In 10 pieces totaling 11,500 words published during the last week, the Washington Post captures with precision the nonexcitement generated by the Washington stopover of newly legal Charles Mountbatten-Windsor and Camilla Rosemary Mountbatten-Windsor (formerly Parker Bowles, née Shand).
Half of that cataract of words courses like cold gravy through today’s Style section, where five pieces don’t even bother to pretend to have discovered any news in the dinner thrown last night at the White House for the “royals.” This is the sort of journalism that leaves you less intelligent about a subject than when you started reading: What the “royal” couple wore, what the president and his wife wore, what the guests ate and swilled, the designer of Condoleezza Rice’s outfit, what a sad thing it was that Diana Mountbatten-Windsor couldn’t make the trip this time, the name of Nancy Reagan’s walker, and the names of those who didn’t attend (Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers—yuk, yuk). Us Weekly puts more enterprise and wit into the coverage of the lives of Hollywood’s celebrities than the Post did in any of its pieces about the parasites who answer to the titles prince and duchess.
The first serving of regal gravy came a week ago (Oct. 27), with a Style preview of the couple’s seven-day trip to New York, Washington, and San Francisco by Post London correspondent Mary Jordan. We learn—not for the first or last time—that Camilla is not Diana; Charles is a New Age doofus and devoted fund-raiser; Charles is happy now that he’s married to his true love, Camilla; she isn’t a Rottweiler but she is tough. I consider Jordan a friend and a great talent, and I’m certain that she, too, regards her clip job supplemented with quotes as the journalistic equivalent of taking out the trash. Somebody in the family has got to do it.
But having taken out the trash once, why do it twice? Three days after Jordan’s piece, the Post ran a second piece (Oct. 30) at twice the length about the forthcoming trip by Jordan’s husband, Kevin Sullivan, another Post London correspondent. In it we learn—not for the first or last time—that Camilla is not Diana; Charles is a New Age doofus and devoted fund-raiser; Charles is happy now that he’s married to his true love, Camilla; she isn’t a Rottweiler but she is tough. I consider Sullivan a friend and a great talent, and I’m certain that he, too, regards his clip job supplemented with quotes as the journalistic equivalent of taking out the trash. If only he’d resisted the editor’s call to recycle his wife’s garbage.
Post reporter Paul Schwartzman took the handoff from Sullivan on Nov. 2, with “A Crash Course in Pomp and Protocol” in the Metro section, which I interpret as a plan to ensure that readers of every section of the Post got the non-news about the nonevent. The story’s subject—will the locals curtsy or fart when introduced to the “royals”?—is such a perennial that Schwartzman could have written it with his eyes closed. In a piece the same day from New York chronicling the arrival of the “royals” and their genuflection before the Ground Zero memorial, Robin Givhan, the Post’s delightfully offensive fashion writer, disarmed her stinger. The only sharp remark came in the headline to her piece: “They Came, They Saw, They Nodded; The Royals’ Sedate Day in New York.”
The Post saved the worst for last, when the “royals” finally arrived in Washington and devoted themselves to making as little news as possible. Charles speaks, Camilla smiles, introductions and toasts are made, protesters are spotted on the periphery of the scenes, the British press corps mills about, the locals curtsy but don’t fart, and dinner is served to 130 guests. By comparison, Jordan’s and Sullivan’s London dispatches soar.
It’s a modern editorial miracle that the Post prepared a 10-course meal from a barrel of tripe. Forgive Post reporters for sleepwalking through their stories because, 1) none can possibly give a damn about the subject and, 2) obviously nobody instructed them to report and write the story with the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”* blasting from their headphones. (Where is that vixen Lisa de Moraes when you need her?)
The one Post contributor undeserving of forgiveness is professional Brit Tina Brown, who writes a weekly column for Style. Brown approaches her “royal” subjects with supine kindness, making her piece look like beat sweetener for her forthcoming Diana book. Brown puts points on the scoreboard for the “royals” by noting that Camilla has “very good legs,” is “smaller, prettier, more delicate” than you might think, and isn’t the “horseface” she appears to be in press shots. These testimonials don’t convince me that had she found Camilla a total barker she would have written so. At times, Brown’s subservience causes her to write in a kind of code I found impossible to crack. “[Camilla’s] easy responses come in a sexy basso that makes you want to pull up a chair and sit down,” Brown writes. Do you suppose that “pull up a chair and sit down”—like “shag”—is Brit-speak for having sexual intercourse?’
After flattering Camilla, Brown keeps her eye on the book project by sympathizing with poor, poor pedantic Charles, a man she describes as born out of time and “essentially raised by his grandmother,” who “did his midlife crisis backward.” Brown’s suck-up paid off even before she filed her column, as Charles turned to confide in her at a New York event at MoMA. Brown writes:
“Now everyone can see how wonderful she is,” the prince told me quietly as his wife plunged through the sea of sharp elbows of the museum’s drafty atrium.”
The Windsors are versatile in the art of autodestruction, and their adventures would make a good novel, and maybe even a good column, if we weren’t so familiar with their creepy stories. But Charles takes the prize when it comes to sustained, lifelong loserdom. He’s had neither the courage to abandon his ceremonial obligations nor to embrace them, and his bottomless self-pity has made him an international laughingstock. Brown almost redeems herself when she quotes from a recent 60 Minutesepisode in which Charles talks about his detractors and his accomplishments.
“I only hope that when I’m dead and gone, they might appreciate it a little bit more,” he said.
If Charles promises to hasten the day, I’ll be happy to grant him his graveyard wish.
Addendum, Nov. 4: On the long shot that you haven’t had enough on the “royals,” the Post returns today with three more stories about the clothes Camilla wore, the riff-raff who eyeballed Chuck and Cam, and one about—oh, hell, you figure it out.
Disclosure: The Washington Post Co., which owns both the Washington Post and Slate, is controlled by the royal Graham Family. Send your favorite Windsor story to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)
Correction: Nov. 4, 2005: The original version of this article gave the incorrect title to the Sex Pistols song about Elizabeth II. The copy has been changed.