Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Princess Di and the Media

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer
E-Mail: WillWalsh@aol

The death of Princess Diana this past weekend was a tragedy. Every fatal car crash is. It's sad any time a beautiful woman dies. Also, it's sad when a not-so-beautiful woman dies. A princess. Or a pauper. Anybody.

And frankly, that's the extent of my grief with the death of Princess Di. I did not know her, nor idolize her. She seemed like a nice enough lady and appeared to be as committed to worthwhile causes as millions of other devoted people.

I am not a royalty watcher. The closest I've come to royalty was the last time I played "Duke of Earl" on my stereo. I did not watch her wedding, nor will I probably see her funeral on Saturday. I'm just too far removed from her world, and she from mine. That's not a mean statement - it's just the truth.

But I do watch TV. And the media has compounded the death of this very nice lady with its own special brand of hyperbole and hypocrisy for an entire week. It's a shame.

The early coverage is always the most interesting. Within hours, the major networks started running specials with glitzy titles and special graphics. "Diana: Death of a Princess." They called her "the Queen of hearts" as they ran and re-ran an old interview with Diana where she said that she wanted to use her celebrity for some good purpose.

They called her "the most normal" of the Royal Family, which is something like calling Moe the "smart one" in the Three Stooges. I mean, it's no contest.

Some of the networks even moved their operations to London to be "closer to the action." They dug up (a not inappropriate term) representatives from the tabloid press - the National Enquirer and the like - and interviewed people who actually said with a straight face that they never have (and never would again) publish "intrusive" photos or "pictures in poor taste." The next day it was reported that a tabloid spent half a million dollars for photos of doctors working on Di's bloody body in the wrecked car.

And as the media discussed the "tragedy of celebrity," they turned to brilliant and thoughtful commentators of the world scene - like Elizabeth Taylor. Now THERE'S someone I turn to when I want a philosophical reaction on the meaning of it all. Then Henry Kissinger. He sat next to Princess Di socially once, so of course what HE had to say was valuable and insightful. And Elizabeth Dole.

They were asking these OTHER celebrities what they thought about this "Princess of the people." I'm sure they didn't get the irony. Or hypocrisy. Sigh.

On ONE side of their mouth, they tried to distance themselves from the paparazzi and/or any responsibility for the accident. "It's too soon to tell what happened." "The paparazzi aren't REALLY members of the media, like us." "It is a tragic thing to invade someone's privacy, but hey, it's what the people are interested in!" "It's the price we pay for a free press." On the OTHER side of their media mouths, they continued to invade that very same privacy with pictures and speculation about Diana's love life, history, family, children, and even burial arrangements.

Others said that invasive press coverage of Diana was really OK because she sometimes used the press for her own purposes - to raise money for charities or stuff like that. She was a public figure, they said, ignoring the fact that it was they themselves who made her that. It's kind of like blaming the victim.

Double sigh.

It's not clear yet how culpable the paparazzi are for Diana's death and/or how much of a factor her apparently drunk limo driver was to the accident. There are still a great many unanswered questions - not just about the accident, but about the nature of celebrity, the limits of a free and/or commercially-driven press, the need for privacy in one's personal life, and how we can do anything to try to sort all of this out.

It is a larger tragedy than death in a horrific auto accident, larger than the untimely demise of a former Princess, larger than the loss of a mother or of a woman who was doing what she could to help the children of the world. Something is very, very wrong here - although we can't put our finger on just what it is or what we ought to do about it - if anything.

And maybe that's the saddest part of all.

(with apologies to Cashman and West)

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.