The Sussexes Take On the Tabloids

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Well. Where to begin? For those who have missed the last 24 hours, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are suing the Mail on Sunday for publishing a letter sent by Meghan to her father this past February. I’ve avoided mentioning the ongoing Markle family drama since the wedding, but it was a thing and yet another installment in Mr. Markle’s public lamenting that his daughter has cut off contact.

The suit itself is even more dramatic because it was accompanied by an emotional statement from Harry calling out British tabloids for their recent negative coverage of his wife and comparing her treatment to that which his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales received. The statement was made public on a new landing site, Sussex Official, and you can read it here.

The most obvious question for many is, why now? The timing seems odd coming just as the couple were wrapping what has been widely deemed a successful foreign tour. Indeed, the tour seemingly staunched much of the negative press they’ve recently endured and it stands to reason that with Meghan returning to work full-time, a better relationship could be rebuilt even if only on the distraction of more regular news.

Well, in fact, Harry references that exact difference in the media’s tone, indicating that he wrote that statement not long before it was published. I’ve read that the two were in talks with the Mail on Sunday to settle the matter privately, but an agreement couldn’t be reached, hence the lawsuit, which his words seem to allude to. I’ve also read that the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and the powers that be in Buckingham Palace were left in the dark prior to the posting, which, if true, wasn’t a good move.

The follow-up questions are 1) are the Sussexes’ justified? and 2) was this the right course of actions? Legally-speaking (or so I am told by people who actually know these things), the Sussexes are on solid ground. Per British copyright laws, Meghan is the copyright holder of her letter regardless of the fact that she sent it to her father, and regardless of the fact that he either gave or sold to the media. Thus its publication without her permission was a violation.

But justification in the court of public opinion is trickier. It should be noted that this is far from the first time a member of the Royal Family has sued the media. The Duke of Cambridge did so in 2012 when a French publication published illegal long-lens photos of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless on a private residence. The Prince of Wales has also taken this tack, as has the Queen’s nephew, the Earl of Snowdon. (I’m sure there are others, but you get my point.)

What is less established is the tenor of the statement that accompanied this news. It is reminiscent of the press release issued by Kensington Palace in November 2016 when Harry confirmed his relationship with Meghan and blasted the tabloids for racism and aggressive paparazzi tactics. It also reminds me a bit of another KP release earlier that summer when William and Kate issued a warning to the media about attempting to secure photographs of their then-toddler son, Prince George. That statement was certainly more restrained, but it was also more forceful than the public was used to receiving and drew similar ire from some circles.

In other words, William and Harry both tend to react strongly when they feel the media is going after their wives or children unfairly. Harry, who is clearly the more emotional of the two, does so with a heftier dollop of drama.

I’m of the belief that the treatment Meghan has received from certain tabloids has been over-the-top and relentless. Giving her family members a soapbox was repugnant. The narrative that The Royal Foundation split was the result of her ambition and meddling is, in my opinion, misguided. Much of the commentary she’s received criticizing her mothering, her clothing, her basic day-to-day behavior has been unfair, bizarre, and far too severe. I also believe that its tone and volume has been worse than that which was received by the Duchess of Cambridge  and the Countess of Wessex at similar points in their marriages.

That doesn’t negate the fact that some of this the Sussexes brought on themselves, fairly or unfairly. They pissed off the press with how they handled Archie’s birth. They took a surprisingly strident attitude with his christening. And they didn’t do themselves any favors with the private planes. To name but a few 😉 As a reminder, I defended them on the first two, but was less sympathetic about the planes. I also wasn’t a huge fan of certain aspects of the British Vogue edition.

So, a complicated dynamic has been evolving for a while. Harry mentioned two issues in his statement that I think are worth highlighting. The first noted that the problem has been Meghan’s absence while on maternity leave, and that the negative press was the result of being starved of information. I’ve seen this criticized as him failing to take any responsibility. I don’t quite see it that way. I actually think Meghan having been on leave is a major part of this – in fact, I said so numerous times over the summer. It’s definitely not all of the problem, but we’ve seen paler iterations of this happen enough times with Kate that I absolutely think it played a big role.

The second was Harry’s comparison of Meghan’s treatment to Diana’s. I don’t believe what we’ve seen over the last year rises to quite the level of abuse Diana received in the ’90s, however, I do think it’s the crux of the issue for Harry – and William, to a certain extent. I don’t think I’m going too armchair-psychologist here to say both men are clearly scarred by what they witnessed their mother endure (they’ve basically said as much), and I do think they tend to lash out in their own ways when they feel that Kate and Meghan are being subjected to media manipulation.

So, whether it’s a fair comparison is subjective, but the fact that Harry is genuinely afraid of history repeating itself isn’t. I would also say that it’s hard not to be at least slightly moved by the words themselves. This has clearly been a very painful year in what should otherwise have been a happy time – a newly-married couple celebrating the birth of their first child. Everything else aside, on a human level, I think they deserve some empathy.

But was this smart? Unfortunately, probably not. At least in the short-term. The Sussexes have decided to wage a war and there will absolutely be more battle wounds along the way. I hope they’re prepared. This tour could have symbolized a turning point and a return to normalcy, but the Sussexes – as Harry plainly says – aren’t willing to play along and turn the other cheek. They’re banking on public goodwill, which they have, and they will likely be lauded by other global celebrities, of which more than a few are their personal friends. What remains a question mark is how the rest of the Windsors feel about this. This isn’t in the royal playbook and it remains to be seen whether the Queen, the Prince of Wales, and to a lesser extent, William decide to back them on this decidedly risky move.

Naturally this is but the first chapter in what will prove an interesting case, so stay tuned.

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