Paparazzi Are On Public's Payroll

Posted: September 05, 1997

In the rearview mirror of a crushed Mercedes, Britain and the world are seeing a reality not evident before the astonishing outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana.

Political analyses coming out of Britain focus on a new nation - younger, more nonwhite, more female-influenced - beginning to recognize itself.

In the United States, which knew the princess primarily as a celebrity, the issue is simply that: celebrities and the mass media that served them up.

Was it fame that killed Diana? Was it the press, represented by paparazzi? Or the consequences of consorting with a billionaire playboy? Or simply a drunk driver? And what is it about Diana's life and death that pierces the heart?

Whatever the circumstances - and key facts are in dispute - this is about more than the legal blame for a triple-fatal car accident.

Their checks may be cut by the supermarket tabloids, but the repulsive paparazzi who have made fortunes from Diana's likeness are on the public's payroll.

The public's willingness to plunk down small change in the checkout line has made these photographers millionaires, ever more greedy - and competitive - for one more exclusive.

Like the supermarket tabloids, this tabloid-size publication wants to sell newspapers, but in a different way and with different rules.

The grocery tabs will pay huge amounts for pictures and stories, and accept the distortions that cash engenders; this newspaper doesn't.

But we don't apologize for selling our product by reporting what's news and what we know you want. Diana's likeness sold more papers than on any other Tuesday this year.

People are angry at the press over Diana - witness the misguided attacks on news photographers since her death. Some supermarkets think there's good public relations in stripping certain papers from their shelves.

If you go by the past, the soul-searching and posturing won't last long. Soon the revulsion will fade, the market will recoup its current losses and Diana dead will be bigger even than Diana alive.

Yet, the reaction to Diana's death has surprised a lot of people. Perhaps the jolt will spur some to seek meaning, not in the lives of celebrities, but in their own.

Bringing in Bratton You can just see them now, the Philadelphia police establishment, dusting off the shelf space if former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton does a top-to-bottom review of local law enforcement.

They can blow the cobwebs away and put the Bratton report right next to former Philadelphia Commissioner Kevin Tucker's long-ignored critique on the department's ills.

But if this city's top cops and political leaders ignore Bratton's recommendations, they will have only themselves to blame when people continue to clamor for a better police force.

Many of the criticisms directed at the department at Tuesday's public hearing on law enforcement can be found in the Tucker report.

``Unfocused, unmanaged, undertrained and unaccountable'' is how Tucker described Philadelphia's police force back in 1985.

How much do you want to bet Bratton reaches similar conclusions?

Bratton reportedly charges $250,000 to $1 million to review a department. Rendell has said he can find the money to pay for it. State Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Phila., is also seeking private dollars to help pay Bratton's fee.

It will be money well spent - but only if Bratton comes up with a practical, far-reaching plan tailored specifically to Philadelphia and not just a rehash of ideas in his book.

It also has to be a plan that the city's rank-and-file and line commmanders - already insulted by the idea that an outside reformer might come in - can follow and support.

If not, it will be one of the most expensive dust-catchers around.

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