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Counterpunch

A True Confession: She Loves Tabloids

September 08, 1997|SONDRA LOWELL

I read the tabloids, and I didn't kill Princess Diana.

Not that anybody blamed me specifically. But everyone knows those photographers condemned for her death by the public were going after pictures of Di and Dodi for people like me, with inquiring minds ("Money Drives Paparazzi to Pursue Till End," Page 1, Sept. 1).

George Clooney compared tabloid journalists to crack cocaine dealers. Kathie Lee Gifford wants brakes put on the 1st Amendment because it only gives freedom to some people. Charles Grodin says when the Constitution was written, the drafters couldn't imagine what is going on today. Even Patsy Ramsey--JonBenet's mother--called Larry King to complain about lies published about ordinary people like herself.

It's all over talk radio and talk TV, the angry charge that this tragedy never would have happened if the public would just get its mind out of the gutter. And yet, when Fran Drescher urged King's viewers to boycott this kind of journalism, what I really was thinking about was how much younger and more beautiful she looked than before, and I couldn't help wondering how she did it.

I admit I looked at the pictures of Di and Dodi kissing, if only to see why they sold for $250,000. I looked at the pictures of Elvis in his casket, Frank Gifford and Gary Hart getting very cozy with women, not their wives and, yes, at the most graphic crime-scene pictures of the slain Ron [Goldman] and O.J. Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole--in spite of an angry boycott of the issue of the Globe that ran them.

I also did an Internet search for the photographs even the Globe and the National Enquirer vow they will never publish of the Diana-Dodi accident. I only found photos of the smashed car. I'd already seen that on television.

I don't mean any harm by it. These are topics everyone was talking about, experiences we as a society share in common. I think I was most saddened by Diana's death because I wanted the story line to continue--the sad, beautiful aristocrat who was a commoner like the rest of us, who made a stilted monarchy come alive. I paid more attention to her wardrobe and taped cellular calls with a secret lover than her work with AIDS patients and lepers. I can't for the life of me recall being aware of her campaign against land mines until after her death.

I didn't even notice she was more important to me than her latest layout at the checkout stand until I read the headline "Princess Diana Dead" and thought, no, it must be a sick joke, it's so awful for her to be snatched away. But didn't we all feel so close to her because of these stories?

For a dozen years, I reported the most delicious tidbits from the tabloids (including Hillary's space alien baby and another infant born with 10-inch rabbit ears) on the radio. I had fun with it even though I knew the subjects found them hurtful and were, at least some of the time, unjustly maligned. No one deserves libel, but doesn't public curiosity come with the territory?

I've done some soul-searching about my attraction to this kind of journalism over this week. I know it's not enough to take refuge in the excuse that I'm not the only one. It's not enough to point out that the driver of the Mercedes was in an unfit condition or that a royal chauffeur would never have sped away as the chauffeur did--and that in no way was it "murder."

But if I said now, "I'll stop reading the tabloids," I'd be lying. I'll be sure to watch Geraldo (and switch back and forth to Larry) when alleged backbiting sportscaster Marv Albert goes to court, or Lisa Marie or Michael Jackson's current wife, Debbie, decides to tell all about Michael, or when someone (I think I know who) is finally arrested in JonBenet's murder. I accept that it's a character flaw. But it isn't, and shouldn't be, a crime.

Sondra Lowell for 12 years was the "Tabloid Tattler" on KABC radio.

Counterpunch fax: (213) 237-5123; e-mail: Counterpunch@latimes.com.

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