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BBC Used Deceptive Methods To Land Princess Diana Interview, Inquiry Says


Let's head across the Atlantic now for an update on a scandal that has rocked the BBC. It centers on the interview Princess Diana gave the broadcaster a quarter century ago. Today the BBC apologized for the way it landed that bombshell interview and the way it investigated the deceptions of the correspondent who did it. The apology follows a scathing independent report which accuses the venerable broadcaster of a, quote, "cover-up." NPR's Frank Langfitt has the story from London.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: In the TV business, it's called a great get. A little-known reporter for the BBC named Martin Bashir landed an interview with Princess Diana in which he spoke bluntly about the collapse of her marriage to Prince Charles and his long-time affair with his now-wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.


MARTIN BASHIR: Do you think Mrs. Parker Bowles was a factor in the breakdown of your marriage?

PRINCESS DIANA: Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.

LANGFITT: The interview was a sensation, and it launched Bashir's career. But there were questions. How'd he get access to the princess? Toby Miller is the former chair of media and cultural studies at the University of California, Riverside. He's taking a look at the 127-page investigative report today.

TOBY MILLER: What Bashir did was to get a graphic artist to fake various accounts and checks to make it look as though members of the Spencer household and the royal household had been engaged in constant surveillance of Lady Diana. He then showed these documents to her brother, Earl Spencer, although apparently not to her.

LANGFITT: The report says that led to Bashir getting the interview. When the BBC learned of the forged documents, Bashir couldn't mount any credible explanation. But the BBC accepted his account as truthful and didn't interview the princess' brother, nor did it report on Bashir's tactics on any of its news programs. Today's investigative report called the BBC's own probe, quote, "ineffective."

Again, Toby Miller.

MILLER: It's a shocking indictment, both of the way in which the BBC, at its top levels, was practicing journalism in the mid-1990s and, secondly, a shocking indictment of the cover-up by the BBC at the very highest levels, immediately after the interview and in the years since.

LANGFITT: BBC Director-General Tim Davie addressed the report on the network today.


TIM DAVIE: There are multiple failures for the BBC to reflect on 25 years ago. But still, they're very, very serious. And if you're an organization that cares about truthful, honest journalism and proper practice, I think it's a very difficult read.

LANGFITT: In a statement today, Bashir said having bank records marked up was stupid, but he insists it had no bearing on the late princess' decision to do the interview and pointed out that she wrote a note saying she hadn't seen the fake bank statements and did not regret talking to him. Bashir resigned from the BBC last week, citing health issues. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.


KELLY: And we should note that NPR has a contractual relationship with the BBC for content and office space in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.