This is not a post about the merits (or otherwise) of the British monarchy. Nor about how glad the former colony on this side of the pond is, or should be, to have crawled out from under the yoke of it. Nor about what fools these British be for keeping it around, even in its present dysfunctional form, well into the twenty-first century.
It’s a post about a disgusting, appalling violation of journalistic ethics and about the man who committed them and then profited from his manipulation and betrayal of the woman and the family who had made his career. It’s about a once-respected giant of the broadcast industry and its fall from grace and descent into ignominy and disrepute. It’s about (finally) a few chickens coming home to roost, and about (sadly) the likely projection of fallout from utterly unspeakable behavior into the next generation and probably beyond.
Mostly, it’s about a man named Martin Bashir.
In 1995, Martin Bashir, then in his early 30s and an aspiring BBC journalist, scored the scoop of a lifetime, when his employers chose him over a number of more experienced reporters, to interview Diana, Princess of Wales on national television. It was in the aftermath of Prince Charles’s own rather disastrous chat with his friend, ITV reporter Jonathan Dimbleby in which Charles admitted that his relationship with Camilla hadn’t ended with his marriage to Diana–and Diana was, clearly, up for telling her own story and letting the chips fall where they may.
No one knows exactly why the bosses at the BBC were convinced that Bashir, the son of Pakistani immigrants, was the man for the job, but he was young, articulate, and charming, and he turned his full attention to winning Diana’s confidence and learning as much as he could about her private life prior to the interview. He began by befriending and charming Diana’s younger brother, Earl Spencer. The Earl introduced him to Diana, Bashir charmed them both, and wormed his way into their lives, sometimes cooking dinner for Diana at Kensington Palace. By the time of the interview, on November 20, 1995, Diana trusted him completely, to the exclusion of many other former employees, friends, and confidantes.
Unfortunately, Bashir was lying about much of what he told Diana and Earl Spencer. And while it’s taken slightly over a quarter-century for the truth to come out, it finally has.
Last week, the BBC published the results of an official inquiry into what Bashir did to secure the interview, as well as into its own role in the aftermath and since. The findings of the inquiry, which was led by former British Supreme Court Justice Lord Dyson (not the vacuum cleaner guy), conclude that Bashir committed more than two-dozen breaches of BBC ethical and editorial policy, some of which included:
- Bashir had a friend who was a graphic artist mock-up fake bank statements appearing to show that a newspaper group had been paying a member of Earl Spencer’s senior staff thousands of pounds for over a year to spy on Diana.
- Bashir told Earl Spencer that both Charles and Diana’s private secretaries were being paid (I don’t think it’s clear by whom) to surveil Diana. Those claims, in the report, are adjudged to be completely without evidence or substantiation and are deemed false.
- That in his first meeting with Diana, at which her brother took contemporaneous notes, Bashir told the Princess that her telephones were being bugged and that she was being followed everywhere and constantly spied upon by members of the Royal Family and its staff, and by MI6. Again, there was no evidence for any of this. The only actual “evidence” presented for anything appears to have been the proven fraudulent bank statements.
It’s also widely reported that Bashir told Diana that Prince William had been given a watch that contained electronics to track his mother’s every move. I haven’t seen that allegation, but I haven’t read every word of the 127-page report and its dozens of annexed documents, either. Eventually, I couldn’t bear to read anymore. It was starting to remind me of the last few years of my mother’s life, in which she, sadly diminished in capacity herself, became rather obsessed with Princess Diana conspiracy theories. After she was moved to a nursing home, and when I was cleaning out the family home, I found dozens, maybe hundreds, of pieces of cardboard cut from cereal, or cookie, or cracker boxes, on which she’d written the news of the day, which almost always had something to do with how the Princess of Wales was being targeted by Charles, or Philip, or the spooks at MI6.
Full disclosure: My family has a soft spot for Diana. My brother-in-law’s father, who was a resident of a hospice facility in which Diana opened a new wing just before he died, met with her for about half an hour, and it was clear to all that she really did have “the magic touch” of making the person she was talking to feel as if he was the most important person in the world to her. Subsequently, my sister wrote to the palace, said how much “Len” had loved the conversation, and asked if a photo might be forthcoming. One promptly was.
That’s not to ignore or gloss over Diana’s faults. I’m not sure any gently-bred girl nineteen years old could have survived the dysfunctional environment she found herself in when she married Charles the Lesser (she was half Meghan Markle’s age when she married, and couldn’t lay claim to even the shakiest of careers), but Diana seems to have been particularly ill-suited, and it’s hard to see how “The Firm” could possibly have handled her many insecurities (some of which things she had good reason to feel insecure about) any worse, or more insensitively, than they did.
So by the time Martin Bashir entered her life, she was, by all accounts, a loose cannon, unstable, vengeful, and ripe for the picking.
After reading the Dyson Report, the normally stiff-upper-lipped, restrained Prince William ripped into both Bashir and the BBC and said:
It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to [Diana’s] fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her
I find those son’s words about his mother just indescribably sad, myself.
And I found the 1995 interview itself disturbing and sad. The most famous outtake from it is Diana’s statement that “there were three of us in the marriage so it was a bit crowded,” and by that time we’d heard the stories of her throwing herself down the stairs, we’d lived through Squidgygate and Charles wanting to come back to life as Camilla’s tampon, rumors about infidelity on both sides, and questions about Harry’s paternity–and I’m not sure we thought it could get any worse. But it did. She was thin and pale. Fidgety and nervous. And, to my eyes at least, not entirely well. And, less than 24 months later, she was dead.
After the interview aired, the graphic designer who’d mocked up the bank statements (believing that they were just that: mock-ups) approached the BBC and said that he thought he might have been drawn into forging the documents for Bashir to actually use. This initiated years of cover-ups, changing stories and lies, promulgated both by the BBC and Bashir. (The BBC’s narrative account of the matter is here. As I read it, I had to keep reminding myself that this was the BBC criticizing itself so harshly. And that Bashir lied time and time again about his actions before admitting the truth of the most serious allegations against him, while still justifying the interview on the grounds that Diana had wanted to make a public statement about her life. It’s just appalling.)
What happened to Martin Bashir after this fiasco?
Well, with his career made, and a lid being kept on the unsavory bits, he skipped over to ITV for a while, and then made his way to the States, co-anchoring Nightline after Ted Koppel’s retirement. He had a few bumps and grinds along the way, most notably as a result of some vulgar and tasteless remarks he made at the Asian American Journalists Association Convention in 2008. An abject apology got him his job back and he stayed at ABC until 2010, when he joined MSNBC. He resigned three years later, in the wake of a row about some repellent comments he’d made about Sarah Palin. A few years later, he turned up at the BBC again, where he was the “religious affairs correspondent” until May 14 of this year, when he resigned due to his (apparently real) ill-health, just as the Dyson Report was coming out.
Sometimes vice really is its own punishment.
So let it be written. So let it be done. To Martin Bashir and any and all such predators who prey on the vulnerable (even princesses of the realm) and who engage in such deceit and peddle such lies and think to get away with them forever. A criminal prosecution would be the icing on the cake, but I don’t know how that’s going to play out yet, after an initial “no” decision.
This brings me to Prince Harry. (I’ve said before, I’m on Team Cambridge in this matter, and I don’t have much time for either the Duke or the Duchess of Sussex, or for their incessant whining to their drooling, publicity-hungry, sycophants in the American media about how horrible their lives are.)
Although I do think Harry is right when he says “I’ve got a hell of a lot of my Mum in me.” But I don’t think he quite understands what that means or how it appears to be playing itself out.
After reading the reviews of his latest outpourings to The Oprah in The Telegraph, I couldn’t help but be struck by these words of his:
History was repeating itself. My mother was chased to her death while she was in a relationship with someone who wasn’t white, and now look what’s happened. You want to talk about history repeating itself? They’re not gonna stop until she dies.
I pass over the fact that “they” (if by they Harry means the media) don’t seem to be doing very much to Harry and Meghan, other than slobbering over them.
And over the fact that (if by they Harry means the Royal Family), quite a few senior members of it have managed to have very private lives out of the limelight–some even with (shock! horror!) jobs!
Clearly, Harry (“Prince Privacy” as Piers Morgan has dubbed him) relishes the limelight loves talking about himself in the most bizarre ways and is desperate to put himself in the spotlight so he can talk about how much he hates being there.
Contra Harry’s claim, though, I’m not sure that Meghan Markle is the one who’s most at risk. If Harry has any real friends left, I hope one of them will urge him to look through the other end of the telescope, or perhaps will buy him a mirror. Following his wife’s pattern, Harry has completely estranged himself from his family. And the “fear, paranoia, and isolation” (to use William’s descriptive phrase of what came to represent his mother’s state of mind) which Harry displays in interview after interview–and which eventually caused Diana to flee, even in very ill-advised ways, from the intrusive, greedy, self-serving, and manipulative paparazzi–seems to be impelling her unfortunate son to run right into their arms.
I don’t see how that can end well, either.