Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Media's Princess Bride

Tomorrow will mark the tenth anniversary of the night the Princess of Wales died in a Paris car wreck while being pursued, as always, by photographers.

In my last years as an editor, Diana’s was the face that launched a thousand magazine covers, a Cinderella who rose to the height of celebrity after marrying Prince Not-So-Charming.

In less than a year, she transformed herself from a shy, somewhat chubby teaching assistant into the world’s most stylish woman, a never-ending feast for the cameras.

But it turned out to be more a Faustian bargain than a fairy tale. She did her part by giving birth to two heirs, but the price was a cold husband who preferred his former mistress, royal resentment of her popularity and constant sniping by the palace establishment.

Soon the couple was caught by cameras bickering on a ski slope, her cell calls were taped and made public, and finally after an unseemly royal divorce, she took up with the heir to the kingdom of Harrods department store.

Just before she died, People ran a cover story labeling Diana “the poster girl for Smart Princess, Dumb Choices” and characterizing Dodi Al Fayed as a “tomcat” and “a billionaire deadbeat.” Time ran a snippy item about the “fractured fairy-tale princess.” The Diana backlash was in full swing.

But as a cynic once said, in the media world death can be a great career move. The postmortem issue of People eulogized her “wisdom and strength” and announced a gift of $100,000 to the Princess Diana Fund for AIDS victims. Time memorialized her with two consecutive cover tributes. The magazines were best-sellers, of course.

Now once again there will be those glamorous images of her while two Princes mourn the mother they lost too soon, a sad reprise of the fairy tale that reflected no glory on all of us in late twentieth-century journalism.

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