She lay crumpled and dying in the space behind the front seat of the smoking car, her beautiful face still intact, her injuries hidden, but fatal. Smoke streamed from the wreckage, as undetected, the mangled artery leaked her life force as it began to ebb away. Was there a fleeting moment of awareness as she thought of her young sons, her charmed life, of love lost and dreams delayed? Dazed, she looked around trying to comprehend what had happened. Did she know? She saw the tabloid paparazzi around her and managed to say “leave me alone.” Those were her last words. We are left with one question: Why? Why Diana and why that way? A Camelot story, a Fairy Tale Princess, a queen who collected hearts. How could she die in a senseless car crash in a dark Paris tunnel?
Diana was first the peoples’ princess and then their queen of hearts. Lovely, with an acceptable family name and pedigree approved by the royal family, she was a natural choice for Charles, heir to the throne of Britain. Theirs seemed like a fairy tale love story, he the eligible bachelor and future king and she, the demure and shy school girl who met and fell in love with her “prince charming.”
The royal and opulent wedding was broadcast live on television as hundreds of millions of viewers virtually joined the royals and guests at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on July 29, 1981. The monarchy, which had settled into an attic dust familiarity with its subjects suddenly found new life, new interest and popularity thanks to Diana who entered fresh faced, shy, charming and restless.
The fairy tale image persisted for awhile as the press respectfully reported news about the couple. A trend soon began though as the press focused more on Diana than the prince. Her every move was reported and the fashion world adopted her as an icon; the kingdom, it seemed, embraced her. Charles made official visits and gave speeches as his role dictated but the press often ignored him in favor of his newsworthy and fashionable bride. The glare of the media and its obvious bias caused problems for the couple.
The media hounded them giving them barely a moment to themselves and little privacy. Diana, unused to the attention tried to cope the best she could but felt unsupported by her mate, who was jealous of the coverage she garnered. The more media attention that focused on her, the more isolated she became and she was later to say, the farther the fall from grace.
Photograph by Kaveeta Kaul
Her pregnancy captured the imagination and attention of Brits as they navigated it with her. The pregnancy was difficult and she contracted post-partum depression afterward. Although a common ailment among new mothers, the tabloids picked up the story of “depression” and ran with it. The tabloids exposed her as depressed and unbalanced as they painted her as a daft and ungrounded young woman.
About the same time, she began her battle with Bulimia and self-injury which provides relief from isolation, self loathing, numbness, and feelings of low self esteem. She later explained that all the self defeating behavior was from feeling inadequate to cope with the intensity and demands of her role in the spotlight, and because she was not given time to acclimate to her life as it turned upside down with one act—that of marriage.
Almost overnight she became the most photographed, hunted and interesting figure in modern society and not just in her own country, but around the world. She had no time to define herself or her direction. Her life felt like a foreign country to her. She didn’t understand the interest and frenzy that swirled around her and she felt her connection to her husband was slipping away because of his unhappiness about her popularity, the stiffness and disapproval of the royal family and her inability to handle the pressures of her position.
As their romance cooled, Charles turned to an old flame and rekindled their relationship. Diana sensed this change in her husband and knew the reason. She was devastated and went deeper into her isolation and despair. The tabloids exploited her circumstances and people bought the tabloids. Diana took to reading them to find out how she was being portrayed in the public eye.
As she learned more about how to navigate her life and its complexities, she felt she had to become adept at courting the media and playing the game of trying to craft and manipulate her own image. She had to get cozy with the tabloid editors in order to manage her own public image and her children’s image. The press was relentless in their pursuit of salacious tidbits of her life. She curried favor with the gutter press often to promote the new and ongoing charity work she was engaged in.
She had, at one time, made a self deprecating comment to a little girl during a photo op saying that she (Diana) was “thick as a plank,” a remark designed to put the child at ease. The tabloids picked it up and forever after painted her as mentally a bit thick, ditsy and unbalanced. She regretted making the remark to the little girl as that comment followed her and colored every feature story that appeared from then on.
The lead characters in the royal marriage that turned out to be anything but fairy tale, were ill suited and their romantic relationship began first turning cool, and then started to unravel. That seemed to signal open season to the tabloids that hunted and hounded Diana as one of the world’s most famous and beloved women only to excoriate and ridicule her in the press.
Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales was a shy and timid beauty when she married Prince Charles but in a few years, had become a sophisticated champion of causes and an admired fashion icon. Diana, the most photographed woman in the world, learned how to leverage her fame and popularity and bend it to her will. Had she lived in another era, she might have been a subject for poets and playwrights but in the modern age, she became a tabloid princess surrounded by not by frogs who were gentlemen-in-disguise, but toads who carried poison ink.
Unused to being in the spotlight, Diana found it hard to cope with the frenzy that followed her and recorded her every move. She and Charles rarely found themselves alone and she icily reminded him of that during a family vacation, was overheard by a tabloid reporter and the Charles and Diana tabloid war began in earnest.
Diana’s first taste of the glare of paparazzi flashbulbs had come when a photographer caught her pose with her skirt backlit from the sun. She was wearing leggings but that did not hide her shapely figure which landed on the front pages of Britain’s gutter press. Her majesty was not pleased and their frosty relationship continued as the tabloids targeted both Diana and Charles and the royal mortification became impassible. It wasn’t until after her death and people all over the world mourned her loss in the streets, that the queen understood that she had captured hearts across the globe. She then agreed to fly the flag at half staff and to join the mourners in a proper funeral for a beloved public figure.
The tabloid industry then was beginning to be dominated by Rupert Murdoch, media magnate who bought up newspapers round the world to build a yellow journalistic empire. Murdoch saw Charles’ return from service in the military and bachelorhood as an exploitable situation, saw the royal family as public property and said, ‘We want to be the first to tell the British public who Prince Charles is going to marry.’ Murdoch wanted his British paper The Sun to be different, upbeat, rebellious and a little bit naughty. He patterned his paper after the Daily Mirror who taunted the royals and chided their members publicly.
Diana cited the tabloid press as guilty of contributing to the demise of her marriage. She and Charles were quite literally never alone; she was perpetually stalked by paparazzi and gutter press. Often a drawback of the curtains revealed perhaps 20 media vans or more at any given time outside their residence. Even their marriage itself was conscripted by the tabloids who reported so much about Diana and Charles that the press felt they had license to ask on their front pages if Charles was going to marry her. The wedding came about when Charles had no answer for them because he had no reason to not marry the young woman. The newspapers chose Charles’ mate for him and since there was no reason to dispute them, he agreed.
Rupert Murdoch, being colonial, didn't want to kowtow to the Royal Family so his instructions through the Editor Kevin McKenzie, were: 'look, stop worshipping these people, stop treating them as gods. They're ordinary human beings and they will help sell newspapers. Let's go out there and get the real stories.’ The competition between Royal Correspondents in those days was ferocious, absolutely savage. The pressure was unbearable at times because if a rival broke a new story about Charles and Diana, a reporter somewhere got a late night phone call with orders to find a story to match or surpass it and it had better be sensational. McKenzie would never hold back on a story. He wasn’t ruffled if the story was never checked out. He didn’t care if feelings were trampled, or if the story had only one source and was uncorroborated or if the story harmed reputations. He was considered reckless and cruel by colleagues. His philosophy: he had to fill pages, he wanted stories about royals that were sensational and he didn’t care it if wasn’t true.
Private Eye was the United Kingdom’s number one best-selling news and current affairs magazine that used humor, satire, social and political observations and investigative journalism to publish the magazine read by more than 700,000 Brits. Its editor Ian Hislop, was the most sued man in English legal history and he reigned during the Charles and Diana royal era. Private Eye is still published and popular today and still investigates and exposes subjects caught in the sights of its lenses. Richard Ingrams, Editor of Private Eye is known for his particularly caustic brand of journalism as he targeted Jewish writers and the pro-Israel Jewish lobby, homosexuals and Tony Blair supporters during his tenure from 1963 to 1986.
After Diana’s marriage was over the press continued to stalk her looking for the latest sensational story. Her attempts at having relationships with other men made headlines all over the tabloids of the world and bled into the regular press. The appetite for Diana news looked insatiable. The decoy tactics to avoid press were employed regularly as getaway routes changed last minute. One of those decoy tactics and unscheduled routes ended in an early grave for Lady Di. The official investigation cited the driver’s intoxication as the cause but a parallel later investigation found the paparazzi culpable.
Tabloid Editors Admit Culpability
The editors of the three biggest selling tabloid newspapers at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales had disclosed for the first time their own share of guilt over the accident that killed her.
“The editors of The Sun, Daily Mirror and News of the World have conceded that they had helped create an atmosphere in which the paparazzi, who were chasing Diana when her car crashed in a Paris underpass, were out of control.
Phil Hall, who was editor of the News of the World, said it was a circle of culpability involving the readers who demanded more photographs, the photographers who chased her and the newspapers that published the pictures. "A big Diana story could add 150,000 sales. So we were all responsible," he said.
Mr. Hall, speaking on the ITV1 documentary Diana’s Last Summer, said: "I felt huge responsibility for what happened and I think everyone in the media did. If the paparazzi hadn’t been following her the car wouldn’t have been speeding and, you know, the accident may never have happened."
The Sunday Mirror bought the paparazzi pictures, published three weeks before the princess’s death, which first showed the seriousness of her liaison with Dodi Fayed and encouraged the Paris chase.
Stuart Higgins, who edited The Sun, told The Daily Telegraph: "The death of Princess Diana was the most tragic story during my period as editor. I have often questioned my role, the paper’s role and the media’s role generally in her death and the events leading up to it. The tabloids created a frenzy and appetite around Diana.”
They agreed to not publish the photographs of her taken as she lay dying in the car.
In the period following her death that remorse caused them to admit their complicity and their responsibility in her death but that remorse was and has been short lived.
During the heyday of Princess, and then Lady Diana, Harry Arnold, royal reporter for The Sun from 1976 to 1990 was in charge of getting the latest scoops on Charles and Diana for The Sun said in an interview with PBS Frontline:
“It was the advent of Private Eye which people overlooked that I think was very influential. Private Eye was in a sense saying things about people that nobody else was saying and I've always accepted - and Richard Ingrams I know agrees with me - that Private Eye was a big factor in getting newspapers not to be more intrusive but to be more candid if you like about people."
Arnold continues: "I think that probably we have passed a point of good manners. I think intrusion has gone too far. I don't believe there can be a law on privacy for the Royal Family or anybody else because I don't think it's workable. Where I think the weakness is the failure of respected proprietors, not all of whom as I say are British citizens, the failure of proprietors and editors to set a standard for their own newspaper."
Lady Diana, queen of hearts and global humanitarian might agree; a lack of good manners cost her a great deal of suffering during her lifetime and finally, in one dark moment in tabloid history, her life.
Great Britain does not have a First Amendment as Americans do but they do have codes of ethics. The codes request fair and respectful representation of media subjects. Check the following page for sources of Ethics Codes. Do you think these guidelines were/are followed? Should there be a “first amendment” philosophy of journalism around the world?
- What is your personal definition of fair? Do you feel the press was fair to Diana? Why or why not? What do you believe is fair in journalism?
- Should the royals be treated differently in the press? Why or why not?
- Do you believe that the tabloids did harm to Diana? Do you believe they were responsible for her death? Why or why not? Do you believe the paparazzi have responsibility in Diana's death? How? Why?
- Could this car crash have been prevented? How or why?
- Is there a need to change the standards governing media, paparazzi and stories in the press?
- Do you believe the media affected this couple? The marriage? How?
- Do you personally want to know the details of the personal lives of the famous or celebrities? Why or why not? Do you believe you have a right to know the intimate details of public figures?
- Do you believe the media is humane? Do you believe it should be? Would you suggest changes? What changes?
- Diana’s death ended all her humanitarian work around the planet. Does that constitute a loss to humanity? How? How does one measure that loss?
- If you had the power to make the rules for how journalists and journalism are to behave, what guidelines would you draft? Confer in groups and make a list of guidelines.
- As a consumer of the media, do you believe you share the guilt if someone is harmed? As a consumer do you have responsibilities? If so, please list them.
The Princess and the Press: Frontline Published Interviews with reporters speaking about Lady Diana:
Harry Arnold was royal reporter for The Sun, 1976-1990. He and his partner, photographer Arthur Edwards, were charged with getting the latest scoops on Charles and Diana.
Lord W. F. Deedes was editor of the Daily Telegraph (1974-1986) Former Editor and Currently a columnist for the paper.
Arthur Edwards: royal photographer for The Sun teamed up with The Sun's royal reporter, Harry Arnold. They were responsible for covering Princess Diana and the Royal Family.
Roy Greenslade was editor of The Daily Mirror, 1990-1991 and assistant editor at The Sun for six years.
Glenn Harvey: Freelance photographer who covered Princess Diana.
Max Hastings: Was editor of The Daily Telegraph, 1986-1995.
Anthony Holden: Author of two books on Prince Charles.
Simon Jenkins: Former Editor of The Times, 1990-1992.
Ken Lennox: Former Royal photographer for The Daily Mirror, 1986-1994.
Andrew Morton: Royal reporter who has written several books on the Royal Family, including Diana: Her True Story, on which Princess Diana secretly collaborated.
Richard Stott: Former Editor of The Daily Mirror, 1991-1992.
James Whitaker: Reported on the Royal Family since the 1960s. He is The Daily Mirror's royal reporter.
Sir Peregrine Worsthorne: Columnist for The Sunday Telegraph.
Friedman, Roger. Comments quoted from an Interview with Fox News
BBC Panorama Interview Martin Bashir 1995
British Public Broadcasting Company
Harry Arnold PBS Frontline Interview
American Public Broadcasting Company Documentary Films
Private Eye British Magazine
British Newspaper and Online Journal
David Rowan, Editor Wired UK, Interview with Richard Ingrams, Blog 2005
British Online Journal Magazine
Diana: Editors Admit Guilt over Death by Andrew Pierce Published: 21 Aug 2007
British Newspaper and Online Journal
Text for the article, Discussion Questions and Bibliography were written and prepared by: Reverend Barbara Kaufmann