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PRINCESS DIANA: 1961-1997

Money Drives Paparazzi to Pursue Till End

September 01, 1997|SHAWN HUBLER and WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO and ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

There is a certain intimacy that comes to pass between predator and prey. The paparazzi who pursued Princess Diana until the day she died used to boast that she saw more of them than of her own sons.

The lexicon for their job smacked of the familiarity people reserve for old enemies: They "blitzed her" with rapid snapshots, or "whacked her" in a surprise attack, or ganged up to "hose her down."

"Why don't you rape someone else?" she shrieked to them once during a supposedly private shopping trip. But they knew she knew better. They had a time-honored deal: They used her, and she used them.

On Sunday, fresh waves of outrage roiled over the possibility that that deal may have contributed, at least in part, to Diana's death. The tabloid "stalkerazzi," that increasingly aggressive breed of photographers who pursue celebrities, came under fire, for the umpteenth time in recent years, as a symbol of all that is wrong with our public relationship with the well-known.

Now, in the aftermath of the fatal crash, pointed questions are being raised: Who are these people? And, if the worst is true, how can the bad apples among them live with themselves?

Officials have not yet released the names of the seven photographers detained in Paris in the wake of Diana's accident. But everyone who is anyone is well-acquainted with the genre: hustlers with bazooka-shaped lenses who will go to any lengths--speedboats, motorbikes, stepladders in the shrubbery, infrared cameras--to show the public a side of celebrity that celebrities don't want the public to see.

The paparazzi aren't new. But what is new is the stakes.

Simply put, the job has never paid so well.

Earning Big Money for Celebrity Photos

This month, the Globe shelled out $200,000 for exclusive North American rights to photos of Princess Diana and the companion with whom she died, Dodi Fayed. Photographer Mario Brenna is said to have earned $5 million for the world rights to the first pictures documenting the couple's romance.

A shot of the widowed Princess Caroline of Monaco with a new boyfriend a few years back netted a comfortable $400,000 for the paparazzo who took it. Last year, a trespasser on the set of "Batman & Robin" was thrown off the lot after security guards found a camera in his sock and a note in his pocket that said, "Batman only--$35,000."

"Money like that creates an international tabloid feeding frenzy," acknowledged Steve Coz, editor of the National Enquirer. "Anything can happen when the stalker paparazzi think a photograph can win them the lottery."

The money stems from the changing economics of the tabloid business and the growing popularity of celebrity news. No longer do tabloids have the market cornered on the exploits of the rich.

In the post-O.J. Simpson era, entire television programs are devoted to entertainment figures. Their lives have become a circulation-building staple of the mainstream media. Consequently, relatively tame photos that were bread and butter to the tabloids 15 years ago now show up in lifestyle sections and slick magazines.

"We've got celebrities on the cover of Newsweek, we've got celebrities on the cover of Time," Coz groused.

All this has forced the tabloids to stretch to even greater extremes to protect their market niche, and has provoked increasing concern about censorship and privacy.

But not until Sunday could anyone have predicted such deadly consequences.

Suddenly, Internet Web sites are rife with demands that consumers boycott the tabloids. Talk radio hums with debate over the rights of the press. On ABC-TV's "This Week," Los Angeles security expert Gavin de Becker referred to the supermarket tabloids and their photographers as "lice."

Paparazzi in Defense of Their Profession

Celebrity photographers, meanwhile, charged that they have been unfairly tarred. Several noted that according to officials, the car in which Diana and Fayed were killed apparently had been hurtling along at more than twice the posted speed limit--a fatal choice that the people in the car, and not the media, had made.

"Everybody's out to blame the photographers," said Lawrence Schwartzwald, a photographer who covers celebrities and news in New York. "Well, big deal that they were following her car.

"They were following her everywhere. The stupidest thing was this guy going 80 to 100 miles an hour. Maybe Dodi was getting his kicks. Maybe he was saying, 'Let's give the paparazzi a run for their money.' I have a feeling it was probably more of a game than a getaway."

And in any case, photographers agreed, it isn't clear whether any photos coming out of the tragedy will be marketable any time soon. Tabloid editors, from London to Lantana, Fla., from Oslo to Hamburg, Germany, rushed to distance themselves from the incident and vowed not to touch such photos.

Nonetheless, here in Los Angeles, eternal headquarters for the stalkers and the stalked, resident celebrities and their protectors nodded I told you so.

Tales of Stars Clashing With Photographers

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