British press -- not readers -- hound princess over Nazi father

Birds sang. Fountains played. Some ducklings wriggled in a nest at water's edge. And thousands of blossoming tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths delighted just as many strollers through London's St. James's Park. The welcome warm spring weather was for most Londoners easily the most exciting thing to have happened in recent weeks.

Yet a perusal of this week's Fleet Street papers might suggest something else was on people's minds: the revelation that a member, albeit a minor member, of the royal family had a Nazi father.

Princess Michael, daughter of Baron Gunther von Reibnitz, denied, however, that she had ever been aware of her father's concealed past.

In a television interview the statuesque princess said, ``Here I am, 40 years old and I suddenly discover something that really is quite unpleasant. I shall just simply have to live with it.''

Official evidence now shows her father to have been an early Nazi and a member of the notorious SS, the Nazi special police force.

Columnists, indignant at the supposed cover-up, demanded an inquiry. And much of Fleet Street moralized on the seriousness of the disclosure, saying it put the Queen in an embarrassing position.

Yet whether the news media's interpretation matches that of the general public is another matter.

Most of those people strolling in the park seemed indifferent to the revelation. ``She's not responsible for her father, is she?'' said one of a brigade of office workers clutching sandwiches in hand and heading for a vacant piece of a local park's green bank.

Even Jewish organizations anxious to bring Nazi war criminals to trial exonerated the princess and said there was no evidence to suggest that her father was involved in any atrocities.

From 10 Downing Street came the understanding response: ``There's a lot of sympathy here as expressed in the comment, `You can't choose who your parents are.' ''

In Fleet Street's titantic circulation battles, a whiff of royal scandal is just about the best thing there is to get circulation figures up.

Royal news is a preoccupation with the British media. The week's royal social happenings -- from an ermine gown and tiara gala evening performance to weekend polo playing -- are all meticulously chronicled in the Court Circular of the London Times. A birthday or anniversary usually means a Lord Snowdon portrait.

The activities as much as the comments of the royal family give the entire British media a field day. Will Princess Margaret quit heavy smoking? Was Prince Charles right in knocking modern architecture? Is Koo Stark still friendly with Prince Andrew?

For ``populars'' like the Mirror, which first broke the Nazi story, the Daily Mail, and Express, with millions of readers, the Princess Michael story was just as good as any high-level spy disclosure.

More cynical readers were tempted to ask whether the papers were more interested in exploiting the issue than in showing real concern.

While the disclosures have been greeted with surprise and considerable skepticism that Princess Michael's background could have escaped scrutiny, little suggests that Britons will shun the princess because her father was a Nazi.

There is sympathy that she must have known very little about her father, since her parents were divorced while she was still young.

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