Let’s Catch Up on the Sussexes’ Media Suit

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In case there wasn’t enough royal drama going on for you, there’s an update in the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s lawsuit against the Mail on Sunday and its parent company, Associated Newspapers. As quick background, the Sussexes announced their suit in early October while they were touring South Africa. News broke alongside a passionate statement from Harry expressing his anger at how tabloids were covering his wife and comparing the situation to that which his mother experienced in the 1990s.

The crux of the issue is the publication of a letter Meghan wrote her father in the summer of 2018, which the Mail on Sunday published in February 2019. Per British copyright law, Meghan is the legal owner of her letter, and thus the suit argues, the tabloid didn’t have the right to publish excerpts without her mission. The suit also alleges that the letter was edited.

Details on the Sussexes’ position became public in November via a report by Byline Investigates, which laid out the Sussexes’ complaints. In summary, they call out numerous times that the tabloid lied about the couple, particularly Meghan. For example, in reporting renovations done to the couple’s home of Frogmore Cottage, the tabloid alleged that there was a brand new copper tub, tennis courts, an orangery, and a mother-in-law suite installed. The Sussexes claim none of those amenities exist. With regards to her baby shower last February, the tabloid stated the party only included Meghan’s celebrity friends and excluded her mother and long-time friends. The Sussexes’ responded that her mother was invited, and that there were several long-time friends in attendance who simply didn’t warrant media attention. The list goes on and on. If nothing else, it’s a great reminder not to believe everything you read, particularly in the Mail on Sunday.

But the tabloid is standing its ground. In new documents filed, the defendants argue that Thomas Markle had the right to defend himself following a February 2019 People magazine article in which Meghan’s friends spoke on background about her relationship with her father. It was generally assumed at the time that Meghan (and Harry) ok’d their cooperation, a situation many of us noted was tricky because once you start engaging, it’s hard to hold the line on privacy.

The documents also allege that the letter was clearly written with an intent to be made public. I note this primarily because I just went back to read what I wrote at the time and my post includes this:

“I’m of the opinion that Meghan wrote this letter knowing it was entirely likely its contents would be made public – the way it’s written includes enough background information and a point-by-point rebuttal of inaccuracies reported that she’s clearly speaking to both her father and the public. That’s not a criticism – if Meghan didn’t know the letter’s publication was a possibility then she’d be incredibly naive and she clearly isn’t.”

** Insert emoji with gritted teeth**

The Daily Beast notes:

‘The defense also alleges that Mr. Markle has not heard from his daughter since August 2018, when she sent the “immaculately copied out” and “self-congratulatory” letter.

Pointing out that it was written “in her own elaborate handwriting” with “no crossings-out of amendments,” the newspaper group claims “it is to be inferred also from the care the Claimant took over the presentation of the letter that she anticipated it being disclosed to and read by third parties.”’

Worse still, Thomas Markle has apparently agreed to testify on Associated Newspapers’ behalf, at which point Meghan may be compelled to provide evidence against him. Needless to say, if that nightmare situation occurs, this stops being about a media lawsuit and instead devolves into a very messy family drama playing out in real-time.

Already these documents rebut several claims Meghan (or her delegates) have made – namely that her father did in fact pay for her education, that Meghan cut off contact knowing he was undergoing heart surgery, and that he didn’t receive any help or support from the Palace during the engagement, while Doria Ragland (Meghan’s mother, Markle’s ex-wife) did. All of this is old news and some of it may be false or incomplete, but that’s not really the point – that it’s embarrassingly private is.

This again begs the question I think many of us had last autumn which is that this might not have been the hill to die on. Frankly, by October most people had forgotten about this letter drama and a lot of the Markle family coverage had died down. Had the Sussexes forged on, or had their lawyers move forward with the suit without public comment blasting the entire industry, I think this would be playing out quite differently.  Harry and Meghan may be on solid legal ground, but the personal and public cost if more dirty laundry is aired will be considerable.

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