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Monday, December 1, 1997

The People's Princess

by Clinton Fein

On March 17, 1997, PEOPLE Magazine decided, like so many times before, to boost sales by placing Diana on their cover, comparing her saintly efforts to eliminate the world of landmines to the activities of Fergie, her lesser, frumpier, toe-sucking counterpart, who was shamelessly plugging the latest diet product from Weight Watchers.

With an accompanying journalistic masterpiece, this would be the first of the Windsor images that this tabloid of impeccable integrity would use to grace its lower-grade glossy covers in 1997. Just prior to her death in Paris, an August cover of Diana blurted the copy "A Guy for Di" in which the feature piece audaciously referred to the "characteristically overheated" prose of one of Britain's whore-like tabs, The Sunday Mirror's account of Diana and Dodi captured kissing on an Al Fayed yacht.

Then the cash cow died. Of course, frantically cashing in on four more covers in the wake of her death, this gimcrack step-cousin of CNN milked the tragedy with the sappy mourning of an adulterous widow overdosing on Prozac. Syrupy sentiment oozed with feigned courteous empathy as shallow, meaningless and transparent as a Ted Tuner charity donation to the United Nations.

In an overzealous attempt to gain a modicum of respectability in the paparazzi- bashing frenzy to follow, PEOPLE meretriciously published the full text of Earl Spencer's scathing Westminster Abbey deliverance, scorning and deriding the Queen, Charles and the very pages in which PEOPLE printed the speech . In the same issue, a PEOPLE editorial sanctimoniously announced the formation of a Princess Diana Fund, which they expressed "would have pleased Diana enormously," demonstrating what an extraordinary compassionate, sensitive and earnest publication they were. Admirable in a sea of trash and dirt masquerading as respectable media publications. As kind and as gentle as George Bush showering Iraq with scud missiles.

PEOPLE dutifully printed Prince Charles' plea to the media to give his sons the appropriate privacy so "they can come to terms with their loss and prepare for the future." But in its anxious quest to rise above the National Enquirer, PEOPLE missed perhaps the most pertinent message of all.

In his farewell speech to his sister, Earl Spencer, referring to the media's treatment of Diana, pledged to her in no uncertain terms that he would not allow William and Harry "to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair." No sooner had the ink dried, PEOPLE plastered images of William and Harry on their November cover in a typically condescending, and holier-than-thou, faux display of concern. Referring to William as "the better student of the two", PEOPLE showed us that if the Royal family weren't going to place unnecessary expectations on William and Harry, the media sure as hell were. A pop psychologist with a degree from Wal Mart can predict the impact such expectations may have on the impressionable mind of a twelve-year-old kid.

To drive this point home, and to perhaps hammer the final nail into the coffin of the brief life of self examination that the media awkwardly confronted immediately following Diana's death, PEOPLE turned on and vilified the very person who had held up a mirror at them in front of the entire world. With titillating detail, PEOPLE lured us with a December cover, perhaps the last Windsor-related one of 1997, elaborating on "Earl Spencer's Messy Split", including such meaningful analysis as to the passion evident in his kissing to the intimate dialog between he and his ex-wife in their bathroom.

Why did we choose PEOPLE as our first "Pointing Fingers" feature? Not because they're any better or any worse than any of the others in print, television and on the Internet, but because they do it with such glaring hypocrisy, in full color and on cheap paper. If nothing else, we thank them for proving beyond a reasonable doubt that all the scrutiny the debate over privacy and free press received following the wreck in Paris means absolutely nothing when it comes to selling magazines...or using people.


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