Kings and queens, princes and princesses are mirrors in which we see ourselves and our times. The death of a princess is a public death." So says The Times of London in a 1,800-word editorial this morning, seeking to imbue with meaning an event already central to a worldwide debate.

The Western press over the weekend and today pursues three themes in analyses, editorials and other commentary on Princess Diana's death Saturday in a car crash -- the grace and spirit of the princess, the responsibility and irresponsibility of the photographers who pursued her, and the culpability of the masses, the sensation-consumers, the viewers and readers, who urged the news media on.

TIMES OF LONDON: Diana was a defender of the Throne

"She communicated her own sense of the enduring importance of the Crown. By her public actions she showed she believed in and was a defender of the Throne that her son must one day inherit. That is how she deserves to be remembered."

The editorial says: "Initial reactions yesterday ranged from resignation to rage. 'Fate,' said one wire-haired old man. . . . 'Blood,' said the Princess's brother as he described the hands of the photographers, editors and newspaper-owners whom he blamed for bringing about the death. 'Horror' said callers to radio and TV stations who searched for scapegoats and found them everywhere but in themselves."

WASHINGTON POST: Diana connected naturally with others

The paper editorializes today on Diana's humanity, and explicitly leaves the other questions for the perspective of time. The U.S. newspaper says: "The sudden, brutal death of Diana, princess of Wales, at the young age of 36, preempted and quickly engulfed all other news and all other subjects Saturday night. This was true not just in Britain and the rest of Western Europe and the United States, but all around the world."

It says: "She was famous for her ability to connect naturally and empathetically with others who lived far outside the beautiful-people universe she inhabited. It was her insistence on trying to do this dimension to her royal life -- and succeeding in doing so -- that distinguished her, we think, and won her a wide following."

The Post says: "The hounding, harassing role of (those) ruthless junkies, who supply the tabloids, the rest of the media and the public with the photos they -- we -- all simultaneously seem to crave and denounce -- is a separate question for another day."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Diana learned to hold her own with the press

In a news analysis William D. Montalbano writes: "With the pain came anger at the international media, particularly at free-lance photographers who hounded Diana and were pursuing her car when it crashed in Paris after midnight Saturday."

But, he writes, Diana didn't always flee. She was capable of urging the newshounds on. He says: "As much as she hated the intrusion, Diana was also expert at using the media and paparazzi to her own advantage, Daily Mirror newspaper's veteran royal watcher, James Whitaker, told the BBC. Repeatedly in recent weeks, Diana allowed herself to be photographed at length in the south of France with Fayed. The result of one unannounced photo opportunity, as Diana must have known, was front-page coverage in the next day's newspapers -- not coincidentally the same day Charles threw a birthday party for his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles."

WASHINGTON POST: The press has gone overboard

Howard Kurtz, discusses the tensions between a free press and the right to privacy. Many will be convinced that the news media representatives have gone too far, he says. Kurtz writes: "(Paparazzi) routinely and relentlessly pursue famous figures in search of pictures that can be marketed to the highest bidder. But what was once widely considered international sport, or a mere hazard of fame, turned chillingly dangerous Saturday night in Paris, where a car accident killed Princess Diana and her friend Dodi Fayed as their driver raced to elude several paparazzi on motorcycles."

He says: "The original paparazzi were Italian street photographers who specialized in exposing the secrets of movie stars. One such photographer, Tazio Secchiaroli, was the model for the character named Paparazzo in Federico Fellini's 1960 film 'La Dolce Vita.' Even he says some of his colleagues have overstepped the bounds of good taste."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Diana's relationship with the press plummeted

Analyses today in two British newspapers emphasizes Diana's ambivalence toward the press, which she sometimes played to and sometimes quailed before.

Alison Boshoff writes: "The Princess made no secret of her hatred and fear of the 'ferocious' press." Boshoff says: "In the early years, the princess and the press developed a reasonable relationship. But it deteriorated as the marriage (to Prince Charles) came under pressure."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Diana was burned by the press

John Ezard writes: "Over the years she learned to leak material. She became drawn towards the media, and the public they embodied, like a moth towards a flame. But between a moth and a flame there is only one outcome."

DIE WELT: The press will pick apart the details of Diana's death



In an editorial that the ambivalence and exploitation works in the other direction also. The German newspaper editorializes: "The merry-go-round will continue to go round. While she was still living, she was marketed relentlessly by an unscrupulous press. Now these self same people will try to extract the minutest background details. The death, tragically, horribly beautiful, above all delivers the material to entertain the living."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: The public has a frivolous desire for slippery affairs

An editorial states: "It was only last week that Diana had complained about the British press, about its attitude and sales-promoting methods of insinuating speculations and misrepresentations." The editorial says: "After the death journey in Paris this interview shows in a bizarre way the confirmation of her own premonition: a young lady whom destiny wished well, who felt at home in the glittering world and whose rules she knew how to exploit to her own ends at times. The frivolous desire of the public for slippery affairs, appendages to the life of celebrities, and the cynicism of one branch of the press which in the battle for a wide readership has no qualms in systematically abusing privacy, in the end determined the fate of Diana and those who accompanied her."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Dignity is rare and decency is at a premium

British philosopher Roger Scruton laments the tyranny of the democratic masses. He writes: "In healthy societies there is a public awareness of human moral frailty, an awareness reinforced by religious instruction and family discipline. This causes people to accept that many of their appetites ought to be thwarted." He says: "In such societies people will accept that there are certain things that are none of their business, and conventions that protect public figures, limit information, and surround the private lives of public figures with a veil of mystery, cause no offense to popular sentiment."

Scruton says: "Democracy, however, has changed all that, not by making people masters of their own fate -- the ordinary man is just as powerless as he ever was -- but by destroying the mystique of power. Democratic man wishes to bring everyone down to the level at which he lives, while knowing that this level is one where dignity is rare and decency is at a premium."
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