Death of a Princess
Diana, Princess of Wales, had often complained of the paparazzi who seemed to follow her everywhere after she came to public attention when she was courted by Prince Charles and later married him.
When she died in a car accident in Paris on August 31, 1997 while being chased by photographers, her plight raised public interest and anger over the ways news was gathered. While blood alcohol tests revealed that Diana’s driver was drunk that night, many people, including Diana’s brother, blamed paparazzi for their role in the accident. Not only did they chase Diana, but they immediately snapped pictures of the accident scene.
In his statement the day of his sister’s death, Earl Spencer said, “I always believed the press would kill her in the end. But not even I could imagine that they would take such a direct hand in her death as seems to be the case. It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood on his hands today.”
Diana had long pled with the paparazzi for privacy and had even filed a restraining order against one photographer the year before her death. Other celebrities joined in recounting their frustrating experiences with paparazzi, and some U.S. legislators called for measures to limit access to public figures, but journalists argued that laws on the books already addressed the issue and further limitations would prove unconstitutional and unnecessary.
Some supermarkets even refused to carry any tabloid newspapers that published accident-scene photographs. Still, coverage of Diana’s death in the mainstream media was itself a feeding frenzy. Time and Newsweek redid their covers and devoted many pages to stories about Diana. In fact, Time’s first issue about Diana’s death sold 850,000 newsstand copies—650,000 more than normal—and the commemorative issue sold 1.2 million copies, making these editions the two largest sellers in Time’s history. USA Today’s circulation for the week following the accident was well above normal, and the Washington Post sold more than 20,000 copies above the normal rate of its Sunday editions the day Diana died and the day after her funeral. CNN experienced a dramatic increase in its viewership, and more than fifteen million people watched the “60 Minutes” edition devoted to the princess. More than twenty-six million households tuned in to watch Diana’s funeral. Some journalists decried the “tabloid-laundering” of many of the mainstream media—writing about the tabloids and running pictures of the photographs to show how terrible they were. The coverage of Diana’s death certainly illustrated the blurring line between tabloid and mainstream journalism, in addition to the increasing pressure on the press to provide entertainment as well as news.