THE PRINCESS AND THE PRESS
September 2, 1997
In the wake of Princess Diana's death, the media has come under fire for its increasingly intrusive coverage of celebrities. When does news gathering go too far? After a backgrounder by Tom Bearden, Jim Lehrer leads a discussion with four journalists.
JIM LEHRER: Now, more on all of this from Jim Gaines, former managing editor of People, Life, and Time Magazines; John Long, a photojournalist with the Hartford Current, ethics chairman for the National Press Photographers Association; Sally Quinn, novelist, author, journalist, who's worked for the Washington Post and CBS News; and NewsHour regular journalist and author Haynes Johnson. Haynes, are those seven photographers "the" problem or a symptom of "the" problem?
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
September 2, 1997:
A backgrounder on Diana's death and the press.
September 1, 1997:
Jim Lehrer gets five different views on the life and the death of Diana.
For full coverage of Diana's death and the investigation visit the ITN Web site.
The official Web site established by the Royal Family.
HAYNES JOHNSON, Journalist/Author: No, Jim. You couldn't watch that lead-in to this whole subject and what we've been watching these last two days. Obviously, there's a larger problem here. I mean, there's always going to be a symbiosis between glamour, fame, success, great money, and the press. The public loves it. The Bible loved it. You go back and look at the stories from the beginning. What's happened, though, is it's gone beyond that. We're now in an age of excess, where the big money takes over and it drives all of the news business, from television into the--
JIM LEHRER: It isn't just the--people, is it?
"... the paparazzis are part of a larger problem."
HAYNES JOHNSON: No, it's not just--I mean, the paparazzis are part of a larger problem. And I think we've all got to be honest about that. I think we have the paradox here. We have the best-trained, most professional news business in our history--Americans. We're serious, solid, and all that. That's--for us. At the same time we're also so wrapped up in celebrity and scandal that it's like the O. J. trial drives everything else out, so all you see is another O. J. or a Tonya Harding, or some sort of endless spectacle, and, of course, Diana is a part of that process.
JIM LEHRER: Well, look, John Long and Jim Gaines, let's go through the process, so we can understand what happens here. A photographer, as Tom Bearden said in his report, some of them are professionals, highly skilled professionals, and work for either newspapers or magazines or film organizations--photo organizations. Some of them are freelancers; some of them are amateurs. Where does this person go with a photograph first? If he or she has a photograph, that that is terrific about a picture of a celebrity--start us down the road, Mr. Gaines.
JIM GAINES, Former Managing Editor, People Magazine: Well, he would go to the picture editor, or to his agency, if he had one, he or she, and the pictures--presumably, if they were quite provocative--would be brought to the editor or to an editor for that particular section, whatever that section would be. Then a decision would be made about whether we wanted the picture, and, if so, you know, if you're talking about a bidding situation, what would the magazine or periodical be prepared to pay for it?
JIM LEHRER: Does anybody ever ask, how did you get this picture, Mr. or Ms. Photographer?
JIM GAINES: Absolutely. Yes. I mean, if there's an obvious intrusion, then they're questioned about it. Too often though--and I'm not sure you could tell if there was an obvious intrusion.
Who puts the dollar value on tragedy?
JIM LEHRER: Yes. All right. Who sets the price? How's the price set?
JIM GAINES: The periodical would set the price based on their own sense of what the picture was worth.
JIM LEHRER: What did you do when you heard Tom Bearden report a moment ago that there are pictures being circulated around the world now of the death scene--these people in the car dying--with an asking price of $6 million?
JIM GAINES: I sighed. It's hard to believe. But there it is. I mean, I think Haynes is right. It's a different day, and this stuff will happen. I mean, it would be wrong for us to say we're shocked, shocked to find out that the press is a business--maybe not like every other business but a business nevertheless--it is. And here's capitalism at work. This stuff will happen, and the irony is that the more you try to tighten up on it, the more press agents try to tighten up in behalf of their clients, probably the rarer and more valuable these pictures will become and the worse the situation would get.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with New York Times columnist Abe Rosenthal and others, and Haynes Johnson included, that people who have had jobs like you have had bear whatever responsibility there is for this, along with the photographers.
JIM GAINES: Yes. I would say it's definitely true. There's no question about it. I think, as Margaret Carlson pointed out in this week's Time, even Time Magazine has printed pictures of pictures. I mean, we wouldn't buy those pictures, but we would print the front page of the Sun or the Globe or something if there was something newsworthy. And I don't think we certainly wouldn't have done it of pictures of this scene, but, you know, that's been done in the past.
JIM LEHRER: John Long, from a photographer's point of view, what's going on here?
The mainstream press vs. the tabloids: is there a difference?
JOHN LONG, Hartford Courant: It's an abomination. It is--it bears about as little resemblance to what we do in the legitimate press as bounty hunters do to police officers. It is--it's a totally reprehensible kind of activity--has nothing to do with news.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. But what about Jim Gaines' point? I think we could probably sit here for a few minutes and work out a scenario where these $6 million photographs become a huge story in and of themselves in say a week or ten days, we might be talking about those photographs on this program, and you might be running stories on them in the Hartford Courant. How are we going to do that without running those photographs?
JOHN LONG: Just don't run them. We just have to draw the line. I mean, we've reached a point here--this is like a watershed. This thing hit. This thing is going to change attitudes. We have to draw the line and say, no, we will not run these things.
JIM LEHRER: Who's got to draw the line and who's got to make those kinds of decisions?
JOHN LONG: We do; the photographers who shoot the stuff, the editors who put it in the paper, and the public who buys the papers.
JIM LEHRER: Sally Quinn, is that going to happen?
SALLY QUINN, Author/Journalist: I don't think so. I think we'll all for the next week or two, while everyone is in mourning, everyone will sort of be much more responsible, and then I think it'll go back the way it was before. And, you know, I was saying to Haynes earlier, it sort of puts you in a difficult position to say there are other people responsible, besides the photographers who were chasing them. And I don't really want to come across as a pro-paparazzi, who's out to kill people. But I think that, you know, there's sort of a chain of responsibility that goes all the way up. And it includes not only the driver, who was drunk, and perhaps someone in the car who said, hurry up and get away, but the people who were demanding the publicity, the readers, the editors, readers like me, the editors, and also the owners. I mean, you know, Rupert Murdoch owns a lot of these newspapers and periodicals. Where are the owners and the publishers who put the pressure on the editors to get the circulation, who then put the pressure on the photographers, who--to get the story?
JIM LEHRER: The French actress, Katherine Deneuve, said today, in fact, she said, these photographers are dogs of war, unleashed by unscrupulous editors and publishers and they should not be treated like criminals. I paraphrased, but that's essentially what she said.
SALLY QUINN: They should not be treated like criminals.
JIM LEHRER: Should not be treated like criminals; that they are the soldiers of the publishers and the unscrupulous TV people.
"... stalking and trespassing and all of that is against the law... Standing outside someone's gate or a hotel and taking a picture is a whole different situation."
SALLY QUINN: Well, it's also difficult--I think that there should be a distinction between what the paparazzi do taking pictures and stalking people because I don't care whether you're taking a picture of someone or you've got a gun, or you just don't like them and you're going to stalk them, stalking and trespassing and all of that is against the law. And that should be prosecuted. Standing outside someone's gate or a hotel and taking a picture is a whole different situation.
JIM LEHRER: That's okay?
SALLY QUINN: Yes. Absolutely. If you're in a public place and a person's walking across a public street, you take their picture, and that's fine, but I think when you start invading their territory or when you start stalking or harassing, then regardless of whether you're a journalist or photographer or paparazzi or just an ordinary crazy person--(laughing)--
JIM LEHRER: Just an ordinary crazy person, right.
SALLY QUINN: --it shouldn't be allowed.
JIM LEHRER: Where would you draw some lines, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: This is the hardest one of all. I mean, there's clearly a line has been crossed, as Sally says. If you're talking or following or pushing, pursuing, even maybe causing a crash, it's a complicated question. That's one thing. They have a right to photograph the celebrity people who are public figures; they don't have a right to go in your house; they don't have a right to break the law; they don't have a right to invade your privacy, stick cameras in your face, the way we saw those thing of Di, having to come out of a car like this--
JIM LEHRER: Holding up a tennis racket.
HAYNES JOHNSON: --and wanting to get her anger, so that she would respond to it to sell the money. And the danger--what really gets me about this thing--we're all tarred now.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
HAYNES JOHNSON: The mad dogs over here tar the rest. There are--I know people--
JIM LEHRER: Deservedly so, though?
HAYNES JOHNSON: Well, I think so, because we haven't yet stood up enough and said, we can't change; we can't change human nature. But we can certainly say what our standards are and make it clear and not play the game.
JIM LEHRER: Jim Gaines, how do you feel? You've been right in the middle of this. I'm not suggesting you've been in the paparazzi part of it, but, I mean, People Magazine, Time Magazine--we're all part of it in some ways. How do you feel this thing should be handled now?
JIM GAINES: Well, I think there is a line that should be drawn and that is drawn. I think all sensible people know what that line is. It's about stalking, harassment, and physical intimidation. It would be a shame, as Sally alluded to, to draw all of the photographers who stand outside gates into this stalkerazzie genre. They don't do this, and they wouldn't do it, most of them. They're very hard working people. It's not an easy job. But, you know, I think the line is clear. It's harassment, physical intimidation, and things that are civilly, you know, recoverable.
JIM LEHRER: I read your piece that you wrote in this week's Time, where you talked about when you were the managing editor of People Magazine, your job was to chronicle everything that Princess Diana did. Why? Why was that your job?
JIM GAINES: Because she was an immensely interesting, fascinating character, the stuff of dreams and hopes and fantasies. She was a wonderful story.
Invading the privacy of a very public person.
JIM LEHRER: Did you feel at any time that you were invading her privacy, or did you feel like she was a willing participant, and she'd made a deal?
JIM GAINES: We never got close to invading her privacy. She was very, very public, very easy to photograph. She photographed wonderfully, and she was very, very good to the press. I think she paid perhaps for some of that ease with the press.
JIM LEHRER: John Long, does your profession, the press photographers, through your association, plan to do anything now? Do you feel under siege? Do you feel you've been tarred? Do you feel you have got a problem because of this?
JOHN LONG: Yes. We do feel we have a problem. We've had a problem for a long time. The growing tabloid culture, the tabloid TV, the tabloid newspapers have been--the increased awareness of this kind of activity has been something that we've been fighting for a long, long time. It's part of our bylaws that we don't invade privacy; that we don't intimidate people.
JIM LEHRER: Who defines that? How do you define that--when you're invading somebody's privacy and when you're intimidating somebody?
JOHN LONG: You have to hit it with a journalistic principle of does the public need this information to make informed choices. That's the whole purpose of the news industry, is to bring information to people so they can make informed choices. If they need that information, then we will take the pictures, and we will publish the pictures. That is--you know--and it's a line drawn in the sand. How do you--every time you think you grab it, it's moved someplace else. It's a very difficult thing to do, and it changes over time. But that's the principle we tried to work under, and will we be doing anything in the future, yes, we will. We haven't had a chance to really put any new--I don't--we probably won't be creating any new guidelines. We've got the guidelines in place. What we'll be doing is emphasizing them to our members--I'm talking about the issue as best we can.
JIM LEHRER: Sally Quinn, back to the specifics of Princess Diana, do you think that these terrible photographs--it's clear now that there are some awful photographs taken--and where they are--who knows? Well, we were told, for instance, that they--have you heard, Jim Gaines, where these photographs are and how available they have been and--
JIM GAINES: No. I haven't. I did hear that DeBill published one, at least one.
JIM LEHRER: DeBill--that's the German newspaper--and they issued a statement late today--because we mentioned it last night on this program--they said, wait a minute, that was not a photograph taken by one of the paparazzis; it was taken after the police arrived and whatever. But I was just--but, Sally, do you believe that eventually these photographs are going to be shown and anybody who wants to see them is going to get a chance to see them?
SALLY QUINN: Of course.
JIM LEHRER: Of course.
SALLY QUINN: Of course they are.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
SALLY QUINN: And, you know, I really do think that if you were walking down the street today and there were five newspapers for sale and one of them had pictures, you may be hesitant to buy it, but you'd certainly be sort of fascinated and curious to stop and look at those pictures. I mean, it's really like looking at an accident. I mean, when people drive down the highway and suddenly an accident occurs and there are 25 people around it, this is human nature. Those pictures will come out, and everybody in the world will have a chance to see them.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Jim Gaines?
JIM GAINES: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I think Sally is probably right, but--
JIM LEHRER: Who has to make the first move? I'm sorry--you were about to--go ahead. I'm sorry I interrupted you.
JIM GAINES: Well, generally, the way this happens is that one of the tabloids publishes one, and then the mainstream press picks it up as a press story, which is a fairly shabby way for the mainstream press too, act. I mean, I think there is some blood on everybody's hands here.
JIM LEHRER: You think that could--it's possible it might not happen this time?
JIM GAINES: I think that's possible. I think this is really a watershed.
JIM LEHRER: A watershed, Haynes?
HAYNES JOHNSON: It is, but I think those pictures will be published somewhere. And the problem is, those of us who believe about serious journalism, whatever, however you define it, you have to have your own standards; you don't want the laws to tell you what to publish and not to publish, but, by God, you ought to be able to have some taste and some dignity, and you hope that the audience will respect that. Years ago Mr. Ochs bought the Times; it was the last paper in New York, no circulation, and then this "all the news that's fit to print" slogan. Well, people made fun of that, but he succeeded where the cheesy ones went down--The Hearst Press went down at that time--I think that the public in the end finds its own market.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, but you're saying, Sally Quinn, that the public is saying, hey, I want to see those photographs, and I will pay to see those photographs of these people dying in the backseat of a car.
SALLY QUINN: I'm not saying this is the way I think it should be. I just--I'm saying this is the way I think it is. And I mean, I think that the very reason that you have these tabloids is a perfect example of why this is going to happen and why it will continue to happen. I don't think that--I really--I know we are all saying it's a watershed--I don't think it really is a watershed. I think that things will go back exactly the way they are, maybe there will be rules made against stalking or whatever, but I think that as long as the money is there, this is going to continue.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, we have to leave it there. John Long, thank you very much for being with us from Hartford; Jim Gaines, thank you very much, Sally Quinn, Haynes Johnson.