Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is the subject of the latest British royal scandal involving Prince Andrew and the House of Windsor. In its wake are questions of the length to which investigative reporters go to entice their targets into action.
Sarah Ferguson Sells Access to “Whiter than White” Prince Andrew
Even though she describes ex-husband Prince Andrew as “whiter than white” (not tarnished by corruption) on tape (the transcript of which is available from CNN), Fergie was nevertheless willing to accept the equivalent of $723,000 to make an introduction for a supposedly wealthy businessman. Unfortunately for Sarah Ferguson, the businessman was actually a reporter from the British tabloid News of the World.
The tabloid ranks sixth on Mondo’s list of the 100 biggest newspapers; it features a circulation of 3,445,459 (by way of comparison, The Wall Street Journal comes in at number 20). The publication thrives on celebs behaving badly and the latest royal scandal is part and parcel of the kind of headlines it favors.
News of the World Embroiled in Royal Scandal of Its Own Making
It is interesting to note that – before catching Sarah Ferguson selling off access to Britain’s Prince Andrew – News of the World had its run-in with royal family over phone tapping. The BBC reported back in 2006 that the Prince of Wales’ staff made a complaint about the supposedly illicit interception of voicemail messages involving the royal.
Form of Entrapment or Investigative Journalism?
The fiscal plight of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is well known. The Associated Press outlines that Prince Andrew pays about $22,000 a year to Fergie, which is precious little for someone accustomed to a lifestyle that is just a bit more royal. Scandal aficionados have been pointing to Sarah Ferguson’s somewhat lavish lifestyle and her proclivity for international travel as reasons for her being chronically short on cash.
Even so, it is a valid question whether the investigative reporter capitalized on Ferguson’s money worries or merely tapped into a commodity the duchess habitually offers for sale to the highest bidder. The legal definition of entrapment generally refers to law enforcement personnel enticing a suspect to commit a crime she would have been otherwise unlikely to contemplate committing at that time.
This example of undercover investigative tabloid journalism raises the question whether access to Prince Andrew was a commodity that Sarah Ferguson previously peddled. Although the legal definition does not apply to tabloid journalism, it is interesting to note that the overtures made to Fergie – had they been committed by a police official – could be basis for an appeal, as outlined in House of Lords in R. v. Loosely.
In this case the authorities suggest that the vulnerability of the subject influences the ability to withstand repeated opportunities and pressure. The official opinion states “regard is to be had to the defendant’s circumstances, including his vulnerability.”
Granted, the royal scandal was brought to light by an investigative reporter and not a police official; Sarah Ferguson does not face trial but more likely a cold shoulder by Prince Andrew and Queen Elizabeth. Even so, the ethics of this investigative reporting tool are worthy of further investigation themselves.