Will The BBC’s Princess Diana Scandal Be A Tipping Point For Public Acceptance That The News Media Can’t Be Trusted? [Corrected]


I hope so. It’s a long shot, but you never know when something is the proverbial final straw. The BBC is often held up as a model of ethical journalism—that’s nonsense, but a lot of Americans believe it. Now we have proof of just how scummy and corrupt the BBC is, and the company can’t deny it.

An investigation into the BBC’s conduct that produced the 1995 interview of Princess Diana by Martin Bashir revealed that the interview was based on despicable and unethical practices. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who remembers Bashir, who became an MSNBC host and was sacked after saying on the air that Sarah Palin should be forced to eat shit. He handled the sensational interview in which Diana talked about her bulimia, the miseries of royal life, and her husband’s ongoing infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles. Her shocking attacks on the Royals completed her rift with Buckingham Palace and, as Prince William said yesterday, damaged Diana’s relationship with Prince Charles beyond repair.

Even for a journalist, what Bashir did was beyong unethical tending into evil. Bashir told Diana’s brother, the Earl of Spencer, that he had acquired canceled checks proving the Royal Family was paying individuals, including Charles’ aides, to spy on Diana. He “acquired” them because he had the BBC’s graphics department to mock up fake checks to show to Spencer. This “evidence” convinced the Earl that Diana’s fears were justified, so he told her immediately about the supposed surveillance plot. This, in turn, so infuriated Diana that she agreed to a “tell-all” interview.

The report says Diana’s attorney told investigators that Diana was already convinced that someone would try to kill her, and Bashir’s lies exploited her fragile state of mind.

The investigation just completed was overseen by retired British judge Lord Dyson, who found that the BBC’s own investigation in 1996 was little better than a cover-up. Bashir lied about showing the fake documents to anyone and was exonerated by the BBC of any wrongdoing. Now, 25 years after an interview that breached, never mind the moribund journalism ethics rules, but universal ethics principles under reciprocity, absolutism and utilitarianism, the organization accountable issued this pathetic statement:

BBC apology

The BBC has sent letters of apology to Spencer and Princes William and Harry, and is giving back the awards it won for the interview.

After 25 years. Because it was caught, that’s all.

People, including Americans, are irrationally emotional about Princess Diana. Maybe the realization that what passes for an “ethical” news organization would treat her this way and manipulate a vulnerable young woman for ratings and accolades will make those still in denial over what journalism has become  slap themselves on the foreheads, hard, and say: “What a fool I’ve been! These people are enemies of decency, democracy and civilization! We have to join together and force them to reform, to commit to their duties of independence, objectivity, balance, non partisanship, competence and courage. We must not tolerate any less!”




13 thoughts on “Will The BBC’s Princess Diana Scandal Be A Tipping Point For Public Acceptance That The News Media Can’t Be Trusted? [Corrected]

  1. The media’s capacity to manipulate, like the ability of snails and slugs to to traverse the edge of a razor, depends on the quantity and quality of the slime they produce.

  2. Do you mind being notified of typos in the comment section?

    I usually avoid using the comments section for this because someone else usually point them out or emails you (I think).

    3rd paragraph: “that he had acquired had canceled checks” – one to many hads.

    I never paid much attention to news about Princess Diana; if it wasn’t for this post I wouldn’t even know about this particular interview.

    I really don’t even know if you can call Journalism a profession any longer. Doesn’t profession imply a level of professionalism. That’s something that’s long gone from today’s version of journalism. Sure, there are still a few good journalists but most of those have broken away from mainstream news organizations recently.

  3. This explains the current Duke, Charles Spencer, and his bitter outburst at Diana’s funeral. I do not profess to be a Dianaphile but I did buy a 21 inch Diana in full bridal regalia at a thrift shop and my own wedding dress turned out to be a copy inspired by Diana’s gown though I didn’t know it at the time.

  4. So Bashir committed fraud and forgery, there’s no other way to describe it, and the BBC buried it. Generally speaking the elements of fraud are:

    1. Misrepresentation of a material fact
    2. Knowledge on the part of the accused that they were misrepresenting the fact
    3. The misrepresentation was made purposefully, with the intent of fooling the victim
    4. The victim believed the misrepresentation and relied upon it
    5.The victim suffered damages as a result of the misrepresentation

    Elements of forgery are:

    1. False making – The person must have taken paper and ink and created a false document from scratch. Forgery is limited to documents. “Writing” includes anything handwritten, typewritten, computer-generated, printed, or engraved.
    2 Material alteration – The person must have taken a genuine document and changed it in some significant way. It is intended to cover situations involving false signatures or improperly filling in blanks on a form.
    3. Ability to defraud – The document or writing has to look genuine enough to qualify as having the apparent ability to fool most people.
    4. Legal efficacy – The document or writing has to have some legal significance affecting another person’s right to something. A writing of social significance cannot be the subject of forgery.
    5. Intent to defraud – The specific state of mind for forgery does not require intent to steal, only intent to fool people. The person must have intended that other people regard something false as genuine. A forgery is complete upon having created such a document with this requisite intent.

    Sounds like both to me. Bashir should be in jail, but I’m sure the statute of limitations has long run. I’m disgusted reading this. He had written lies mocked up to fool Earl Spencer and Diana into believing that the Royal family was out to get her, to push her into spilling embarrassing facts and nasty attacks on her former in-laws. This would be criminal even if was just an ordinary woman having the ordinary problem of being dissatisfied with her marriage and not getting along with her former in-laws. It should get no pass because the people involved were public figures.

    Just for the record, I think the whole Diana mess was just that, a mess, from the get-go. Diana was a poor choice of wife for Charles, or really for anyone at the time of their marriage. She was barely out of her teens, came from a less than stable home life, and, with apologies to both families, she was not only not the sharpest arrow in the quiver, but she was a pretty dull arrow (failed her O-levels twice, only got as far as finishing school). Charles, 13 years her senior, never really loved her. His heart was always with Camilla, and he never really even made a good faith effort to love her.

    My sympathies, as someone who is now older and experienced, are at least evenly divided between the two. When they got married, Charles was 33 and very broadly experienced, a university graduate and master of arts, naval officer, helicopter and jet pilot (although not very good at the latter), charity executive, and diplomat, among other things. Against that, Diana was not much more than a shallow, inexperienced kid who’d been born with a silver spoon in her mouth and never done much substantive work beyond being a teacher’s aide. I was 33 once too, and I’d been practicing as an attorney for 8 years. I once dated (briefly) a woman who had only gone as far as high school, and knew we were not even close to compatible after one too many one-sided conversations. Unfortunately for Charles, he couldn’t just walk away and pick his own bride who was more compatible. He was pushed into this marriage. As you’re probably aware I’ve never married myself, and being unmarried has its drawbacks, but I’d choose a hundred lifetimes as a bachelor over marrying someone who was incompatible. The relationship was doomed pretty much from the get-go.

    Lest it be forgotten, Diana was not the long-suffering, unhappy, unloved wife the media would have us believe she was. She had at least three affairs during her marriage to Charles: salesman James Gibley, army officer James Hewitt (whose red hair has led many to speculate he is Harry’s real father, although that’s not possible because the two did not become intimate until 2 years after Harry was born), and Metropolitan Police protection officer Barry Mannakee (who Diana thought was murdered by the UK security services after the affair was discovered and he was kicked off the royal detail, to die soon after in a motorcycle accident).

    Diana was not too smart, not too stable, already suspicious, bitter about her treatment by the House of Windsor, eager to stay relevant, and easy to prey on by unscrupulous journalists looking for a scoop, especially one who confirmed her worst fears to her…or so she thought, because she was too eager to believe.

    Frankly, this was worse in some ways than Mary Mapes and Dan Rather’s attempts to slime George W. Bush during the 2004 campaign by relying on unauthenticated documents and cutting other journalistic corners to air a new story criticizing his Air National Guard service in the hopes it would do fatal damage to his reelection campaign. At least there was no out and out lying or deliberate deception on their part, although the results could have been much more consequential.

    There are many more examples of media malfeasance to influence the news that I could give: the unfair late hit on Bush the elder to sink his reelection campaign, the refusal to let the Valerie Plame story go long after it had ceased to be a mystery, and a lot more that’s happened recently.

    It should terrify everyone that the media has shown the lengths it is willing to go to get a story or to get the story it wants. It should terrify everyone more that the media has shown it’s willing to out and out lie and deceive to get what it wants, regardless of the consequences for others. Accurate information is the key to almost every aspect of life. It’s why governments, militaries, and other agencies responsible for policy decisions or public safety inevitably have people tasked with gathering relevant intelligence (and please no jokes about military intelligence being an oxymoron. It’s not true, it’s not funny, and it exhausted its limited appeal three decades ago). You can’t invest wisely if you can’t get accurate news about the stock market. You can’t transfer property to best effect if you can’t get accurate news about the real estate market. You cant vote and have it mean anything if you can’t get accurate news about the candidates. And you can’t govern your own behavior towards others if someone who’s supposed to be trustworthy is lying to you about them.

    I used to believe that the news agencies were wise people who reported accurate, relevant information, neatly broken down into international, national, local, business, sports, and weather. Then I believed that some of the news was that way, some was more the gossipy guy looking to grab your attention and hold it, i.e. infotainment. Now I’m beginning to believe that the news agencies and media are simply liars and manipulators, no better than a villain in a story who intercepts messages between nearby rulers and changes a peace overture to a challenge, an offer to trade into an accusation of unfair practices, and so on.

  5. Sorry, but if the BBC’s treatment of Jimmy Savile and the others didn’t do it, I don’t see why this minor bit involving Princess Diana should. I do find it important that every time Johnny Rotten talks about this, he mentions the ‘others’ at BBC who also sexually abused children in the open, but he doesn’t say who they were and Piers Morgan doesn’t ask. The first time I saw this brought up by Johnny Rotten in an interview with Morgan, Piers Morgan quickly changed the subject when Johnny Rotten mentioned that there were ‘others’ at BBC raping children.

    • You don’t? 1) Nobody cares about Johnny Rotten. 2) This is about a an act of journalism fraud that destabilized the government of the UK. 3) You can’t call that a “minor bit.”

      But more to the point: raping children is a criminal act, but it has nothing to do with ethical reporting of the news. A child rapist could be an ethical journalist. The question at hand is trusting the news media to report rather than manipulate the news.

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