Meghan, Tom Bower & Vanity Fair

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Ok, well, even before I’ve finished getting up posts on The Palace Papers, a new book is rocking the royal ecosystem. This one is by Tom Bower, a writer and former BBC investigative journalist who is famous for his notably critical biographies of major figures. Earlier in his career he published one on The Prince of Wales that was apparently rather ruthless, though I’ve admittedly never read it.

His latest is – surprise, surprise – on The Duchess of Sussex, was published today. In anticipation, The Times ran five excerpts that are pretty savage. I’m absolutely planning to read the book, but given shipping times, etc. I think getting actual recaps of it up is going to have to be an August project.

In the meantime, I want to dig into the back and forth over one of The Times’s recaps so we can level-set on how to view the conversation.

The article covers the background Vanity Fair’s cover story on Meghan, which ran in its 2017 September issue. As many of you may recall, the feature ran two months before Harry and Meghan announced their engagement, so she was very much not a member of the Royal Family and was in fact still working full-time for Suits when she sat for this interview.

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Here are the highlights from The Times article:

  • At the time that Meghan was offered the Vanity Fair cover, Harry had already proposed. The delay on the announcement of their engagement was due to the Queen being at Balmoral and not having had the change to give her formal consent. This is notable because the official line when the engagement was announced in November was that it had happened only a few weeks prior, shortly after Meghan moved to London. If Bower’s version is true, then Harry and Meghan were engaged before she moved – and thus before they ever actually formally lived together.
  • Meghan’s PR firm responded to Vanity Fair’s offer by saying Meghan would be “delighted” on the grounds that the article framed her as a major actor and philanthropist.
  • Harry apparently knew about the interview and ok’d it, but “ordered” that Meghan not talk about him, Donald Trump, and race. (As an aside, the first two I understand given the broader context, but the third feels a tad strange.)
  • Per Bower, as Meghan spoke it  became clear to the reporter – Sam Kashner – that Meghan knew she “had the winning ticket” – in other words, that she had the upper hand in their dynamic because she was theoretically withholding information about Harry. At least, that’s my read of it.
  • Kashner says that he thought to himself, while she was talking, “It’s hard to know if she’s genuine. She’s an actress.”
  • Meghan said that she visited the set of Married With Children, where her father worked, every day after school. According to her father, visits were a “treat” on Fridays.
  • According to Bower, Meghan said to Kashner, “You’re not a typical journalist. I like you, especially your stuttering.” This becomes important later.
  • When Kashner did eventually ask about Harry, Meghan unexpectedly responded by saying they were in love. Notably, Kashner followed up by asking “What does love mean?” A clear reference to Charles and Diana’s engagement interview in 1981. Meghan caught the reference and “balked” at answering. Now, remember, Meghan has always said she was wholly unfamiliar with the Royal Family and Harry.
  • She then said there would come a time when she and Harry would come forward as a more public couple, clearly alluding to the fact that an engagement was forthcoming. Again, remember that according to Bower’s timeline, she was already engaged to Harry at this point.
  • In the editing process, Vanity Fair fact-checked Meghan’s famous claim about convincing Proctor & Gamble to change one of its advertising slogan to be less sexist and couldn’t substantiate it. Reference to this story was removed from the final article.
  • Copies of the magazine were provided to Meghan’s PR firm and Buckingham Palace prior to the release. BP was reportedly taken aback by Meghan’s candor in the article.
  • When Meghan contacted her PR firm, she was “hysterical” and described the Palace as “furious.” It’s unclear whether she was in touch with a member of staff or this was simply relayed to her by Harry. It’s also unclear how Harry felt about the article. Meghan was then angry with her firm for not having her quotes about Harry removed.
  • The PR firm then called Vanity Fair and threatened them that the Queen herself was angry and would contact them. Vanity Fair, likely better-knowing that such a scenario would never happen, responded that Meghan didn’t get the cover on her own – she got it because of her relationship with Harry.
  • Meghan then called Kashner and told him they couldn’t be friends, and that he had “queered the deal” with Harry. She was angry because, despite the article being positive, it didn’t mention P&G and she had apparently assumed her comments about Harry were off-the-record.
  • Quote from Kashner: “She complained because she wasn’t presented in the way she wanted. She demanded that the media do what she expects. I felt manipulated.”

After this article in The Times was published, Kashner wrote a letter-to-the editor, which read:

“Sir, I’m afraid Tom Bower didn’t convey my admiration and respect for Meghan Markle in the excerpt from his new book in The Times on Saturday. I found Ms. Markle to be exceptionally warm and gracious and admired her intelligence and her remarkable courage, as I still do.

I regretted the oft-published account of challenging P&G being edited out of my Vanity Fair article, because I’d wanted to highlight her lifelong activism. The piece itself was quite laudatory.

One more thing. I do not have a stutter. I may hem and haw a bit, but a stammer is not a stutter and, as far as I know, Ms. Markle never said she liked me because of it!

A belated congratulations to Prince Harry for taking such an extraordinary woman as his bride. Theirs is clearly a love match, so maybe we should stop piling on an let the couple live their life in peace.”

Sam Kashner

Williamsburg, Virginia

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At first blush this letter can read like a strong refutation of Bower’s article, but in fact there are only two quibbles – 1) that Bower didn’t capture that Kashner liked Meghan and 2) that the quote in the article about Meghan saying she liked his “stutter” is false.

And, to be clear, if that quote was somehow created whole cloth that’s troubling.

The portion re: the P&G reference actually supports Bower’s narrative – Kashner included the information and Vanity Fair, through the fact-checking process, removed it.

What the letter does underscore, however, and what I think is worth bearing in mind as we all read this book and any other subsequent articles is that Bower clearly dislikes Meghan. In interviews he has stated that he believes her to be a threat to the monarchy and a schemer. He has also noted that Meghan forbade her circle of friends from speaking the Bower, the result of which is that those who did speak on-the-record either disliked her or aren’t among her nearest and dearest.

Bower was asked about Kashner’s letter and responded, “During a long telephone conversation with Sam Kashner on May 31, I read out to him all the quotations I had used of his interview with me for my book – and conveyed to him much of the chapter. He did not make a single objection or correction.”

As with all things Meghan-related, I doubt this book will change hearts and minds. Those who take issue with the Sussexes’ behavior over the last four years will likely accept this narrative, while those who believe the Sussexes’ narrative will write this off.

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For me personally, when I take stock of Bower’s account, I’m willing to accept that this is likely – more or less – what happened. We’ve seen this attitude towards the media from Meghan (and Harry) with our own eyes time and time again – in the sense that there is a level of outrage at coverage that isn’t positive or doesn’t follow her/their agenda. And that’s just not how it works.

A lack of sophistication towards media management isn’t inherently a character flaw. Nothing in this version of events necessarily suggests that Meghan is a bad person, so much as a person out of her depth. Then again, another reading of it could well be that she knew exactly what she was doing, spoke about Harry despite knowing she wasn’t meant to, and then only wavered when she was met with the reality of the Palace’s reaction. I’m inclined to believe the truth is closer to the former.

It remains to be seen how many “bombshells” this book will contain, but what I do think will prove interesting is an investigative journalist combing through the Meghan story with an eye towards fact-checking. As we’ve seen via the Oprah interview, that rarely works in the Sussexes’ favor.

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