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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Naked Royalty

In publishing naked pictures of Prince Harry on holiday in Nevada, the Sun in Britain ignored the warning from the press watchdog that had warned the Sun that it would be breaching a privacy provision in the state of Britain’s press code. That the warning followed an appeal to the Press Complaints Commission from St. James’s Palace, which is Prince Charles’s home and office in London, suggests that the warning came from “the firm” itself to protect one of its own.

A naked royal hits the newsstands in Britain.         Tony Melville/Reuters

As for the Sun, the value in printing pictures that had already been widely published by TMZ and other parties on the internet may lie more in revenge than in a bump in immediate revenue. If so, it is nonetheless striking that the Murdoch paper would defy the palace in the wake of the government investigation of phone-hacking and illegal payments to police employees and public officials centered on Murdoch. In ignoring the warning, he might have been giving the state the finger (i.e., payback). Given the charges against one of Murdoch's tabloids, the publisher's motive could not have been moralistic.

“The Sun is not making any moral judgment about Harry’s nude frolics,” the newspaper said. “Far from it. He often sails close to the wind for a royal — but he’s 27, single and a soldier. We like him.” Indeed, as a single man at the peak of his physiological prowess, Harry Windsor should not be expected to conduct himself as would be fitting for an eighty-five-year-old monarch. 

A few weeks after Harry's pictures were published, Kate Middleton awoke to find topless pictures of herself published on the front page of an out-of-state tabloid. She had been on holiday at a secluded house in the south of France with her husband, Prince William, who promptly began efforts to sue the publication after learning of the pictures. The editor of the tabloid then hinted that she had pictures of the royal couple engaged in sex while at the house. 

Again, the issue is not so much of morality, but, rather, of the right of privacy of not just public figures, but members of a head of state. When not engaged in duties or otherwise in public, such members (and perhaps the problem is to have an entire family included under "head of state," but such is the nature of royalty) are, after all, people. As human beings, they need and deserve some privacy at the very least to unwind. Considering the arrogance that can come with celibrity, it is in our interest that public figures are grounded in some sense of a normal existence, at least periodically. In fact, the whole royalty thing can be regarded as artificial--that of placing a few human beings so far "above" the rest. The gulf from God to man dwarfs any distance we think we see between ourselves. Indeed, perhaps the distance we create and enforce between ourselves is that gulf between humanity and God.

Moreover, it goes against the Golden Rule to cause another person to feel shame for something that is rather normal in ordinary life. Young people have parties, and newlyweds should feel secure in being intimate with each other or at the very least "letting their hair down" when it is reasonable to assume they are alone and "on their own time." Staking William and Kate out--spying on their private affairs--is underhanded and violates their right to "normal lives" as much as is possible given their "jobs." In other words, the press over-extend the artificial life of celebs and thus violate the human persons themselves. We ought to be encouraging celebs to be down-to-earth and we should relate as much as possible to them as we do to other people in our everyday lives. I have little interest in meeting a royal at a "function," but I would enjoy chatting under normal conditions with one. Fundamentally, celebs are simply other human beings, and I suspect that they crave to be treated as such. At least this is what I have found in talking one-on-one to a few during their "off-time." Tim Russert, the late host of NBC's political talk-show, "Meet the Press," was for example incredibly down-to-earth in chatting with me in a hallway before he was to speak to a group. Our impromptu chat was spontaneous and natural. In making such normal interactions more difficult by violating privacy, the press extenuates artificiality at the expense of that which is natural. There is already far too much social distance between human beings; we don't need to encourage it by making people who are well-known afraid of people. 


John F. Burns, “Murdoch Paper Defies a Warning and Exposes Prince Harry,” The New York Times, August 24, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/world/europe/murdochs-sun-defies-warning-with-nude-prince-harry-photos.html?_r=1&ref=world

Scott Sayare, "French Court Rules Against Magazine on Royal Photos," The New York Times, September 18, 2012.