By Carter B. Horsley
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a
car accident in a tunnel along the Seine in Paris as she and her
paramour, Emad Mohamed al-Fayed, were pursued by a troupe of paparazzi,
elicited the most public global mourning for an individual since
the death of President John F. Kennedy about a third of century
Her death certainly was tragic as she had matured
from being merely a lovely princess into a serious and important
humanitarian who was making the most of an overly scrutinized
life, a fairy-tale life that dazzled and taunted the dreams of
men and women alike, young and old, rich and poor.
Her achievements - a commitment to reach out
and literally touch those who suffer, whether from AIDS, leprosy,
or the devastation of landmines - were palpably honorable, real
Although she neither saved nor created an empire,
or freed slaves, or the oppressed, or solved any of the great
mysteries of life, she represented grace and nobility, the latter
in its best, non-hereditary meaning.
While some details and episodes in her truncated
and at times tormented life were not quintessentially perfect,
her legacy will be one of personal concern for not only her family,
but for other people. Her leadership in that regard is likely
to prove more lasting than her foibles, or her legendary beauty.
Her death, and that of her friend, rekindled
public debates about celebrity and privacy.
Such debates, however, are relatively petty.
Much of the major media coverage of the death
of the Princess of Wales was adequate, although it tended to overemphasize
the importance of paparazzi, loutish scum who are merely executioners
for the business people who own and profit from the tabloids they
serve. In a capitalist world, of course, there is little difference
between such publishing entrepreneurs and the average business
person: morality, for many of them, has no place on the shelf
The real villains are not the overtly trashy
tabloids and their hirelings, but the high-priced whores of established
media who pompously lent alleged "stature" to news by
foistering the notion that celebrity is a great, if not the highest
value, in American life. Such celebrity newspersons and "talkers"
and their "entertainment" television news magazine cohorts
make a mockery of serious journalism with their gushing, fawning
pandering to "fab" personalities and their callous disregard
of serious news standards.
There is nothing wrong with entertainment and
nothing wrong with interest in celebrities, but the major media,
both visual and print, have higher responsibilities and those
standards have been falling steadily.
Network executives who not only pander, but
order trash have created the sensationalistic, tabloid fever that
dominates much of what passes for culture at the end of the 20th
Century. It is a repugnant, vapid, degrading culture.
Part of the problem is that many media tycoons,
executives and pundits put the blame on the public and maintain
that they are only providing the public with what it wants.
That is precisely the crux of the problem.
It is the media's responsibility to give the public not necessarily
what it wants but what experienced, incisive, and "objective"
journalism understands to be important. The press, of course,
is not infallible, but its standards cannot be treated as a routine,
bottom-line accounting dictate. The press has, or should have,
higher standards than business.
Good journalism still exists, of course, but
it is increasingly rare.
Hopefully, Diana's tragedy will send shivers
up the spines of the major media which must always remember that
a free press must also be a responsible press.
Censorship is unthinkable.
Even some of the nastiest tabloids have broken
some important news stories.
Good decorum and good news can be boring, and
quality does not always win out, but when it does it is nice.
The United States is too pre-occupied with
sporting events, stock prices, gambling, and in recent years ever-more
violent, more fantastic escapism and not enough with substantive
issues of human relations, the environment and the wonders of
It is not a unique American phenomenon.
Journalism serves many purposes, not the least
of which is curiosity. Are we being told the truth? Do we know
the truth? Can we recognize the truth? What does it mean?
One can easily ask countless "important"
questions, but too often they are not being asked and instead
we are inundated by irrelevancies, or anecdotal episodes, or non
sequiturs, or just plain vicarious silliness.
We are preoccupied with being humored, not
challenged, coddled, not nurtured.
We are the enemy when we patronize the sleazy,
the opportunistic, the inane, when we inure ourselves to social
involvement, civic responsibilities and plain ole decency.
Individuals do make a difference and emotions
are important and shared emotions are significant, but it is not
sufficient to feel empathy, or sympathy. Actions speak louder
Occasional diversions make life a bit more
bearable, but wasted lives are unbearable.
Diana's funeral was an extraordinary world
event and was handled with great sensitivity by the Royal Family.
The Queen's speech earlier in the week brilliantly transcended
critics by graciously, calmly and with great reverence paying
respect not only to Diana, but also to the fundamental underpinings
of family values, and the vital need for compassionate leadership.
The solemnity of the service was highlighted
by Elton John's moving song, Tony Blair's beautiful reading from
the First Book of Corinthinians, the Archbishop of Canterbury's
proper inclusion of mention of Diana's friend, "Dodi,"
and Mother Teresa, who passed away during the week.
A tribute by Diana's brother at the service
was remarkable for its forthright, personal affection and its
strong condemnation of both the media and the Royal Family. By
touching such bases, it was a memorable reminder that deep emotions
vie with harsh realities in our attempts to "rule" our
worlds. Because it was so heartfelt, it conquered questions
The indelible scenes of Diana's cortege being
pummeled with bouquets and escorted by applause, and of her brother
flanked by Prince William and Prince Harry, Prince Charles and
Prince Phillip walking behind Diana's coffin on the way to Westminister
Abbey, brought tears to hundreds of millions of people.
In modern times, the only comparable global
emotions have been for Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy,
Gandhi, Lenin, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, world-shakers,
and, to a slightly lesser extent, by Popes and Jacqueline Kennedy
Onassis and Princess Grace.
An editor for The Observer remarked during
the BBC's coverage of Diana's funeral that we now live in "a
culture of intimacy."
At first blush, such a phrase sounds like a
"spin" to explain away the excesses of our age's inordinate
preoccupation with celebrity and vicarious thrills.
It is an optimistic interpretation, the "culture
of intimacy," one that harkens to chivalrous trust and ties
of duty and honor rather than prurient fascination with the grotesque,
the ugly, the uncivil side of human nature.
But it is the right theme, the right gesture,
the right touch.
Compassion. Faith. Hope. Love.
These are the qualities that we admired in
Diana and Mother Teresa. The video, shown often during
this week of tributes, of the two of them talking and embracing
was perhaps not the most overwhelming emotional epitome of this
communion of humanity, but certainly one of the most poignant.
In a world still filled with scourges and strife,
in a world of harsh "downsizings," ever-widening disparities
of lifestyles and virtual isolations, in a world of suffering
and loneliness, mingled with wonders and fantasies, in a world
overwhelmed by its own vastness and myriad problems, in a world
whose nature changes inexorably, the pageantry of history and
the panoply of power succumb to the slow walk, the bowed head,
the tears, the tears of sorrow that a life has expired and the
tears of joy to know how many care.
In talking of the dying and the destitute for
whom she cared, Mother Teresa spoke of "how great they are."
Diana and Mother Teresa will be remembered,
vividly, for their gifts of love. (9/6)
In starkest contrast with the funeral of Diana,
Princess of Wales, the funeral, a week later on September 13,
1997, of Mother Teresa in Calcutta was decidedly, and perhaps
Its video broadcast to the United States, unfortunately,
was marred by serious engineering glitches that resulted in a
loss of audio and video for lenghty periods on WCBS and WNBC and
faulty audio on WABC and programming glitches that began too late
for the former two networks and ended too early for the latter.
All these networks were dependent on a "feed"
from India television for images of the funeral procession, the
funeral itself and the cortege following the long service. By
and large, this "feed" was surprisingly inept in its
coverage, at least in comparison with traditional contemporary
"Western" standards of many, many viewpoints and striking
imagery. The images, for example, of the start of the funeral
procession almost never showed "long" establishing shots,
cropping closely to the actual procession and the few, fleeting
glimpses of sidewalks along the route seemed to indicate that
all of India had stayed away except for a brief moment when scores
of observers approached closely to the passing trucks and the
American commentators took no notice whatsover of crowd size or
conduct. One was left with the scandalous impression from
these initial images that the people of Calcutta had studiously
avoided turning out to pay homage to the huge city's most famous
The final approach to the indoor area where
the funeral service was conducted, however, was more impressive
as military and police stood at attention for the last several
blocks, making their absence for the vast length of the entire
procession even more puzzling.
The very long service began with a relatively
traditional and very long Roman Catholic requiem mass presided
over by about 10 Cardinals with choral music sung by members of
Mother Teresa's missionaries of charity.
Peter Jennings of ABC had several guest commentators
with him for long cutaways from the service and one of them, writer
Christopher Hitchens, unleashed a lenghty and vitriolic diatribe
against Mother Teresa as a manipulative woman who mingled with
the rich and did not try to root out the causes of poverty. The
always unflappable Jennings was obviously aghast at the attack,
noting, however, that some of the press in Calcutta had also been
recently critical, and firmly ended Hitchens' commentary, observing
that such a debate was perhaps not entirely appropriate at that
Jennings ended his broadcast at 3AM, New York
time, leaving viewers witless to what followed, which, in fact,
were the most moving portions of the entire funeral, the comments
by representatives of other religions and the laying of wreaths
by the representatives of many countries.
The service should have been reversed as the
representatives of the other religions and the laying of wreaths
were very deeply moving, to put it mildly. To hear the Muslims,
Sikhs, Buddhists and others eloquently and with great dignity
and passion pay extraordinary homage to this little foreigner
in their midst was one of the transcendent moments in world history:
a reverberant echo of the power of an physically puny individual
with great, warm hands of affection, a prayerful reminder that
peace and love passeth all understanding, a resounding answer
and call for the communion of diverse cultures, a reverence for
the respect of humanity.
CBS stayed on the air with its coverage a bit
longer than NBC and ABC and Dan Rather had perhaps his finest
moment with dear, heartfelt and appropriate closing remarks that
articulately conveyed the depths of emotion that he and millions
around the world felt while NBC had already switched to yet another
special on Diana and paparazzi.
Fortunately, Fox News, Channel 5 in New York,
picked up coverage where the others left off and stayed on the
air at least until the cortege left the stadium with Mother Teresa's
body now draped not only in the India flag and her famous white
and blue sari but a plastic cover to protect her from the rain
that had begun to pour.
The measured steps of her military guard were
heart-pounding in their solemnity, but perhaps the most stunning
visual of the entire service was the manner in which the attendant
soldiers, splendidly attired in bright red headdresses presented
wreaths to the honored guests for laying at the side of Mother
Teresa's open casket. With their hesitant, precise march,
one soldier at a time carried a wreath to the casket and awaited
each dignitary with great timing to present it with a stunning
snappiness, a startling, commanding shift, and then discretely
and precisely moved away while the wreath was placed and the official
made a brief gesture of respect, a bow, or clapsed hands raised
high, or a gentle touch of the casket.
This was simple, but magnificent as these officials
included queens, first ladies, heads of state and diplomatic representatives,
not just a few, but many and each one added a noble ratchet of
endearment, their aggregate honor overwhelming.
The most poignant moment, however, was earlier
during the offertory section of the mass when a disabled and deaf
man approached the casket and the altar with one of the service's
chalices, walking with very great difficulty and, as he passed
the casket, with trembling hands. One of the clerical assistants
helped him the last few feet and the lead cardinal for the service
patted his shoulder as he turned back. This man was not
the only representative of the afflicted and needy present, of
course, but his courage in those final steps brings tears even
as I write this. This is the message of Mother Teresa: direct,
immediate action, caring, love and the hell with ceremony, tradition,
pomp and circumstance.
During the long service, the open casket was
seen by television viewers mostly from a very high overhead shot,
or from a sharply raked angle that did not provide a good view
of Mother Teresa's face, a face indelible in life for its kindness
and now a face indelible in death for its stark, immobile finality,
hearkening in its drama to Andreas Mantegna's remarkable painting
of the dead Christ on a catalfalque.
Mother Teresa had a smile no less dazzling
than that of Diana, Princess of Wales, but she also had a face
that paid no heed to cosmetic notions of beauty, only to the "great"
suffering spirits caught up in this "mortal coil." The
open casket was honest as the frailest she served are beautiful
in their tormented, brave hearts. She did not shy away from
reality, but embraced it. Her serious purposes saw through
the ceremonial and the extravagant, and in her age she put away
To jaded, Western eyes, the first part of the
service was something of a disappointment. How do you top
the British and the oh-so-recent funeral of Diana, Princess of
Wales? One naively expected to see throngs of millions,
oceans of grief, and a climactic cultural flourish of memorable
colors, fabrics, flowers, faces. Of course, Diana's world
was mostly of glamour and Mother Teresa's world was mostly very
close to the humble ground. Diana danced. Mother Teresa
merely cherished life, the life of others.
In the end, Diana was a lost "soul"
who struggled to find meaning in life and Mother Teresa gave meaning
A few hours after the service for Mother Teresa,
I went to my local coffeeshop to read the papers and in the background
heard its radio blaring, by chance, the BeeGees' "More Than
A Woman." Mother Teresa was more than a woman. I cried.