Reflections of a Cog in the Celebrity-Gossip Machine

Face it. All over the world people have become addicted to celebrity gossip. It's better than drugs -- cheaper, legal, and convenient as checkstand candy bars. Like drugs, it helps people check out from stress. We seek oblivion in the lives of the rich and famous.On the ever-polite BBC, a commentator suggests that the excesses of paparrazi journalism are a dismal commentary on our society -- and then introduces a reporter on the scene who describes in full detail the posture and facial expressions of Princess Diana's sons on their way to church after learning of her death.These days, lots of my friends -- editors, writers, professionals -- read tabloids. A newspaper editor says she always picks the longest grocery store line so she can grab a tabloid and catch up on gossip. A writer confides that when her life hits a nose-dive, she doubles up on her supply of Princess Di biographies. A lawyer friend buys a tabloid whenever she feels brain-dead from the office.I'm no better. Worse, actually. I'm not a photographer who chased Princess Diana everywhere in the hope of making big bucs. But I was a cog in the celebrity-gossip machine.In 1992, while in London on a reporting trip, I hit the streets one morning to be greeted by headlines blaring about the first tell-all book on Princess Di -- "Diana: Her Story," by Andrew Morton. Scooping up every tabloid on the stand, I raced back to whip out one of the first American newspaper stories on the unfolding scandal, chronicling everything from bulimia to suicide attempts.Did I contribute to her death? Her brother, Earl Charles Spencer, says every owner and editor of every publication that paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of Diana now has blood on their hands. He didn't extend the blood-money indictment to writers and readers, but we also contributed. Photographers don't normally write their own captions or headlines for their work.Diana is said to have collaborated with Andrew Morton to get her story out, so I could argue that my story helped her case. But I'm not interested in rationalizing. I miss her too intensely.Some say the paparazzi who chased Diana should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. Others suggest a boycott of tabloids -- a more interesting and difficult idea. Blame is easy, but boycotts require self-awareness and control. If we don't buy, paparrazi won't work, but kicking the habit takes will power. After our anger cools and our mourning fades, when life heaps on the stress and struggles, can we continue to resist?How long can we last without breaking down to buy the latest celebrity gossip--from toe sucking to drug detox--that spices up our mundane realities?Maybe, when wavering at the checkstand, it will help to remember Princess Diana -- how she entered our lives through a camera lens and perhaps lost her life in part because of one. But I suspect we'll be looking to spot the next queen of hearts -- after the funeral comes the coronation.

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