August 28, 1998
A year after her death, Princess Diana remains the focus of much media attention. To commemorate the year anniversary of her death, America's cable and news networks have scheduled 25 hours of footage on Princess Diana's life and death. Media correspondent Terence Smith and guests discuss Dianamania.
JIM LEHRER: They're calling it Dianamania Part II. Our media correspondent Terence Smith has the story.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 5, 1997:
Regional reactions to Princess Diana's death.
September 2, 1997:
The media comes under fire after the death of Diana.
September 1, 1997:
A look at the life and the death of Diana.
The official Web site established by the Royal Family.
TERENCE SMITH: A year ago Princess Diana's death and funeral brought some 33 million viewers to network news stations, among the highest ratings for the year. Then and since her face has launched a thousand books and magazine covers. Now, with the approach of the one-year anniversary of her death, the Diana deluge has begun anew. The news and cable networks have scheduled an extraordinary total of 25 hours, more than a full day of coverage of Diana's life and death.
25 hours of coverage.
SPOKESMAN: Diana—she was the people's princess, but she was his sister.
DIANA'S BROTHER: When she was young, she wanted to be a dancer.
SPOKESMAN: And her daughter.
DIANA'S MOTHER: We don't expect to bury our children.
SPOKESMAN: A Fox Files exclusive.
TERENCE SMITH: Fox News Channel is amortizing the $1/2 million it paid for home video and photographs of Diana by rerunning its special, "The Real Diana," twice this week. It includes exclusive interviews with Diana's brother and mother.
KATHARINE CRIER: Welcome to Fox News special coverage. I'm Katharine Crier.
BRIT HUME: And I'm Brit Hume.
TERENCE SMITH: And proving that it cannot get enough of a good thing when it comes to ratings, Fox News is even rebroadcasting the funeral, itself.
SPOKESMAN: When Princess Diana began a romance with Dodi Fayed—
RENE DELORM: They were definitely deeply in love.
SPOKESMAN: Rene Delorm, Dodi's butler and confidante of eight years—
RENE DELORM: I saw something sensual.
SPOKESMAN: --saw their love firsthand.
RENE DELORM: Something deep.
TERENCE SMITH: And at CBS News, "48 Hours" is devoting its entire hour to Diana. Correspondent Wyatt Andrews' exclusive contribution? An interview with Dodi Fayed's butler. MSNBC is weighing in with a five-day commemoration of Diana. It begins Sunday night.
JANE PAULEY: Remembering the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales. I'm Jane Pauley and this is Time and Again.
TERENCE SMITH: CNN, which enjoyed a huge ratings boost from Diana a year ago, is running hour-long specials Sunday and Monday night. And if you missed Larry King's special on Diana last December 31st, you can see it again this Saturday night. And there's more on the History Channel—
SPOKESMAN: She was the most famous, most photographed woman in the world.
TERENCE SMITH: On A&E this Sunday night.
SPOKESMAN: Diana was an irresistible paradox.
TERENCE SMITH: And on NBC, which is offering a two-hour documentary Monday night. It's not just broadcasters who are in love with the Diana story. She's on the Internet as well. Newspapers across the country have devoted sections of their Web sites to her. In the bookstores Diana takes up a lot of space.
All Diana, all the time.
TERENCE SMITH: So for at least the next several days it's going to seem as though it's all Diana, all the time. Joining us now to talk about this Dianamania are media analyst Alex Jones, formerly with the New York Times and National Public Radio; he is now a professor of communications at Duke University and executive editor of Media Mappers on PBS. And Jane Robelot, of CBS "This Morning." She anchored much of that program's coverage of Princess Diana's funeral a year ago and will be updating the story for her viewers next week. Welcome to you both. Jane, let me ask you, what, in your view, justifies this volume of coverage?
JANE ROBELOT, CBS "This Morning:" Well, first of all, as you just mentioned, it was 33 million viewers that tuned in when Diana died. This is a story that pretty much anyone worldwide, certainly Americans, and Britains and Europeans, could tell you exactly where they were when they found out that Diana had died. For some reason her death had a tremendous impact on people and on individuals. It was a story that needed immediacy. We all went to London. We knew that an event like this—the most photographed woman in the world—a woman of Diana's prestige—had suddenly died. And it wasn't just that she had died in a car accident; there was some mystery surrounding her death. The investigation now a year later is still ongoing. So there was no doubt about the fact that this was news. The thing I think that surprised us the most was the fact that it continued to be news for more than a week, continued in Britain to grow. People stood in line for hours in terrible weather circumstances just to sign a book of condolence. The fact that there was such an outpouring of grief worldwide really astounded those of us who were there.
TERENCE SMITH: I think that certainly explains the reason for the coverage then, a year ago. The question is the coverage now and whether, in your view, there's any element of exploitation in it a year later.
JANE ROBELOT: I don't think there's exploitation, at least from the standard news media. From the tabloids I really can't answer for that. This is a person whose life touched so many people. At the time they would have told you they really didn't care that much about Diana. In fact, before she died, she wasn't even on the top ten list of most admired people in the world. And yet, for some reason, she touched us in death. Perhaps it was her vulnerability, the fact that she was a princess and yet she wasn't afraid to reach out to a baby with AIDS, a princess who wasn't afraid to go to Angola and speak out against landmines, and at the same time a beauty, a woman with bulimia, who would talk about her problems, a woman who married a prince and then was divorced from him and was a woman scorned. She was someone that people on some level could relate to. And she still is. If Shakespeare wrote a play, he would probably write it right along these lines. And as I said too, the story continues because the investigation continues.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Alex Jones, what do you think justifies this volume, this 25 hours of coverage?
Mr. Jones: "I think that legitimate emotional impulses are being manipulated."
ALEX JONES, Media Analyst: I would say that the same legitimacy of this 25 hours is shared by the people in Britain who put Diana's picture on tubs of margarine. I think it is very much the same impulse, and it's just that naked. Don't get me wrong. I was very touched by Diana's death. I remember where I was when she died. And I think that this coverage is going to draw a huge audience, and that's why I find it so deeply cynical, because I think that legitimate emotional impulses are being manipulated, and I think that they're being done for very crass commercial reasons. And I think that that makes perfect sense in the media world we live in, but I don't think it ought to be, you know, passed off as genuine news. It isn't. It's something else. It's a kind of pandering that is dressed up with a kind of piety. I mean, the people who put her picture on the margarine tub also did it as a tribute, and I don't buy it personally.
TERENCE SMITH: So it's the—in your view—the merchandising of the myth or memory?
ALEX JONES: Well, I think it's more important than that. I mean, I don't think anybody is going to be damaged by the coverage that Diana is going to get, the 25, you know, hours and the huge print coverage, but I think there are two things that are genuinely important that make this an important thing to at least think about and one is, what it says about the way news judgments are made. This kind of an investment in time and resources on television is a staggering amount of money and resource represented. It is something that could have been spent in many, many different ways. It was, instead, spent this way. And I think that has a lot to do with the way news judgments are made when they come up against something that is a guaranteed ratings winner. And I think it is also very important to keep in mind that, you know, while this is getting all of this attention, a lot of other things are not getting the space, the airtime, the resources that they might have. Let me give you an example. USA Today this morning—now this morning's newspaper mostly across the country talked about the virtual meltdown of the Russian economy, the biggest stock market loss in years. USA Today devoted at least, I would say, a third of its front page to Diana. I think there was no news in it. There is no news in any of this coverage because everything that has been found out about Diana in the year since she's dead has already been reported, so—
TERENCE SMITH: Let's put that question to Jane Robelot. Jane, is there anything new, anything more to be said about the Diana story, anything that resembles news?
JANE ROBELOT: Well, obviously, there is and if there weren't news, then people wouldn't want to read about again and again. If people didn't want to read about it, it wouldn't be there. And as I said, the investigation is ongoing into the crash. Whether or not there will be lawsuits filed, how much responsibility did the sole survivor of the crash, Trevor Reece Jones actually have, did he try to prevent the crash, was there a death threat made against him because he knew things—these are all questions that continue to be answered, but also just the public's thirst for more information makes it news. And I would argue that the media didn't put Diana's picture on a tub of butter, or on a lottery ticket; you know, her charities did. And that's a totally separate issue. We also find that laughable. Granted, our top story today on CBS "This Morning" was the failing Russian economy, the failing Asian markets, and the impact that it has on your pocketbook at home. Do people want 25 hours of coverage of that? I don't think so. Is there continuing developing information on that? Not really. Not until the markets open on Monday. So, yes, that's a big story; yes, we gave it proper coverage. Actually, I don't think you heard anything about Diana today. Yesterday, though, interestingly—and I'd be interested to hear Mr. Jones' opinion on this—yesterday Tom Fenton, our chief European correspondent, reported that 80 percent of the people in Great Britain don't feel like Diana's—the anniversary of Diana's death should be commemorated at all. Well, we find that very interesting, and, in fact, I have to say that, if you look at some other notable person, say if a president were assassinated, one year after that you could, of course, have a great deal more coverage than you have a year after the anniversary of Diana's death, marking the one-year anniversary of her death too, compared to last year, there's much less coverage, TV-wise.
TERENCE SMITH: Alex.
Playing on emotions to draw an audience?
ALEX JONES: I think it's just that cynicism about the genuine emotional appeal of Diana that I find most offensive about this whole situation, because, you know, it's true. People want to read about Diana. They are curious about her. They did love her. They were affected by her death. But, to me, it's the—it's very much like the greeting card industry creating Grandparents Day. It's a legitimate, emotional thing that's being manipulated. And it's not being manipulated because of news. It's being manipulated because it will draw that audience. And there's something, as far as I'm concerned, that is not a tribute there. There's something that's very deeply cynical.
JANE ROBELOT: Could I just jump in really quick. If people didn't care about Grandparents Day, then Hallmark wouldn't be able to sell any cards.
ALEX JONES: Well, I think the thing is not that people don't care about their grandparents. The question is trying to opportunistically exploit that emotional feeling in a way that is really not legitimate.
JANE ROBELOT: Is it exploitation, or is it an opportunity to be able to say, Grandma, I love you?
ALEX JONES: Well, I mean, that's, I guess, for the individual to decide. I think that there are going to be a huge number of people who are going to tune in to the 25 hours of Diana coverage. I don't think that makes it right as a media decision, as a news decision. We're talking about in many cases not People Magazine but news organizations, news organizations that do have limited resources. So what do they spend it on? They spend it on something that is not news but does have the potential to grab a lot of people by their hearts, and I think it's rather tawdry.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. I have to end it there. But thank you both because there's 25 hours ahead of us. We'll stay tuned. Thank you.