You could fill acres of newsprint with the multitude of crafty techniques used for getting the story (or picture) on Fleet Street.
The most reliable, of course, is sheer persistence—stick a photographer and a writer on Hugh Grant’s doorstep long enough and eventually you’ll get the picture, because at some point he’ll have to come out for a pint of milk.
But persistence—which increasingly these days is viewed as harassment or even stalking—can only get you so far.
The tabloids also rely on a willingness to bring bribery and threats to the table. For example, reporters will sometimes tell the subject, who they’ve worn down with days of doorstepping, that the only way to get the press to go away is to give them what they want. And if you don’t give us what we want, we’ll stay here forever.
Another variant of this is: If you agree to the pictures, we’ll be able to make you look good. If you don’t agree, we’ll take them anyway, and the lens won’t be so flattering.
Old habits clearly die hard.
It now appears that the methods used to get Meghan Markle’s father, Thomas Markle Sr, to go along with a paparazzi’s plan to produce preposterous staged images of him were straight out of the tabloid playbook.
Markle, whose presence at the royal wedding is still unknown (he had pulled out, then today was reported as wanting to attend, but possibly being too ill to do so), was pictured engaged in such humorous situations as getting measured for a new suit, checking out Prince Harry news online, and lifting weights to get in shape ahead of the wedding.
The photographs looked staged. They were clearly very odd. Even Markle admitted they looked “hammy” according to a mea culpa interview he gave to, of all places, TMZ.
He should know. Markle is not exactly an ingénue. He worked as a lighting director on Hollywood soaps, and even won Emmys for his work.
The Mail on Sunday—which of course has never staged a photograph in its existence—sniffing an exclusive, dispatched reporters to Mexico who obtained CCTV footage which showed Markle walking into the venues with the photographer and assisting with the pictures being taken.
Fatally, for Markle, on Saturday night, the palace issued one of its customary idiotic, pompous, and completely pointless missives to the British press, warning them off harassing Thomas Markle or Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland.
Editors were told that Thomas was suffering as a result of media intrusion and did not want to participate in photocalls or interviews.
This was a red rag to a bull. The Mail on Sunday published their story on the front page. It enabled them to not only make idiots of the palace and their high-handed directives, but also permitted them to portray Markle Sr. as a hypocrite who had betrayed his daughter.
But few who have worked in the media in the past 50 years believed it was as simple as Tom Markle waking up one morning and deciding to sell his daughter down the river.
His daughter Samantha Grant provided some clue to his motivation when she tweeted a statement saying: “The bad press over my father doing staged photos is my fault.
“The media was unfairly making him look bad so I suggested he do positive photos for his benefit and the benefit of the royal family.
“We had no idea he would be taken advantage of. It was not for money.”
Samantha Grant does not speak to her half-sister Meghan, and has not been invited to the wedding.
Thomas Markle Jr. told the Mirror: “People are quick to judge but they have no idea how much scrutiny we live under.
“Ever since Meg’s relationship with Harry was made public two years ago we have lived our once normal lives under the spotlight every second. Nobody can understand what it is like opening your curtains in a morning and being watched by these paparazzi to going to bed at night and still seeing them there.
“If it is anything like what it has been for me, Dad will have been ground down.”
In a way, though, Thomas Markle’s motivation is beside the point. Meghan's wedding week is being ruined, and that’s, depressingly, that. The really interesting takeaway for the royals is the savage delight with which the Mail—and other newspapers—took the opportunity to tear him down.
Yes, Thomas Markle was foolish and perhaps he was greedy, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the guardians of British morality are more offended by the fact that he’s very definitely not one of us, yet has a daughter who has the temerity to be marrying into the royal family.
Indeed, there are disturbing parallels between the way Meghan’s father’s “white trash” lifestyle is being used against Meghan and the way that her mother’s race was when the relationship with Prince Harry was first announced.
In November 2016, an opinion piece written by Rachel Johnson (Boris Johnson’s sister) in the Daily Mail said that “the [royal family] will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA,” and called Markle’s mother “a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.”
Just a few days earlier, the same outlet ran a story about Markle’s mother’s home in Los Angeles, with the headline “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed—so will he be dropping by for tea?”
Harry and Meghan’s relationship was formally announced, effectively as a side note, in an otherwise furious statement made on Harry’s behalf which berated the media and internet trolls for their “sexism and racism.”
Zoe Williams, an op-ed writer at the Guardian, told The Daily Beast that Markle was the victim of classism more than racism.
“I just feel sad for her. She is the victim of their pretend British values, but really this is just a ‘Gotcha’ moment.
“It’s definitely a warning to her that, however long this honeymoon lasts while they pretend to approve of her, they can get her in the end.
“There is a racial element to it, but that has been suppressed because she has been widely accepted as a ‘good thing’ and people like her, so there is no way in which the Mail would pursue a racist agenda against a person everyone likes. They might do it down the line.
“Right now, it’s all about the class element. The real problem is that she is a commoner, marrying a prince, and they are parading these elements of her background—such as her father—to discredit her. To say, ‘Well, you think you can shag your way into the highest echelons of British society, but you can’t.’”
Stig Abell, a former executive at the Sun and the editor and publisher of the Times Literary Supplement and author of a new book, How Britain Really Works, told The Daily Beast that the take down of Markle was the latest installment of an ongoing “psychodrama” about the deteriorating relationship between the royals and the newspapers.
“There is now a total lack of trust between the palace and press. The palace thinks, ‘Screw them, we can hire a YouTube team, we don’t need them anymore,’ and the newspapers are trying to show they still matter.”