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Watching the Watchdog: The Media's Shameful Royal Addiction

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I've been mulling over Canadian journalism's fawning obsession with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla.

Monday night, continuing to feed its shameless royal addiction, CBC's The National leads with three minutes of the couple's Canadian visit.

Of course, nothing happens that hasn't happened to British royals a thousand times before.

Charles inspects a guard of honour, presents a medal and pretends to play street hockey while Camilla goes walkabout, shakes hands and smiles that very English "don't call if you're in the neighbourhood" smile.

Only then does The National get to the obviously less significant news that the last of our troops will leave Afghanistan in 2014.

Today's Toronto Sun fills its front page with: "WE LOVE OUR ROYALS" above the headline: "CHARLES, CAMILLA HELP US CELEBRATE SPECIAL BOND."

Inside as always are its more meaningful news stories: "Celebrities in Very Revealing Outfits" and the rather unlikely "Bikini-Clad Ashley Olsen Makes a Splash in Hawaii."

The Globe and Mail at least waits until page three before headlining: "A Duchess hones her common touch." Then simpers: "She wowed them in Saint John, tickling and cooing babies, shaking hands and accepting bouquets of flowers."

Doubtless, every T.V., radio and newspaper (along with innumerable blogs and tweets) in the country runs some version or other of the inspection, medal, street hockey, handshaking, smiling, tickling, cooing, babies, flowers story.

HuffPost isn't immune. It has an "etiquette expert" who reveals: "Oh so exciting another 'Royal Alert' provided by Clarence House (official residence of Charles and Camilla) just came in on my smart phone!"

Then some useful information for those planning to hang out with the couple: "Photography is not permitted during meals."

And "Reporters must not direct questions to Their Royal Highnesses as it can distract from the purpose of the engagement."

So, if there's nothing new and there are all these restrictions to prevent anything vaguely journalistic happening, why on earth do journalists flock to cover such events?

I'll tell you why.

First, because they're cheap and easy. They fill news pages and broadcast time with minimum effort and cost. Everything is laid on for the journalists. They're told which royal will be where when, what they'll be wearing and who designed it, and what Charles' medals mean. Minimum research.

Copies of all speeches are handed out in advance. Royals almost never ad lib so journalists don't have to make notes. Special buses whisk them from event to event. Often, they're fed and watered. Sometimes, rather well.

Second, there's the pageantry. The cameras particularly love pageantry. Stuff like 21 gun salutes. And Charles inspecting the troops, solemnly strolling up and down ranks of soldiers with bayonets but no bullets. And ritually commenting at the end of the stroll that the troops are really smartly turned out, even when they're not.

For most of us, it may seem a damn silly way for a grown man to behave. But parades and dress uniforms and guns look great on camera and contribute to the mystique of royalty.

Which brings me to my third reason we journalists devote endless hours to essentially meaningless stuff like this.

The mysticism.

One day, if events unfold as planned, this rather odd man who seems so uncomfortable in his skin, will be His Majesty Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada, and His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

He'll reign "by the grace of God" over 16 realms and territories, including Canada and Great Britain, containing 130-million people.

He'll even have his own religion, the Church of England.

Now that's mystic!

In the end, maybe we journalists cover events like this because we're scared there might actually be something in that old theory -- that kings rule by divine right.

And we certainly don't want to upset God!