Inside Meghan Markle’s battle with the press

When Meghan Markle started dating Prince Harry in 2016, she was far from an average American woman. She was the star of the US series Suits and the creator and editor-in-chief of the popular lifestyle blog The Tig (which she later shut down), where she interviewed celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, shared stories about her life, and dispensed fashion and shopping advice. Simply put, she was very familiar with the inner workings of the media and the pressures of the celebrity spotlight in the United States. 

But Meghan was always in for a shock where the press was concerned when she moved from her home in Toronto, Canada to the UK in 2017 to begin preparing to be crowned a duchess. Being an American celebrity could not prepare anyone for the intrusive nature of the paparazzi and press where the British royal family is concerned. 

It’s no secret that photographers played a role in the car crash that caused the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana. Yet, we bet no one could have predicted that about three years after she moved there, the press would be a big reason that Meghan, Prince Harry, and their son Archie would relocate to Los Angeles with no royal titles to their name. Let’s go inside Meghan Markle’s battle with the press.

A battle on her behalf began before Meghan Markle was ever royal

Hints about how difficult life as a member of the British royal family would be for Meghan Markle were present when she was only Prince Harry’s girlfriend. She was a victim of so many racist comments that her then-boyfriend was compelled to release a statement via his Communications Secretary in November 2016. The statement says that while the prince has never been comfortable with the royal spotlight, “he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it.”

The statement reveals that the media had gone too far, noting that Meghan “has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment … Some of this has been very public — the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments.” It details the private abuse Meghan, her mother, and her friends have endured.

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her,” the statement continues, before foreshadowing how difficult Meghan’s future would be. “It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm.” No matter what the press thinks, the statement asserts, “This is not a game – it is her life and his.”

The British media is soaked with racism

To understand why Prince Harry felt compelled to release such a severe statement about Meghan Markle, one only has to look at some headlines and articles about her. One headline in Daily Mail boldly states that “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton” and refers to Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland’s home as “gang-scarred.” In another piece published by Daily Mail, writer Rachel Johnson referred to Meghan’s “exotic DNA” and said that Ragland was “from the wrong side of the tracks.” Well into Prince Harry and Meghan’s marriage, when their son Archie was born, he was a victim of racism, too. BBC reported that reporter Dany Baker was fired for tweeting a picture featuring Meghan and Harry holding hands with a chimpanzee and the accompanying tweet “Royal Baby leaves hospital.”

Baker issued an apology via Twitter, calling his mistake a “stupid unthinking gag pic.” He went on to criticize his former employer, calling their decision to fire him a “masterclass of pompous faux-gravity,” per BBC. Baker’s actions were blatant, but the truth is Meghan had to endure constant microaggressions via the press criticizing her for the same behavior Prince William’s wife Kate is praised for. A baffling example in Express paints Meghan as a villain for eating avocados during pregnancy — the same thing Express framed as a cute story two years earlier when a schoolchild gave one to Prince William to help Kate Middleton battle morning sickness.

Prince Harry is partly responsible for the end of a truce between the royal family and the press

We’re sorry to report this, but Prince Harry’s behavior is allegedly part of the reason why his wife Meghan Markle is subject to such intense scrutiny. The paparazzi undoubtedly played a role in Harry’s mother Princess Diana’s death, and her brother Earl Spencer famously placed explicit blame on the media. “I always believed the press would kill her,” he said, per Independent. “It would appear that every proprietor and editor of every publication that has paid for intrusive and exploitative photographs of her, encouraging greedy and ruthless individuals to risk everything in pursuit of Diana’s image, has blood on their hands today.”

In the aftermath of Diana’s death, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) updated many regulations, including the harassment clause, according to Independent. As of 1998, it stated: “Journalists and photographers must neither obtain nor seek to obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.” The Guardian says the press largely left young princes William and Harry alone to grow up in peace until 2002 when Harry was caught drinking underage and smoking marijuana. Who can resist a scandal? William and Kate’s subsequent relationship, marriage, and the birth of their children intensified interest even further, The Guardian said. By the time Prince Harry started dating an American actress in 2016, the courtesy of privacy was a foreign concept to the royal family again. Do you think Harry regrets those beers?

The press played a part in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding drama

Meghan Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, reportedly skipped the royal wedding for odd reasons. According to TMZ, he was embarrassed by getting caught staging pictures of a suit fitting before the nuptials and had an ill-timed heart attack. Two months after the big day, a source confirmed to Daily Mail the heart attack was a hoax to gain sympathy. “The poor health story was his way of generating some compassion from the public, and taking the attention off those staged photos which were a complete embarrassment to Meghan and the royal family.”

Thomas Markle later told Britain’s Channel 5 for the special Thomas Markle: My Story (via Entertainment Tonight), “Every paper seemed to want to make me look like a dumb, fat slob.” A photographer told him he knew how to change that image. It was a lie that cost Thomas the chance to walk his daughter down the aisle, which he says he cried about.

The new book Finding Freedom by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand claims that Meghan was doing everything she could to get her father to be there, including sending him a final text on the eve of her wedding. According to Mirror, a friend told the authors, “If it wasn’t for Harry, [her mother] Doria [Ragland] and her friends, Meghan herself says that she wouldn’t have mentally got through it.” The harrowing incident thickened the ice between Meghan, Harry, and the press.

Her emotional struggle handling the press was captured on camera

The ITV News documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey revealed that the new parents had a lot of tension in their lives. Perhaps none was more evident than Meghan Markle’s struggle to deal with the British press. She was humbled by journalist Tom Bradby inquiring about her well-being. “Thank you for asking,” the starlet said. “Because not many people have asked if I’m okay, but it’s a very real thing to be going through behind-the-scenes.” Meghan admitted she’s not okay before confessing she had no idea what she was getting into dating British royalty, even though her friends warned her. “When I first met [Harry] … my British friends said to me, ‘I’m sure he’s great, but you shouldn’t do it because the British tabloids will destroy your life,'” she said. “I didn’t get it.”

Cultural differences related to emotions made everything harder for Meghan. “I’ve said for a long time to [Harry], ‘It’s not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy,'” she said. At the time of the documentary, she feared her attempts to endure were affecting her emotional health. “I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip,” Markle confessed. “But I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging.” She concludes, “I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.”

She pleaded with her dad to stop cooperating with the press

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s plight with the press hasn’t been made any easier because of one side of her family. Meghan wrote a letter to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, shortly after her wedding. It was published in Daily Mail in February 2019. “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces,” part of the letter reads. “Not simply because you have manufactured such unnecessary and unwarranted pain, but by making the choice not to tell the truth as you are puppeteered in this.”

In the letter, one of the lies Meghan cites is her father’s claim that he called her to tell her he wasn’t coming to the wedding. “You never called,” the letter says. As for his not receiving financial help she says, “I have only ever loved, protected, and defended you, offering whatever financial support I could, worrying about your health… and always asking how I could help.”

In her most desperate plea, Meghan begs, “If you love me, as you tell the press you do, please stop. Please allow us to live our lives in peace. Please stop lying, please stop creating so much pain, please stop exploiting my relationship with my husband.” Hmmm. Should she have known Thomas was just getting started? Of course, he sold the letter to the press.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce they are suing several media outlets

In October 2019, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced they were suing several media outlets separately. Meghan Markle’s battles are related to Daily Mail publishing the letter to her father. “Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences — a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son,” Prince Harry’s statement announcing legal action reads.

Of Meghan, Harry says, “[the tabloids] have been able to create lie after lie at her expense simply because she has not been visible while on maternity leave. She is the same woman she was a year ago on our wedding day, just as she is the same woman you’ve seen on this Africa tour.” Harry continues, “The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question.”  The statement continues, “There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behavior because it destroys people and destroys lives … We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.”

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry share personal news on their own terms

Tensions with the press over the years may have been exacerbated by the fact that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle release personal news on their own terms whenever possible and force the media to adhere to embargos while they post whatever they want. “For [Harry and Meghan], the future is Instagram over the press,” a source told Vanity Fair. “They are reaching a global audience that’s more than the broadsheets and tabloids combined, and crucially presenting themselves the way they want to. As far as Harry is concerned, it’s a way of cutting out the mainstream press, which is very convenient because he basically hates the press.”

Examples of the couple putting this strategy into action include announcing the birth of their son Archie on Instagram, and placing an embargo on Archie’s meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu on their tour of Africa — posting it on their official Instagram account first. “The fact that there was an embargo was ludicrous,” a royal reporter told Vanity Fair. But a royal source told the outlet, “At the root of all this is their plan to shake things up. Harry is not afraid to take the media on. He feels like he has nothing to lose.”

Meghan Markle lost her first big battle with UK press

Meghan Markle’s preliminary hearing against several publications didn’t go as she’d hoped. In 2020, Meghan began suing Associated Newspapers over five articles published in both Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, MSNBC reported. She is seeking damages for “alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.” Many of her claims were struck by the judge, Mr. Justice Warby.

First to go was the claim of “dishonesty” by the publications for deliberately editing the letter in order to present Markle in a bad light. The judge also dismissed the allegations that publishers “stirred up” issues between Meghan and her father Thomas, and that they had an “agenda” of publishing invasive stories about her. The judge called the claims he struck “irrelevant” to the other parts of the case. He did rule that the privacy matters in the case could move forward in the future.

Schillings, the law firm representing Meghan, made a statement saying that the decision “makes very clear that the core elements of this case do not change and will continue to move forward” (via MSNBC). It continued, “The duchess’ rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed. As part of this process, the extremes to which The Mail On Sunday used distortive, manipulative, and dishonest tactics to target the Duchess of Sussex have been put on full display.” Meghan’s lawyers were “surprised” by the parts of the case that the judge dismissed.

Prince Harry fears the paparazzi will harm Meghan Markle

Of course, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have personal reasons for fiercely trying to protect themselves from the British tabloids, as the paparazzi played a part in Princess Diana’s death. As he’s gotten older, Prince Harry has been more forthcoming about his true feelings about the press. They’ve become quite evident after his wedding to Meghan and the birth of his son, Archie. Harry gave a straightforward explanation for his feelings and actions toward the press to Tom Bradby in the documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey. “I will not be bullied into playing a game that killed my mum,” Harry said.

A source took it a step further, telling Vanity Fair that the outcomes of Prince Harry and Meghan’s media lawsuits don’t really matter to the couple. “Whether they win or lose the case, Harry’s intent on paying the press back for what they did to his mother, the endless scrutiny into his private life, and now their vendetta against Meghan. This is payback time, as far as Harry is concerned.” Harry’s statement announcing the lawsuits references a “human cost” to reckless media behavior. In conclusion, he says, “my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

The press influenced Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to step down as royals

Prince Harry’s team told MSNBC that he and Meghan Markle attended the preliminary hearing of her lawsuits via video chat from Los Angeles, having stepped down from royal duties in early 2020. Battles like the legal one the couple is fighting are a significant factor in the couple’s decision to step away from royal duties and move to the US. One section that stands out in the couple’s statement of intention (posted on Instagram, of course) to “carve out a progressive new role” in the royal family, emphasizes what time away from England will give the family. “This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.” 

The “space” the Duke and Duchess mention could be another way of saying “peace” far away from a country whose tabloids have no problem shaming a pregnant woman for daring to touch her baby bump. If nothing else, at least it’s always sunny in LA.

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