The era of sensationalism in news reporting marked the beginning of the tabloid business model. As long as a story had legs and sold well, nothing else mattered. The fabricated model of news reporting meant that newspapers were at a crime scene even before the police strategizing ways to sensationalize the events. Media became the courtroom, where the insatiably hungry press created an unjust cultural landscape.
The O.J. Simpson trial and Timothy McVeigh’s arrest over the Oklahoma City bombings were clear examples of how the media helped build up outrage via its visually biased reporting. Research has shown that seeing is believing, hence visual portrayals of the accused at the initial reporting stages played a vital role in molding perceptions and activating stereotypes.
As the private became the public, what began to emerge was a substantial working class interest in the lives of the rich and the famous. From the car crash that killed Princess Diana to the massacre at the Columbine High School in Colorado, even in death the personal was part of the public domain. Within hours of Princess Diana’s car crash, the event was being extensively covered by both U.S. and U.K. newspapers to further stimulate interest in the events leading up to the tragedy, i.e. the funeral.
“Often, the first news reports of a tragic and unexpected event will present only the basic facts of the story…however, this was not the case in the early reporting on Princess Diana’s death” (Sharrer, Weidman, Bissell, Pointing the Finger of Blame, 59), where the tabloid-press photographers were already noted as guilty of causing the accident. From the French journalists and the president of the French Parliament to Princess Diana’s family members, all uniformly blamed the media –the paparazzi. It was no surprise then when the ordinary citizens predominately blamed the photographers in consistence with the emerging news reports.
Who was ultimately to blame for Princess Diana’s death, the press or the celebrity obsessed culture? As gossip-filled tabloids consume our culture and amuse many to death, the real stories affecting our lives never get reported. The stories that do get reported are largely shaped by what will sell over what is true.
The impact –contaminated juries, unfair trials, rise in the celebrity suicidal rate and a money minded press.
Steve Wilson of The Arizona Republic sets the record straight in Time Has Come to Point Finger in Right Direction,
“I would like to interrupt all the finger-pointing in Princess Diana’s death –do the paparazzi or the drunken driver deserve the most blame? –for this important message: It’s the culture, stupid. Or more precisely, it’s the stupid, celebrity-obsessed culture”