In honor of the 21st anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, I popped a tape of the network coverage of her funeral into the VHS deck last night and wallowed in excessive grief. Some highlights of the live pre-dawn coverage below:
PETER JENNINGS: We'd like to welcome those people who have no lives to our endless coverage of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. And we should say, at the start, to fend off any possible criticism, that the only reason our network is acting like a tabloid TV show is because we are bending to the will of the people, like true journalists. And with me here, to wallow in the overwrought excess of the next six hours, is George Will, who always has something pedantic to contribute, as always. George?
GEORGE WILL: Peter, the levelling impulse, which is at the heart of democracy, always elevates the lowest common denominator to the throne. This is why people think pundits like me are actually intelligent. And to prove it, my poorly-paid research assistants have supplied me with several quotes from Edith Wharton, Henry James, Daniel Boorstin, and Mark Twain.
PETER JENNINGS: And I'm sure you'll share them with the world, George, because you certainly love the sound of your own voice.
GEORGE WILL: As the poet W H Auden said, Narcissus "does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his."
PETER JENNINGS: And to help us assess the synthetic significance of Diana's life, which of course we are contributing to with our network coverage, Barbara Walters.
BARBARA WALTERS: I never thought I would say this publicly. I never have until tonight. But I considered her a friend. Especially now that she's no longer here to deny it. She was warm, huggable, and I grieve.
PETER JENNINGS: As do the little people in the streets, Barbara. Let's call on Aaron Brown to tell us the mood in those streets. Aaron?
AARON BROWN: Peter, one is struck by the near-total silence. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it's almost like somebody died.
PETER JENNINGS: Aaron Brown, insightful as always. Well, our team is collected, our cameras are primed to take pictures of teary-eyed Brits, and meanwhile, I will be earning my multi-million-dollar salary by stumbling over my words, failing to speak grammatically, and proving once and for all that network anchors look like idiots when they don't have anything to read on a teleprompter.
PETER JENNINGS: Here we see the, uh, Welsh guards, which are of course there because Diana is, or was, the Princess of, uh, Wales. Perhaps one of our British experts could help us out on this. Anthony, whom we call Tony?
ANTHONY (TONY) : Sod off, Peter.
GEORGE WILL: --words of Bernard Shaw, we are separated by a common language, which indeed--
PETER JENNINGS: And once again, surrounding the casket, the distinctive uniforms of the Welsh guards--
BARBARA WALTERS: --horrible--
BARBARA WALTERS: --tragedy--
GEORGE WILL: --in the words of Rudyard Kipling--
PETER JENNINGS: --Welsh Guards, which are there because Diana--
PETER JENNINGS: And for those of you out there who actually read, this week's New Yorker magazine has several Diana-related articles, among them "This Is What Comes Of Fucking An Arab," by Simon Schama -- "I Was So Fucking Close To Her, My Nipples Got Hard," By Tina Brown -- "She Fucked Me Over," by Clive James -- and "Fuck Her Anyway," by Salman Rushdie.
PETER JENNINGS: Some comments from the world at large:
BARBARA WALTERS: I grieve, Peter. I grieve more than her ex-husband. And I definitely grieve more than Katie Couric.
TOM BROKAW: You want to talk grieving? I had to sit next to Katie Couric and listen to her talk for five hours.
WENDY WASSERSTEIN: Even though she was shallow and glib, Diana had this reputation as a deeply committed woman. That's why she reminds me of me.
ANDREW MORTON: In her death something inside us has died. People are grieving for lost hopes, lost dreams, lost ambitions. The waste of this life on the brink of so much opportunity. On the zenith of her achievement. One of the most awful tragedies of the late 20th century, if not the greatest.
PETER JENNINGS: Andrew Morton, putting it all in perspective.
GEORGE WILL: Speaking of perspective, Peter, at times like this, it can clearly be seen how the levelling wind of democracy really blows. We are all united in this shared moment of grief. Or, in the words of John Lennon, "I am you, and you are me, and he is she, and we are all together."
PETER JENNINGS: Final thoughts. Barbara?
BARBARA WALTERS: On Prime Time Live, I will be holding back the tears while I interview Elton John in an ugly wig about his great friend Princess Diana. Then I'll be interviewing Michael Jackson, and trying not to look at his face, while he talks about how his life has been totally ruined by freelance photographers.
PETER JENNINGS: A great day for journalism, Barbara. George?
GEORGE WILL: I think we can ultimately say, in the words of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, that Diana, the people's princess, "is not merely dead--she's really and sincerely dead."
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