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George Alexander Louis and the Press

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John Dark, MB, FRCS
Senior Associate Editor
ISHLT Links Newsletter

"It was summer" was the excuse, "a quiet news day".

Is that really the best explanation of media hysteria, almost everywhere in the world? Or are we seeing yet another example of what Christopher Hitchens described as the "cretinism of royal coverage"? (Waving? Or drowning?)

At home in the UK, even the left wing, previously republican (and we are not talking GOP) Guardian newspaper devoted most of the front page and four more inside-a day's work for half a dozen reporters. At least their headline, "A Birth, A Boy, A Prince, A King," something a future Kenneth Branagh might declaim with Shakespearean gravity, was better than the almost uniform "It's a Boy!" from the tabloids.

But big news in all the US outlets, the Canadians lit up the Parliament building in blue, and from my vacation viewpoint it's all over the French press. Here, serious broadsheets such as Le Parisien managed to cover large areas of the front page. "Everything you want to know about this birth" is the translation of their banner headline. Maybe the French are envious of a monarchy, having disposed (sharply, do we hear the Editor pun?) of their own a mite over 200 years ago? The past two presidents in this blessed and colourful country show the clear disadvantages of having ceremonial and political leadership vested in one person.

To add to a world view, the Iranian government sent good wishes. However, Teheran state TV described the Queen as an iron-fisted dictator using the birth to distract the downtrodden populace from massive austerity. Perhaps they were confusing her with the late Margaret Thatcher?

Back in the UK, the monarchy is as popular as ever. This continues to defy reason; they cost a lot, have essentially no useful political role and there is the lingering suspicion that, with the undoubted exception of the current monarch, they aren't very smart. Centuries of interbreeding amongst and between the royal houses of Europe must have done some harm! All of the royal family perpetuates the myth of un-earned privilege.

But there is a role as a focus for the national identity; witness, although now a year ago, the Olympic opening ceremony. It does seem that they do this better than any elected alternative, at least for a medium sized European country, as my comments about French presidents illustrate.

So we are stuck with the Royals, certainly for my lifetime!

The problem remains of what to do with the Press, and the Media, as a whole. Hitchens described the "mental habits of royalism" but this now goes for the whole of our brittle celebrity culture. To quote Hitchens again, he wrote, more than a decade ago, of how royal coverage operated "with the intensity of Gresham's Law", the bad driving out the good and "encouraging laziness and sentimentality and salacity by making it too easy to fill page upon page with brainless twaddle."

This now describes the great swathe of our news media. If as a newspaper, you have to compete by volume (has anybody weighed the New York Times, or any of the British Sunday papers recently?), then quality goes out of the window. The same goes for TV and radio; if you have to operate rolling 24 hour news, most will be repetitious and most will be junk!

So it's not the fault of the Royals, for all their deficiencies. If there is the same story everywhere in the world, blame the media. Page after page of the same, in all honesty, trivial story is just an illustration of their laziness-and our lack of discrimination!

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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