BOB GARFIELD: In London last year the former butler of Princess Diana, Paul Burrell, was arrested and charged with stealing 300 items belonging to the late princess. Many months later he was exonerated after the Queen and Prince Charles came to his legal aid. The aftermath has been tabloid heaven. Chris Horrie is the author of "Stick It Up Your Punter: The Rise and Fall of the Sun," and an expert on the English tabloids. He told us that the butler was given 300,000 pounds sterling by the Daily Mirror for his life story even though he was offered far more money by a rival tabloid.
CHRIS HORRIE: Three million pounds sterling is the, is the figure that he reputedly was offered by the News of the World which is the number one Sunday kind of scandal tabloid here. They call it the News of the Screws -- "screw" being a, a [LAUGHS] rude word for the sex act of course. Every Sunday it's got the-- kind of sexual revelations about some public figure or celebrity or other -- that's its, it's kind of entire business. But Burrell turned this down claiming that he was doing all this in the public interest. He said that he trusted the Mirror more and that he didn't really trust The News of the World.
BOB GARFIELD:Unaccustomed as Americans are to seeing newspapers, even tabloid newspapers, pay for a story, the spectacle of watching the other tabloids in the UK begin smear campaigns--
CHRIS HORRIE: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: -- against Paul Burrell is truly astonishing for us.
CHRIS HORRIE: Yeah! They've even got a word for it; it's called a spoiler. The Daily Mirror has done business; they've signed up Paul Burrell and they've been selling newspapers by the shedload as a result of this. So the Sun, which is its rival, and The News of the World, the two Murdoch papers, have been running this knocking campaign to pour as much scorn and castigate Burrell and punish him for [LAUGHS] giving his story to a commercial rival and turning them down.
BOB GARFIELD:Why do the readers buy the papers and put any credit in what is being reported? Why isn't it just dismissed as rampant commercialism that has undercut any claim to journalism that these papers might have had?
CHRIS HORRIE: I think long term people are turning away from the tabloids; their aggregate circulation over the last ten years or so is about half what it once was. But in the short term, these scandals, particularly about figures in the royal family provide a massive boost to circulation, and there's a great deal of hypocrisy amongst readers. On another occasion, the Daily Mirror photographed Diana in her gym! They had concealed cameras on exercise machines and took pictures of her crotch! Those were all printed in the paper. There was enormous fuss, and it sold like hot cakes. So there's a certain amount of hypocrisy here. Perhaps it's part of the, the, the British character - their attitude toward the royal family.
BOB GARFIELD:Well let me ask you something else then, and it gets to a, maybe a secondary benefit of this kind of reporting. The story of the royal scandal has found its way into more substantial broadsheet papers like the Times of London and The Guardian and the BBC, bringing to light some genuine issues of scandal and potential misbehavior and corruption within the royal palaces, maybe going as far as the royals themselves. Is this a story that never would have found its way to The Guardian absent the Mail and the Mirror and the News of the World?
CHRIS HORRIE: Perhaps not. Perhaps the tabloids are doing a good job in, you know, throwing some light on to the-- on to the Windsor family who do seem to be quite an odd bunch of people. [LAUGHTER] The thing is that it's always legitimate to report on the royal family's sex life in the public interest because of the principle of the hereditary monarchy. If they're not going to have children because they're homosexual or you know if they're engaged in in--acts that might lead to having illegitimate children, then that creates a constitutional crisis! So there's a very po-faced [sp?], hypocritical stance that the posh papers, the Times and the Guardian as well as the tabloids can, can fall back upon - that they're -- whereas reporting anybody else's sex life might be just like nobody's business, the sex lives and sex careers of the royals are ipso facto public information!
BOB GARFIELD: One last question, Chris: your book is called Stick It Up Your Punter. If you can tell us on this family program-- [LAUGHTER] what is a punter?
CHRIS HORRIE:Punter is London slang for the client of a prostitute, and all tabloid journalists in every newsroom I've ever been in routinely refer to their readers as the punters. So you can work it out for yourself.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] All right. Chris Horrie, thank you very much.
CHRIS HORRIE: Okay.
BOB GARFIELD: British tabloids expert Chris Horrie is the author of Stick It Up Your Punter: The Rise and Fall of The Sun.