The BBC came calling on Wednesday, asking about the big news of the day in Las Vegas.
Britain’s public service broadcaster and leading source of news was not inquiring about President Barack Obama’s visit to our city (North Las Vegas, actually) in the teeth of a tight re-election campaign. Nor were BBC officials especially interested in the heavy rains that rendered many of our major roadways unnavigable.
At issue was the photographed nakedness of the third in line for the British throne. On Tuesday, photos of him playing what appeared to be a game of strip billiards on the Strip were posted by the celebrity news website TMZ (and if the rules of strip billiards are that you shed clothing when your opponent sinks a ball, Prince Harry needs to brush up on his game).
The two published photos were reportedly snapped late Friday night during the prince’s recent sojourn to Vegas. One photo is of Harry cupping his naughty bits, and another shows him holding a woman from behind near the pool table. They have caused a scandal in Britain. Consequently, Prince Harry’s capacity to act as a Royal statesman (on Aug.12 he stood in for Queen Elizabeth at the closing ceremonies of the London Olympics) has again been called into question, and the Royal Family took the rare move of asking the British press not to republish the photos, which are available for anyone who has access to the Internet.
At the start of the live BBC interview, I was asked about the possible invasion of Prince Harry’s privacy as he was visiting what is known as the party capital of America. The question was posed: “(Prince Harry) is well aware that he is followed by the press and paparazzi, and he obviously let his hair down during his time off. Was he right to feel safe in Las Vegas from press intrusion?”
Yes. He was right to feel safe from press intrusion, but this wasn’t an example of press intrusion. As I responded, “The person who took the photo was not a member of the press who had sneaked into Prince Harry’s room and caught him walking out of the shower, or in bed with someone. This was one of his party partners from the evening, apparently, and the person who took the photo is the one who sent it to TMZ.”
It was pointed out to me: “We call it press intrusion now because it is in the press, but not so much in the United Kingdom, where the press is very reluctant to print the photographs because they are under heavy scrutiny at the moment. There is a difference in America, where the press is prepared to cross that line.”
That depends on what version of the British press you’re talking about. The British Sun tabloid actually printed a cover shot of a re-enactment of one of the photos, which seems to have taken ample time to set up, given its attention to detail. As for the news value of the images: These photos are of a person who is unquestionably a public figure and are not obscene in the sense that full nudity is displayed. This is the same level of nudity you’d see in the British film “The Full Monty.”
“The responsibility of these photos rests with Prince Harry himself,” I answered. “I think he is the one who — you say he let his hair down, but he let a lot more than that down. He let his guard down, he let his trousers down, and there were people around him who were apt to seize the moment and publicize it.”
Even so, the reluctance of the British press to publish these photos, or any images that even hint to an invasion of privacy, is understandable. The media in the United Kingdom is being heavily scrutinized in the aftermath of the News International phone-hacking scandal of last year, in which the news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch was accused of engaging in phone hacking, bribery of law enforcement officials, and using improper influence in the pursuit of news stories.
The scandal led to the forming of the Leveson Inquiry, under which the practices and ethics of the British press are being investigated by a committee formed by Justice Brian Leveson.
As a former editor of News of the World said in a story by the Press Association, the national news agency of the United Kingdom, the inquiry has resulted in “neutered newspapers.” In this environment, the likelihood of any British media outlet publishing naked photos of a member of the Royal Family is as slim as Prince Harry’s pool cue.
As for how Vegas treats and protects its famous visitors, particularly those drawn to the city by the “What Happens Here, Stays Here, philosophy, Wynn Las Vegas officials embrace a policy where they refuse to comment publicly about any guest. This is the same response they gave when asked about Prince Harry’s visit to the resort in November. During that visit, MGM Resorts officials managed to keep the prince’s attendance at a performance at “O” at the Bellagio so secretive that he was sitting in the same row as I was in the darkened theater and I didn’t even realize it until his presence was announced after I’d left the hotel.
Tourism officials have long marketed the city, rightfully, as an adult playground where the rules of play are loosely established. It is left to the players to be responsible for their own actions.
In addressing the dustup from Prince Harry’s state of disrobe, Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority spokeswoman Courtney Fitzgerald said in a statement:
“Las Vegas is excited that Prince Harry continues to visit the destination for his stateside getaways. Las Vegas is about adult freedom and that means different things to different people.
“It’s important for friends to know what activities can be shared publicly and what activities are protected by the code of ‘What Happens in Vegas; Stays in Vegas.’ ”
And if you’re partying with people who don’t respect that code, keep your pants on.