This week, the British Royal family filed a lawsuit against the French tabloid magazine Closer for taking invasive, topless pictures of Kate Middleton while she was vacationing at a private chateau in France with Prince William.
The Royal’s lawsuit may actually have some teeth since France’s privacy laws shield media targets more than American or British laws do. Whether or not the Royal emerge victorious in a court of law, they should not have much difficulty winning their case in the court of public opinion.
After all, lack of editorial discretion and restraint is what led to Princess Diana’s death in 1997 when a band of paparazzi photographers made the bold move of pursuing her in a high speed chase through the Alma underpass in Paris.
It may seem excessive to compare taking topless photographs of the new British Duchess to a reckless, high-speed chase that caused the death of three innocent people, but it’s not. If the paparazzi had come to an earlier realization that their relentless, merciless pursuit of Diana had already crossed a line when they hunted her in Paris, the former British princess may still be alive today.
Already, British critics are posing the question of whether or not the paparazzi learned a lesson from Diana’s death. But the paparazzi never learn because they don’t care about whom they endanger as long as they succeed. Power, not newsworthiness is their standard for targeting a human being. With deliberate intent, tabloid journalists stalk their prey to break whatever story they need, not only for money, but for the pure sadistic enjoyment of demonstrating that they own their victim’s privacy, their freedom and in Princess Diana’s case, her very life.
This sick, megalomaniacal mentality is what dominates and drives the very soul of tabloid journalists, and I should know—because I used to be one.
During my time as a Globe tabloid reporter here in the United States from 1997-1999, I was assigned to work with paparazzi and was even ‘schooled’ on how to participate in high speed Hollywood chases in Los Angeles by some of their best photographers.
In addition to chasing Jodie Foster down Interstate 5 from Santa Barbara at 115 miles per hour, I was in the company of tabloid photographers who pursued Frank and Kathy Gifford in snowmobiles on the slopes of Colorado. My associates also helped orchestrate the illegal theft of JonBenet Ramsey’s autopsy photographs, and didn’t hesitate to repeatedly violate blackmail and bribery laws.
No act, regardless of how dangerous or unlawful it was ever caused them to pause and think about the damage they could be causing.
It quickly became clear to me that the reason my former associates were not concerned about anyone’s safety—or the law because they thrived from the power that came along with making another human being feel powerless and miserable.
So what’s the Duchess of Cambridge to do when even a remote, private French chateau cannot provide sanctuary?
The ultimate effect of this relentless stalking is a feeling of helplessness and fear, creating a psychological prison in which the victim cannot go anywhere or do anything without worrying that they are constantly being watched—even in the most private locations.
When Princess Diana and her associates fled from the paparazzi in France 15 years ago, they were trying to declare their independence, sending a message to them by saying,
‘We can get away from you. You don’t own us.’
Tragically, they were wrong. The reality is that there is no escape from the paparazzi once you become a tabloid target.
The recent invasion of Kate Middleton’s privacy in France is not the end all of how the tabloids will exploit her, it is only the beginning. Now that the young Duchess has had a chance to establish herself as new, stunning face of British royalty she will be continuously reminded of who is really in charge.
Despite the détente tabloid journalists granted the former Ms. Middleton in the wake of her early post-wedding days, that honeymoon is over.
In 2005, the State of California passed legislation designed to punish the paparazzi where it hurts by depriving them of profits that are generated by photographs taken while committing dangerous or criminal acts. In 2010, California enhanced the act by prohibiting photographers from becoming too physically close to the people they are stalking.
Although the press must always have freedom to report the truth in a free society, the tabloid media itself can at times become an oppressive force that restricts freedom and hurts innocent people by stalking and harassing them.
Kate deserves her privacy. She also deserves to live her life free of fear that she will die the way Princess Diana did. A free press does not have to unnecessarily invade privacy and endanger people to report the news. There are ethical standards under the law and in journalism—and they should be followed.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist currently reporting on the Russian Federation.