Dear Newshour: A Royal Birth Is Not a Lead Story

It is one thing for the New York Post or Daily News or any number of tabloid-TV programs to wax giddy about the birth of an English boy who, several decades from now, may be crowned his country's "king." But it is quite another matter for the PBS Newshour, often described as an oasis of serious, probing television journalism, to lead its evening broadcast with the announcement that this historically irrelevant person had been born that day.

It rah-ther annoys me. I feel sort of betrayed by a news organization that I much admire and depend on almost nightly for a review and thoughtful discussion of meaningful events and issues. If Mr. Jim Lehrer were no longer with us, I might be tempted to invoke the cliché that he is turning in his grave. He has, after all, during fundraising weeks, appeared on local PBS outlets and presented an admirable list of principles that form his journalistic creed, the last of these items being, "I am not in the entertainment business." But Lehrer, happily, is still around, and still co-producer of the Newshour. So maybe he, too, has been betrayed, for in the third millennium the royal family serves as little more than entertainment. In a significant American news presentation, the events of their lives might merit a mention, but never - short of, perhaps, a violent attack or assassination - lead the news. (Cf. The New York Times, where the recent birth was reported on page eight - although it was disappointing to see that such a fine reporter and talented writer as John Burns was assigned the story.)

If the English want to keep their monarchy, and so many of the population choose to make fools of themselves by waiting long hours outside a hospital gate for a birth announcement, that is their business. But it is not America's, and I admit that I don't quite understand the high level of fascination for the royals in this country. It is vaguely troubling that so many people here are so interested in what these Saxe-Coburg-Windsors do or whom they associate with. It is troubling, too, sort of sad, that, in democratic Britain, people are still being born to live out their meaningless royal existences, what Princess Diana's brother, at her funeral, boldly and memorably described as "the most bizarre life imaginable." (I love, too, the remark of the historical novelist Hilary Mantel, quoted by Ishaan Tharoor of Time, that the royals, like pandas, are "ill-adapted to any modern environment.")

And their royal status has devolved to them in the most roundabout and sordid manner imaginable. Most Americans, I believe, still are aware that their republic was won against the forces of King George III in the late eighteenth century. Before he went mad, he was a very hale and long-reigning Anglo-German autocrat who fathered 15 children with a woman he first met on their wedding-day. The eldest of these, who became George IV, was also biologically productive but a sybaritic lout whose only legitimate child died young. So he was succeeded by his brother, William IV, who surpassed his record by having 10 children with his Irish mistress, but none with his infertile wife. The next brother was Edward, Duke of Kent, a failed military officer who was out of favor with his family, but, after decades of life with his mistress, was pressed to marry a German princess and issue a legitimate heir. Their one child became the celebrated and longest-serving English monarch, Queen Victoria, great-great-grandmother of Elizabeth II. Her father was George VI, of recent cinematic fame. Her new grandson may one day become George VII.

Idolize them if you choose.