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Paparazzi And Pursuit Of Privacy


From the moment Buckingham Palace announced her engagement to the Prince of Wales, Lady Diana Spencer provided a beguiling canvas.

She fell in love with a prince and raised two rambunctious boys. She confessed to a loveless marriage and shook the foundations of the British monarchy. She forged her own formidable life and fell in love anew.

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In each of these moments, as in her last, the Princess of Wales was pursued by cameras. The people behind them have made her the world's most famous woman. They have provided her a platform and helped nurture a global affection perhaps unequaled in history.

But they have also played a role in her death.

Although the events of Saturday night in Paris remain murky -prosecutors say the driver of the car that crashed had an illegal level of alcohol in his blood - it is relatively clear that the princess was engaged in a game of pursuit and evasion with a pack of French paparazzi. For this reason, whatever the investigation reveals, this tragedy is likely to complicate an already troubling question: whether the brunt of fame's burdens should rest on celebrities, or the men and women who make them.

"Celebrities use the media and the media uses them," says Todd Gitlin, a media sociologist at New York University. "Celebrities don't like all the moves of the media. They'd rather have privacy on their terms; but they are definitely not ready to do entirely without inquiring reporters or cameras."

It's a reality all too familiar to publishers and producers of all sorts, who find that features on famous people like Diana often turn enormous profits. The proliferation of media, and the spread of entertainment across national boundaries, they say, has exposed public people and performers to a vast and lucrative audience.

"There's no doubt that we are servicing a celebrity culture," says Patrick McCarthy, publisher of W magazine, in an ABC News interview. "I don't know how you would publish a paper or a magazine or produce a television news show without pictures of famous people."

The problem, some observers say, is that photographs and personal tidbits about such people often come at a price - and the people who collect them are most often freelancers who are not held accountable for their behavior.

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Indeed, celebrity photographers seem to be behaving more boldly. On May 1, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were ambushed by celebrity photographers and trapped in their Mercedes-Benz between two cars piloted by paparazzi.

After a television show produced by the Paramount Pictures television group ran a broadcast about his girlfriend, actor George Clooney urged a boycott of "video paparazzi" footage. Other stars have taken well-documented swings at so-called "stalkerazzi."

But the death of the princess, her companion Emad al-Fayed, and their driver in the early Sunday morning crash represents a new chapter in this controversy. It has produced outrage in many quarters against aggressive photographers and redoubled calls for legal action.

"This is a defining moment in our attitude toward certain aspects of media intrusion," said David Mellor, a senior minister in the former Conservative government in Britain who takes a close interest in media matters.

The circumstances of her death, he said, "should be used as a rapier to pierce and destroy the ruthless intrusion of the camera that serves no useful purpose."

Yet Mr. Mellor, like many observers, admits that laws designed to shield celebrities from such treatment would probably not work. Sir Bernard Ingham, who was former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, noted: "France has some of the toughest privacy laws in the world, but they did not help the princess."

The only means of combatting the paparazzi, Sir Bernard says, is to persuade publishers not to run the photographs.

But that may difficult. Already, a German newspaper has reportedly published pictures taken at the scene of the accident. Shortly after the tragedy, Steve Coz, editor of the National Enquirer, announced that his tabloid was offered on-the-scene photographs for $250,000 but would not print them.

Other tabloids have been less emphatic.

IN the coming days, investigators will examine the role of the paparazzi in the wreck. Seven photographers were taken into custody afterward, and a lawyer for the al-Fayed family issued a statement Monday alleging that one photographer was seen darting in front of the princess's car before it crashed in a Paris tunnel beside the Seine River.

Yet allegations that the driver of the Mercedes, a security guard at the Ritz Hotel, was legally drunk, and details of the speeds at which the car was traveling, could ultimately shift blame away from the paparazzi. In the end, perhaps, this tragedy will be remembered less for how vehemently this princess was pursued, and more for how forcefully she fled.

"If the guys on motorcycles weren't firing machine guns at them, I can't understand why they were driving 100 miles per hour through the streets of Paris," says Jerry Nachman former editor in chief of The New York Post. "I don't want to blame the victim, but I don't understand the behavior."

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