On Sunday, people across the world watched Meghan Markle confess that she considered ending her life due to the unrelenting abuse from the British media. On Monday, business continued as usual.
The details from Oprah Winfrey’s CBS interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, aka the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were splashed across front pages, as expected. But inside the the British tabloids and on the airwaves, columnists and commentators continued the very style of coverage — which has stoked maximum resentment against Meghan — that made a pregnant woman suicidal. This is also true for the four tabloids whose stories have long sought to deliver the most damage, drawing enough concern from the Sussexes’ press team that they implemented a rare non-engagement policy with the outlets when Meghan and Harry stepped back from royal life last year.
Here’s just a few of the pieces they ran after the interview:
The Mail: “PIERS MORGAN: Meghan and Harry's nauseating two-hour Oprah whine-athon was a disgraceful diatribe of cynical race-baiting propaganda designed to damage the Queen as her husband lies in hospital - and destroy the Monarchy.”
The Express: “Oprah interview: Meghan has cost you everything Harry - let's hope she's worth it.”
The Sun: “SOAP OPRAH: Royal experts brand Harry and Meghan Oprah interview ‘selfish’ and say Queen will be ‘absolutely devastated.”
The Mirror: “Meghan and Harry destroying royal family from within like survivors of poisonous cult.”
Even more interesting is the media tour of Camilla Tominey, the reporter who published the Nov. 2018 Telegraph (which is not a tabloid) story — based all on anonymous sources — about a confrontation between Meghan and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, where Meghan allegedly made Kate cry. The detail dominated coverage. Then, in the interview with Oprah, Meghan said it was actually Kate who’d made her cry during a tense moment in the wedding planning process — a clear, on-the-record denial.
And yet the day after the interview, Tominey appeared as a royal expert on the “TODAY” show in the US, “This Morning” on ITV in the UK, and was quoted in the New York Times and by CBS News. With the exception of her appearance on “This Morning,” she was not questioned about how she’d written the story that Meghan explicitly denied. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Tominey, TODAY, New York Times, and CBS News for comment.
“Really glad Meghan confirmed my accurate story about a bust up at a bridesmaids dress fitting - even though “recollections may differ” about who did or didn’t cry ... thanks!” Tominey added on Twitter.
In response to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News sent before publication, Tominey defended her story.
"I stand by my original story, which never elicited a complaint or correction by the Duchess until the Oprah interview," Tominey said. "We now have four versions of events - that Kate was left in tears, that Meghan was, that no one was (according to Omid Scobie, who wrote this even though we now know he collaborated with the couple for his book Finding Freedom) and that they both cried. What we have from Meghan is confirmation of my accurate story about a huge bust up over a bridesmaid dress fitting although, to coin a phrase, 'recollections may differ' about the outcome."
When asked about the duchess seemingly implying that the royal family's press team deliberately did not "defend" her from the media feeding frenzy this story sparked, Tominey — who wanted BuzzFeed News to clarify that she no longer works for a tabloid but was proud to work for one for 17 years — said, "As for the Palace supposedly hanging Meghan out to dry for Kate - that’s probably one for them although people have very short memories if they think 'Waity Katie', the 'Wisteria sister' and daughter of Carole 'doors to manual' Middleton has had a universally easy ride in the media. Maybe that is the bigger issue here - the treatment of women in the Royal family per se. I didn’t write the story to take a position on either woman - and actually if anyone bothered to read the whole story again they’d see it is very balanced appraisal of the tensions between the Cambridges and Sussexes - tensions which, despite being denied by both sides at the time - we now know to be true.”
"You can say this," Tominey said. "You think I would so robustly defend my story and go on actual telly to do so if I didn’t stand by it and think it was true? My original story said Kate was 'left in tears'. Meghan now insists only she cried. How does she know?"
At least publicly, on Twitter, there didn’t seem to be much self-reflection among royal reporters about how the industry’s stories — and possibly their own stories — contributed to the deterioration of Meghan’s mental health, as reporters joked about not receiving their invitations to the palace “holiday parties” as the special aired.
Some of the tabloids pushed further.
On Friday, Associated Newspapers, the parent company of MailOnline, the Daily Mail, and the Mail on Sunday sent a formal letter to CBS calling a montage of headlines Oprah displayed during the interview “doctored.”
“There was constant criticism, blatant sexist and racist remarks by British tabloids and internet trolls,” Oprah said in a voiceover as the images were shown. “We have seen the racism towards her play out in real time. Referring to her as ‘straight outta Compton’. The daily onslaught of vitriol and condemnation from the UK Press became overwhelming and, in Meghan’s words, ‘almost unsurvivable.’”
One complaint from the newspaper chain was, hey — not all of those terrible headlines were from the UK. Some were from the US!
And another was that Associated didn’t agree with the content of their headlines that were based on other people’s racism. Like: “'Meghan's seed will taint our Royal Family': UKIP chief's glamour model lover, 25, is suspended from the party over racist texts about Prince Harry's wife-to-be.”
To be clear — none of the headline text shown during the interview was doctored. Harpo Productions told BuzzFeed News, “We stand by the broadcast in its entirety.”
Since the explosive interview, attacks on the UK tabloids and calls for change have come from around the world. If the defensive reaction from the British media establishment over the past few days is any indication, things will carry on.
In Sunday’s interview, the Sussexes said that it was, specifically, the onslaught of what they described as “racist” coverage of Meghan by the British press that made them leave not just royal life but, at least for now, the UK.
“The UK press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids,” Harry said.
It was a deft move. For years the British tabloids published screeds about the couple, feeding off a parade of unnamed sources.
“It is unusually difficult to judge the reliability of most royal reporting because it is a world almost devoid of open or named sources,” Former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger wrote in a 2020 analysis analysis about how the Sussexes are covered by the British press. “In order to believe what we’re being told, we have to take it on trust that there are currently legions of ‘aides’, ‘palace insiders’, ‘friends’ and ‘senior courtiers’ constantly WhatsApping their favourite reporters with the latest gossip.”
Now, Harry and Meghan were firing back on a larger platform, without much pushback, and televised — on the record, accountable for their words. Essentially asking: Who should you believe?
One of the most shocking moments of the interview came when Meghan and Harry pointed to who they say are the very enablers of the harassing coverage: the people inside Buckingham Palace. They colluded with the press to spread “falsehoods” about them, they said, or failed to correct stories Harry and Meghan said not just staffers, but members of the royal family, knew were lies — like when five days before the Oprah interview, the Times alleged that Meghan bullied palace staffers. A Sussex spokesperson accused the paper of “being used by Buckingham Palace to peddle a wholly false narrative,” calling the story a “calculated smear campaign and harmful misinformation.” The Palace didn’t return requests for comment.
“If you as a family member are willing to wine, dine and give full access to these reporters, then you will get better press,” Harry said during the interview, describing an “invisible contract” that exists “behind closed doors” between the institution and the tabloids. On Twitter, royal correspondents scoffed at these collusion claims.
By giving their interview, Harry and Meghan have shattered far more than just the UK press’s dramatic narrative of their lives. They turned the probing eye of the public onto the royal family, one of the world’s most secretive institutions — and when you go to the UK press looking for cold, hard, facts on the matter, as Rusbridger wrote, you have to trust the reporter quoting that anonymous source.
Whether or not that will have an impact on coverage going forward remains to be seen.
The Society of Editors issued an outraged statement in response to Meghan and Harry’s interview, flat-out denying that the British press is, as Harry said, “bigoted.”
Following public outcry, the group’s director, Ian Murray, resigned.
And the society released a statement of “clarification” admitting that there was “a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion.”
The tabloid narrative of Meghan as the gold-digging, social-climbing, harridan hell-bent on splitting Harry up from his blameless family has been dealt its largest blow — because, for once, we heard members of the royal family tell their own story.
“If the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased then that filters out to the rest of society,” Harry said in the interview.
For now, society will be left to wonder what he meant by “source” — the media? Or the palace?
Sometimes, you just have to play the role of a fool to fool the fool who thinks they are fooling you.