New Podcast Explores the Role of Princess Diana’s Death on the Future of Broadcast Journalism
September 14, 2021
From the paparazzi to the Royal Palace, “We Interrupt This Broadcast” host Bill Kurtis and narrator Brian Williams offer a behind-the-scenes look at the news coverage, funeral, and intrigue surrounding the death of Princess Diana.
From the day of her wedding to Prince Charles, the global media were enthralled by Princess Diana, dubbed “The People’s Princess.” When she died tragically at the age of 36 in a car accident during an unscheduled rendezvous in Paris, no one—not the royal family, nor the media—was prepared for the news or month-long frenzy that would follow.
“We were happily and deeply asleep when the phone rang… [the Atlanta desk said they] have a report that Dodi Fyad has been in an accident in Paris,” recalled Jim Bitterman, CNN’s Paris Bureau correspondent who was interviewed for “We Interrupt This Broadcast,” a new podcast that celebrates the crucial role broadcast journalism has played over the past century.
After attempting to brush off the news as something that could wait until morning, Bitterman remembers the president of CNN news, Chris Kramer, getting on the phone and saying, “Jim, you don’t get this…Dodi Fyad has been dating Princess Diana. We think she’s in the car and we think she’s hurt.”
Episode 7 of the podcast, “The Death of Princess Di,” features exclusive interviews with many of the journalists who covered the accident, the funeral, and the investigation that followed. Contributors include Bitterman, David Bernknopf, former VP of news planning for CNN; Patricia Kelly, former CNN Brussels bureau chief; Kevin Connolly, BBC Paris bureau reporter; Marcy McGinnis, former London bureau chief and SVP of special event news coverage for CBS News; Beth O’Connell, former executive producer of NBC News Special Events; and Dickie Arbiter, former spokesperson for the Queen and Buckingham Palace.
The interactions revealed the chaotic nature of the story as it unfolded, including a telling lack of information from official sources from the onset.
“Nobody in Paris, not the French government, not the medical authorities, not the police, nobody in Paris wanted to be the person taking responsibility for announcing what was obviously going to be a momentous Global news story,” recalled Connolly (BBC).
Naturally, this led to speculation, but sleuthing journalists feared the worst.
“…If [Diana] was okay, [the Palace] would be issuing some statement saying she’s going to be okay, CNN’s Bernknopf notes. “The absence of that for someone this important to the Royal family tells me that this is worse than we know.”
The Diana episode explores not only the information flow but the monumental effort it took to cover both the initial breaking news, as well as the weeks-long follow-up that included the funeral and the ensuing investigation.
“I literally was in the office every day for 30 days, cranking out stories. And the interest just did not go away,” said CNN’s Bitterman.
“My bureau went from a normal number of about 45 people to 150 people in a day,” says McGinnis of CBS. “…It looks frenetic, but the fact of the matter is, when everybody understands their job really well, it all comes together.”
In addition to the news coverage, the podcast acknowledges that journalism itself was an integral part of the story.
“Diana was such an extraordinarily transfixing figure for the news industry that almost any information about her was regarded as news by somebody,” Connolly reminisced. “The idea that Diana had effectively been hounded to her death by this mob of paparazzi very quickly became the…widely accepted account of events.”
But the paparazzi are not true journalists, accused George Clooney, whose now-famous speech in front of the LA office of the Screen Actors Guild is memorialized in the episode: “Princess Di is dead, and who should we see about that? The driver of the car? The paparazzi? Or the magazines and papers who purchased these pictures and make bounty hunters out of photographers?”
Finally, the show offers a unique look at the emotional toll stories like this can have on the journalists who cover them.
“…When we got off the air, I remember just all of a sudden, I started to cry and people were saying, ‘what’s the matter, what’s the matter?'” recalls McGinnis. “I think it was all of this pent up … everything I had kept inside; I was so nervous and so scared the whole two weeks we were covering this story because it was so huge.”
“…As a journalist…you feel the moment. For me as an executive producer, you just want to impart that because it’s part of that humanity,” notes NBC’s O’Connell.
Check out the episode here.
The podcast, based on Joe Garner’s New York Times Bestselling book of the same name, celebrates the crucial role broadcast journalism has played throughout our nation’s history. Hosted by legendary broadcaster Bill Kurtis and narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, each episode unfolds with the brisk pace and tone of a thriller while presenting an in-depth look into the reporting of, and reaction to, events that have since become benchmarks in history. The contributors are a “Who’s who” in broadcast journalism.
The docuseries, produced by i4 Media Ventures, LLC, will be presented over six 12-episode seasons for a total of 72 episodes. Each season is comprised of 12 episodes, all published simultaneously: 10 episodes in each season are based on events that occurred in the broadcast era and two are based on seminal moments that occurred in early American history (such as the passing of the 19th Amendment) and dramatized as if reported by broadcast journalists. Each episode concludes with the journalists offering candid and critical analysis on how they and their fellow reporters covered the event.
“We Interrupt This Broadcast” is now available for download on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, and wherever listeners get their podcasts.
About Joe Garner
Dubbed “the Ken Burns of the written and recorded word” by talk legend Larry King, Joe Garner is a veteran radio industry executive, narrator, host, and producer, as well as a multiple New York Times bestselling author. His seminal multimedia book, We Interrupt This Broadcast, innovatively pairing audio, photographs, and text, has sold more than one million copies and has for two decades served as a go-to chronicle of America’s broadcast history. The “We Interrupt This Broadcast” docuseries podcast is the maiden project of i4 Media Ventures, LLC, co-founded in December 2020 by Garner, Ron Hartenbaum, and Scott Calka.