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Editorial - Diana: Who's to blame?

September 02, 1997

After the initial shock that followed the sudden and horrible death of England's Princess Diana in Paris over the weekend, the search for blame began. The obvious suspect: Her limousine's driver, his blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, who reportedly taunted the celebrity-chasing photographers, daring them to try to catch his car.

But there are a number of people who have fingered the photographers who stalk the famous in search of fodder for the tabloids. The target of that sort of attention, a person who never gets a break from the flashing lights, might easily abandon good sense and flee in panic, like a deer in the woods trying to escape a pack of wild dogs.

Whoever emerges as the villain of choice in this sad story, making any sense of what happened requires us to acknowledge two things. The first is that there is a market for this sort of gossip, and those who are buying the tabloids in which it's contained are the ones who fuel the search for ever-more-titillating information about celebrities. If you buy tabloids, you're paying part of the bill for the great celebrity chase.

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The second is that in recent years, more of this material has been creeping into the mainstream press. It happens when the wire services report that The National Scribbler has just published some allegation about a famous person, like the recent revelations about TV sportscaster Frank Gifford's marital infidelities. That frees up wire-service customers nationwide to carry the tale, the details of which may or may not be accurate.

It is time for the mainstream press to sever its connection to these scandal sheets, and to refuse to grant them credibility by printing accounts of their stories, at least until real journalists have checked them out.

And what if those stories aren't worth a real journalist's time? Then leave them out, and let those publications racing toward the bottom wrestle among themselves for the dubious honor of being the best at seeking out the worst in people.

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