Princess Diana's will: Save journalism - opinion

MIDDLE ISRAEL: 25 years after her death her career looms as an early victim of journalism's perversion.

 A MAN reads a paper paying tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, as a woman covers her face in grief on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, August 31, 1997. (photo credit: JASPER JUINEN/REUTERS )
A MAN reads a paper paying tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, as a woman covers her face in grief on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, August 31, 1997.
(photo credit: JASPER JUINEN/REUTERS )

Dear Diana,

How time flies. It’s been a quarter century since your premature departure, so we want to bring you up-to-date about what has happened down here since our eulogy probed journalism’s role in your unnatural death (“What is journalism?” September 5, 1997). 

Well, politically, Britain has changed six prime ministers, and next week will appoint a seventh. Socially, your country had its second female prime minister, and may next week have its third. Also, London now has a Muslim mayor, and next week Britain may get its first non-Christian prime minister, a Hindu. 

There also were big historical dramas. Islamist terrorism struck in multiple countries including the US and Britain; your country went to two wars, and – regardless of those wars – left the European Union. 

On the narrow plain that involved you directly, events have been less breathtaking, though by no means insignificant. 

Your ex married you-know-who, but at 73 he has yet to succeed your former mother-in-law, whose reign has become the longest in British history, and in fact is now less than two years away from becoming the longest in all of history, elbowing Louis XIV’s kingship of 72 years. 

Your sons have grown, married, and bore you five lovely grandchildren, but the younger boy, who married a racially mixed American, has broken away from the royal house. 

Revitalizing the British Royal Family like no one else

Having said all this, what you brought to royalty in general, and to Britain’s in particular, has been matched by no one. 

The natural glamour, charm and simplicity that you combined are remembered in your afterlife as the breath of fresh air to which they added up in your life. Equally well recalled, and in recent years also dramatized in multiple films, is the royal envy you unwittingly sparked. 

Also unforgotten, but less valued, is what happened between you and journalism in your life, and what happened between you and pseudo-journalism in your death. And that is also where the eras that preceded and followed your death connect. 

THE MEDIA celebrated your emergence. 

The tabloids feasted on your beauty and on the fairytale aura that your background and looks evoked, while the broadsheets wondered whether you were granting an ossified institution new relevance and vigor. 

That was in the first years. Then, as trouble brewed in paradise, the press exposed your plight. The legend about improbable royalty became a tragedy of infidelity, dislocation and captivity. The numerous print publications and broadcast outlets that told this story understandably varied in their coverages’ accuracy, partiality and proportion. 

Still, even the tabloid front page that screamed “MY LIFE IS TORTURE” while revealing the taped conversation in which you told a friend the state of your marriage – was doing what the media is meant to do, which is to write history’s first draft. 

That cannot be said of the paparazzi who nested outside your dwellings, ambushed you wherever you went, and were chasing your car when it hit the Parisian pillar that took your life. 

As this column noted while eulogizing you, voyeurism has nothing to do with history’s first draft. It dwells on the trivial, anecdotal and strictly private, and, rather than seek to inform so that the people shall know, it seeks to thrill so that the people shall drool from the mouth. 

Sadly, since your departure, this scourge has not only survived, but in fact resurged, after having been reinvented in previously unthinkable ways.  

The paparazzi have only gotten worse

WHEN YOU died, email and the Internet were infants, offices had fax machines, computers had floppy disks, telephones had answering machines, mobile phones were bulky, expensive and rare, and cameras were three-dimensional compilations of plastic, steel and glass that people strapped around their necks.

Now billions have in their pockets a palm-sized flat screen with which they talk, read, write, photograph, film and transmit anything to anyone instantaneously. 

Seven years after your televised funeral attracted more than 2 billion viewers, and thus became one of the most universally experienced events in history – mankind invented the social network, a wireless grouping where people exchange texts, photos and video clips, thus giving anyone an opportunity to startle everyone. 

Some of this revolution’s results have been good. Medicines got to patients faster, civic initiatives multiplied, and – this you can appreciate better than others – it brought together lonely hearts who might otherwise have never met. 

However, the new invention also gave voyeurism a turbo engine of which your paparazzi could not even dream. Now everyone is voyeurism’s potential target and tool. The paparazzi’s perversion of journalism in your era has been inherited by our era’s industry of broken mirrors. 

So pervasive has the new paparazzi culture become that millions today crave the kind of exposure that you came to loathe. Adults, teens, and kids in five continents habitually expose themselves to all kinds of bizarre situations and positions hoping to transform, if even for just a few minutes, from the frogs that they are to caricatures of the princess that you were. 

Now, realizing you have a message to these masses, I am sending you this draft of your will to them, a will which – unless of course you tell me otherwise before then – I will publish this weekend: 

  • First, fame stinks. Don’t chase after it, or it will turn on you at the moment of its choosing and bury you alive. 
  • Second, celebrity is a mirage. The celebration of unearned beauty, success and wealth is as genuine as the smile on the bridal figurine atop the wedding cake. One bite and it grinds into dust. 
  • Lastly, save journalism. Its true practitioners liberated me from the palatial cage where I shouldn’t have lived, and its perverters pushed me into the dark tunnel where I shouldn’t have died.

The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.