Meghan Markle won a dramatic legal victory Thursday over Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), the publishers of the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Mail and MailOnline. However, her gloating reaction to the judgment, in which she referred to the “daily fail” and named and shamed the newspapers’ proprietor, Jonathan Rothermere, may only serve to intensify negative coverage of her in the British media, experts and tabloid insiders have told The Daily Beast.
After three years of argument and millions of dollars in legal fees, it took less than 10 minutes for a senior judge to demolish ANL’s argument that the outlets were entitled to publish extensive extracts from a letter that Meghan wrote to her father.
The key moment came when Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, emphatically declared: “The Duchess had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of the letter. Those contents were personal, private and not matters of legitimate public interest.”
Despite the comprehensive drubbing delivered to ANL’s arguments, the group later said it was considering appealing, yet again, this time to Britain’s Supreme Court.
ANL’s furious reaction—it said there were “issues as to the duchess’s credibility,” and accused her friends of issuing “false briefings” to People magazine—risks making it look vindictive. Taking this to the Supreme Court would certainly lend credence to another point made in Meghan’s statement: that ANL has a vested interest in prolonging the drama: “The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers—a model that rewards chaos above truth,” Meghan said.
It’s arguable whether ANL would be threatening to go on in its (probably) futile battle had Meghan’s statement been a little more conciliatory. But there was no “I want to put this behind me and move on” for Meghan. Instead, Meghan called the Mail’s modus operandi a “daily fail,” the derogatory nickname used by the paper’s critics, and called out owner “Lord Jonathan Rothermere” by name.
The truth is that the verdict in Meghan’s favor was widely expected. When the Mail on Sunday first published the letter to her father, Thomas Markle, it was empirically a clear breach of copyright. Although it had been handed the letter by Thomas, under well-established British law the copyright in a letter is held by its author, not its recipient.
However, as a former senior figure at one of the Mail group newspapers told The Daily Beast, the paper decided to publish the letter anyway because it “unlocked” the “mystery” of why Meghan’s dad Thomas had missed the royal wedding. “Royalty and a mystery is a fascinating combination, and has been for hundreds of years,” the source said. “A royal bride whose father was not coming to the wedding? It was such an unlikely series of events. This was an amazing story, this document fell into their lap and what were they to do? Royals don’t usually sue, so they decided to take a chance.”
David Yelland, a former editor of The Sun and deputy editor of the New York Post and now CEO of communications consultancy kitchentablepartners.com, told The Daily Beast: “The relationship between Harry, Meghan, and the press plays out on many different planes. On the legal plane of this three-dimensional chess game, there is no doubt this is a huge win for Meghan. The issue was always about privacy. You write a letter to your father. Can you expect that to be private? Yes, you can.
“So, technically they were right. They were always going to win, there is no public-interest defense for the Mail.
“But being right and being wise aren’t always the same thing. Meghan’s victory statement was an example of an extremely unwise PR strategy. Personally namechecking Jonathan Rothermere, the proprietor, in that statement is hugely significant. It’s a deeply personal attack on him.
“So Harry and Meghan have won this battle, but the effect of that statement will be to intensify their war with the Mail group. These newspapers come out seven days a week, and their website updates every 10 seconds. The old PR axiom that it’s best not to fall out with anyone who owns an ink factory springs to mind.”
Another British tabloid source, referring to the summary judgment in favor of Meghan made by Justice Warby in the initial trial (which ANL was appealing), told The Daily Beast: “The judges were ruling on a very narrow area of law and we didn’t expect them to overturn Warby’s original decision. Associated have always been indignantly convinced of their right on this matter, but the law was pretty clear. Meghan’s apology that she had ‘forgotten’ that she and Harry had briefed a top aide to brief favorable journalists on their behalf massively brought her credibility into question, and suggests that her recollection is ‘at best’ faulty.
“But this result won’t change the press’s attitude to Meghan. That changed hugely for the worst when she and Harry launched their broadside at the end of the royal tour to southern Africa in 2019.
“I can see from a moral point of view why they cut off most of the British press, but from a strategic point of view it was the worst thing they could have done.”
The source said that one unintended outcome of Meghan’s victory was that it “put all the power into William’s hands.” The source said: “Now no one can afford to write anything negative about the Cambridges, as then you’d have both the Sussexes and Cambridges cutting you off. Hence the hugely flattering press about the Cambridges.”
The source, referring to a recent BBC documentary that was toned down at the last minute after it so angered the palace that it threatened to boycott the media organization, added: “Look what has happened to the poor BBC who tried to get to the bottom of the story.”
In the unlikely event that Meghan had approached Kitchen Table Partners for advice, Yelland says he would have advised Meghan to settle out of court—and advised her to invite Jonathan Rothermere round for tea.
“Imagine that world for a moment. Where would they be? They would be 20 times better off,” he says. “But they just seem unable to let go of this very binary approach that something’s either right or wrong. Life is subtler than that.
“Meghan is playing to an American audience, but her husband is a prince of the realm and will always have a British audience. He can leave this country physically, but he never leave this country in terms of media coverage. Because of who he is, he will always be a news story. For them to go around destroying relationships with the British press may not have much of an effect on her, but it will have a profound effect on him. He has an audience here and people care about him.”