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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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The toll of tabloids: following the royal interview


How the media can ruin lives

Even if you could not care less about the British royal family, you have probably heard about Meghan Markle’s and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. 

The two hour long television special showed Harry and Meghan speaking less than favorably of the royal family after they permanently stepped down as senior members of the family in January 2020. 

While claims about the royal family being unwelcoming and unsupportive have dominated the headlines, Meghan also spoke candidly about her struggle with mental health, saying in the interview she “just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” Her poor mental health can be at least partially attributed to the tabloid stories that Harry and Meghan spent time in the interview debunking. The interview opened up a conversation about how cruel and damaging the press can be to people in the spotlight, especially women and people of color. 

Ever since Harry and Meghan announced their engagement in 2017, they have been the center of attention in the press, whether it was their wedding watched by 1.9 billion people around the world, Meghan’s pregnancy or the birth of their now one-year-old son Archie. For example, in the days leading up to the royal wedding, the media was fascinated by Meghan’s relationship with her father and his side of the family, who have contributed to the press’ harassment by speaking to media outlets, her father even accepting money in exchange for staging photographs for paparazzi. 

Additionally, her father sent the Daily Mail an edited letter his daughter wrote him after their wedding, published without Meghan’s consent, and in February the couple won a lawsuit against them. Of course, it is shameful for a parent to put their own wants and needs above their relationship with their child and their mental health, but shouldn’t the Daily Mail and other press outlets that he spoke to recognize that? What has the world come to that so many readers want to know all the gossip that led to the breakdown of a father-daughter relationship? 

Many have compared Harry’s wife to his beloved late mother, Princess Diana. She was also the apple of the press’s eye, and the press is even held partly responsible by Diana’s family for her untimely death: the fatal car crash in Paris occured after motorcycle-bound paparazzi aggressively chased the car she was in until the driver eventually lost control of the vehicle. 

It is nearly impossible to discuss Meghan’s treatment by the press without acknowledging the underlying, and sometimes very clear, sexist and racist undertones in headlines and stories.

Harry compared this treatment of his mother to the treatment of his wife, saying “My biggest concern was history repeating itself.” Meghan could have also lost her life indirectly due to the press, as she had suicidal thoughts that she eventually shared with her husband before they could become dangerous.

It is nearly impossible to discuss Meghan’s treatment by the press without acknowledging the underlying, and sometimes very clear, sexist and racist undertones in headlines and stories. Meghan is biracial, with a Black mother and white father, and the first person of color to marry into the British monarchy after centuries of arranged marriages to maintain what was believed to be a superior bloodline—100% European. 

Meghan and Harry accused the royal family of racism, and while the family denies it and we will never know what exactly happened behind closed doors, racism in the press is clear. In the aforementioned obsession with Meghan’s father and her family as a whole, the Daily Mail published an article titled, “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed – so will he be dropping by for tea?” 

It is clear that this outlet was making racist claims against Meghan and her family. The outlet said that because they are from a lower socioeconomic status, they are dangerous, whereas a white woman from similar circumstances becoming a Duchess might be praised for being normal and down to earth. 

As seen in the interview with Oprah, Meghan was often negatively contrasted to Duchess Kate in British headlines. In one example, Kate was pictured holding her baby bump and was seen as an excited mother, while Meghan, pictured doing the same, “couldn’t keep her hands” off of her baby bump and was doing it for the press. There are many other headlines similar to these that villainized Meghan’s actions, despite Kate being praised for the same.

Meghan’s intersecting identities as a woman and a person of color make her even more of a target for negative attention from the press. Like many celebrity women, the press has been preoccupied with her age. Meghan is 39 years old, three years older than Prince Harry. The press has also been focused on the men she has been in previous relationships with, including film producer Trevor Engelson. 

The press has also spun the story of Meghan and Harry stepping back from royal family duties as being Meghan’s fault. As the couple’s relationship with Prince William and Kate began to appear strained, the media began reporting on a stereotypical “cat fight” between the sister-in-laws. Meanwhile, nothing is attributed to the brothers having typical sibling rivalry topped with the stresses of being princes and the trauma of losing their mother at a young age. This shows how damaging the trope of women being manipulative and unable to get along with other women can be.

Many, including the press, have criticized the interview as the couple “whining” about “rich people problems,” such as dealing with the press and paparazzi. However, Meghan being open about her serious mental health struggles as a result of British media shows that we must hold the press accountable for their harassment and unnecessary gossip and acknowledge that the people being harassed are real people, not just characters. We also must be conscious of how the press impacts the way we see groups of people, like women and people of color, based on how they are portrayed.

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