Prince Harry has been accused by a Government minister of having ‘blown up’ his family. Zac Goldsmith is right. The damage is enormous, and one can only salute the Queen for her brief and dignified statement last night.
In their incendiary interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex set out to destroy another institution. I mean the British Press, and in particular the tabloids. The couple arguably employed even more sensationalist methods than in their assault on the Royal Family.
According to Harry, racism from the Press that filtered into the rest of society played a ‘large part’ in his and Meghan’s departure from this country. He described the tabloids as ‘bigoted’ and accused them of creating a ‘toxic environment’ of ‘control and fear’.
The charge of racism is very grave. There could scarcely be a more damaging accusation. If it were really true that newspapers’ racist coverage had driven Meghan and her loyal husband from our shores, journalists should hang their heads in shame.
But it’s not true. I have no doubt that Harry passionately believes what he says. He is utterly convinced of his thesis — and completely wrong.
His error is to think that any criticism of his wife must be the product of racism. Because Meghan is of mixed race, in her and Harry’s minds every journalist who writes negatively about her must be a racist.
This is nonsense. Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, was sometimes harried and criticised by newspapers when they sold more copies than they do today, and were more powerful. She attracted much more flak than Meghan.
She was of course white, so no one could claim that the motivations of the media were racist. The same point might be made about the Duchess of Cambridge, who as plain Kate Middleton was pursued by the paparazzi.
If it were really true that newspapers’ racist coverage had driven Meghan (right) and her loyal husband Harry (left) from our shores, journalists should hang their heads in shame. But it’s not true
As it happens, before the Sussexes’ 2018 wedding, and for many months after it, the British Press was entranced by Meghan, welcoming her as a breath of fresh air in the slightly dusty corners of the Royal Family.
Interestingly, a Mail poll today finds that 43 per cent of the public say the media coverage of the couple was either about right or too favourable, as opposed to 36 per cent who thought it too unfavourable.
It’s true that after a while the relationship began to sour. I believe this was in large measure the consequence of Harry’s deep-seated and long-standing loathing of the Press, which he blamed, not without some justification, for hounding his mother to her death.
The Duke reacted very negatively to newspapers’ criticisms, accusing them in October 2019 of ‘knowingly [running] false and malicious stories’ about Meghan and of having mounted a ‘ruthless campaign’ in which ‘lie after lie’ was told. He failed to substantiate these explosive allegations.
Pieces were written about Meghan which were undoubtedly personal. For example, not every paper was ecstatic when in February 2019 she flew to New York for an extraordinarily lavish ‘baby shower’ with her female friends.
Such barbs, however, had absolutely nothing to do with racism. Nor did media criticism after the couple took four journeys by private jet over 11 days in August 2019, not long after Harry had lectured us about the perils of global warming. Public figures must expect to be scrutinised.
Despite brickbats, there were many favourable articles. When the Sussexes visited South Africa in September 2019 — the Duke was photographed walking through an Angolan minefield as his mother had done 22 years previously — media coverage was largely rapturous.
Harry, though, could not accept the rough with the smooth, as wise and balanced members of the Royal Family learn to do. So gripped was he by the misguided conviction that the media were detestable that any praise was ignored — and every criticism eagerly interpreted as proof of racism.
So where is the proof? During the interview, Oprah Winfrey attempted to find some scraps. She is Meghan’s friend, and was a guest at her wedding, and embodied the part of an agent rather than a forensic interviewer.
Oprah echoed the Sussexes’ gripe: ‘When Meghan joined the Royal Family in 2018, she became the target of unrelenting, pervasive attacks. Racist abuse online aimed at Meghan Markle. . . . There was constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids.’
Really? Behind Queen Oprah, various front pages or websites were prominently displayed. A seemingly damning headline from the online version of an article by the Mail on Sunday read: ‘Meghan’s seed will taint the Royal Family.’
It sounds bad. In fact, Oprah’s helpers had cut out the remainder of the headline, which read: ‘UKIP’s chief’s glamour model lover, 25, is suspended from the party over racist texts about Prince Harry’s wife to be.’
During the interview, Oprah Winfrey (pictured) attempted to find some scraps of proof that the press was racist in its coverage of Meghan. She is Meghan’s friend, and was a guest at her wedding, and embodied the part of an agent rather than a forensic interviewer
In other words, the vile suggestion that ‘Meghan’s seed will taint the Royal Family’ was that of a racist glamour model, not Mail Online. The article was thoroughly sympathetic to Meghan — the opposite of what Oprah’s people suggested.
Similarly wrenched from its context was a Daily Telegraph headline: ‘The real problem with Meghan: she doesn’t speak our language.’ Racist? No. The December 2020 piece was about the Sussexes’ latest podcast, judged ‘a hippie version of corporate management-speak’.
One allegation, discussed by Meghan and Oprah during the interview, concerns the way the Mail and Express wrote about avocados in relation to Kate and Meghan. With Kate they were seen as a possible cure for morning sickness. With Meghan they were linked to ‘human rights abuse’ because of the way they are cultivated in places like Mexico.
The point was that the campaigning Meghan — along with several other individuals mentioned in the piece — seemed unaware of the sinister side of the production of avocados which happened to have been exposed in the Left-leaning Guardian a couple of weeks earlier.
Provocative? Maybe. Unfair? Arguably. But where is the racism? George Clooney, who is obviously white, was chided by the Mail last year for having promoted Nespresso, some of whose coffee was allegedly produced by child labour in Guatemala.
The only example of racism that I can think of concerns the broadcaster Danny Baker, summarily fired by the BBC after an appalling tweet about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new-born son, Archie, that featured a picture of a chimpanzee. Baker’s friends insisted he is not a racist, and he apologised.
I realise that as a white person I may be unaware of the natural sensitivity of BAME people to racism. They may infer racism — which I don’t see — in insensitively worded articles. As a virtual stranger to this country, Meghan was perhaps particularly vulnerable.
All the same, it’s not good enough to assert without substantive proof that the tabloids’ extreme racism has driven both of them out of the country.
The Sussexes accuse the media of sensationalism but they have sensationalised their story to a breathtaking degree. They have moreover breached the privacy of the Royal Family by claiming one of its members is a racist in a way liable to demonise all of them. Imagine if the Press had done the same!
Newspapers are far from perfect but they’re not racist. It’s sad that Harry and Meghan — utterly preoccupied with themselves, and loathing any form of criticism — have identified themselves as enemies of a free Press.