Whatever the reasoning behind Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s public pronouncement that they would no longer be co-operating in any way, shape or form with four UK tabloids—the Sun, Mirror, Express and Daily Mail—it was hard Monday to find a British editor who thought it would make a jot of difference to the way the U.K. tabloids cover the couple.
“It’s just more of the same,” said one senior tabloid news editor, who described the letter as “grandstanding” by Harry that would do nothing except “making himself look stupid at the time of a global crisis.”
In the letter, Harry and Meghan bemoan the coverage newspapers give to stories they know to be “distorted, false, or invasive beyond reason.” Harry and Meghan said they had seen the lives of people they both know and don’t know “pulled apart” by such coverage.
The couple said from now on there would be “no corroboration and zero engagement” with reporters working for the four publications. Harry and Meghan said they were not seeking to stop criticism of them, “but it can’t be based on a lie.”
The senior tabloid editor described the publication of the letter Sunday night as evidence of “the worst PR operation in history.”
Given that the world is currently facing the global coronavirus pandemic, one Fleet Street editor called the letter “tone deaf,” adding that it was widely believed on Fleet Street that the couple were provoked into writing the missive after a Sun on Sunday splash that claimed that Harry had said the media were exaggerating the coronavirus threat.
The Sun’s story was derived from a podcast in which Harry said, “I think things are better than we’re led to believe through certain corners of the media… It can be very worrying when you’re sitting there and the only information you are getting is from certain news channels, but then if you are out and about or you are on the right platforms, you can really sense this human spirit coming to the forefront.”
In their letter to the editors of The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, and Daily Mail, Harry and Meghan uttered platitudes about respecting the integrity of the press but then added that they refuse to “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of clickbait and distortion.”
There has been speculation that the timing of the public statement was connected to Meghan’s copyright case against the Mail on Sunday over its publication of a letter she sent to her estranged father.
That case opens Friday, and details, including texts that Harry sent to his future father-in-law on the eve of the wedding, pleading with him to stop talking to the media, have been published.
Another Fleet Street editor told The Daily Beast, “What things really are they saying aren’t true?” adding, “The biggest issue is Meghan’s family issue with her dad and on that front they are suing about the letter on the grounds of invasion of privacy and breach of copyright but they are not saying it isn’t true.”
The source said, “They don’t want publicity, but they are now living in the paparazzi capital of the world. They give us fuck all. It makes no difference to us. You can hear Meghan saying these words. They never, never ever engage with us ever so we are a bit baffled about this. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. Do we just ignore them now or do we still give them publicity?”
This person also pointed out what several Fleet Street journalist have said, which is that under British guidelines, journalists “have to put stories to subjects even if they don’t reply.”
By an unfortunate coincidence, on Monday morning Prince Philip issued his first public statement in three years, praising the NHS and frontline workers for their response to the pandemic.
The publication of his measured and reassuring note contrasted notably with the injured and self-obsessed tone of Harry and Meghan’s letter.
“The other Royals have been fantastic during this crisis, and they’ve been engaging and co-operating with the media,” said the source, who added that the new policy by Meghan and Harry would end up “pushing us more to the Queen, Charles, Camilla, William and Kate,” adding, “No matter what the story is about him and Meghan, Harry has to attack the media.”
Harry and Meghan also said they wanted to engage with grassroots and local media and “young and upcoming journalists to spotlight issues and causes that so desperately need acknowledging.”
The letter does not make clear what will happen to these publications or journalists if they should criticize Harry and Meghan.
The British crisis management consultant Mark Borkowski told The Daily Beast, “Why is it important to tell the world this now? Aside from the fact that it is just stating the bleeding obvious, I don’t think it takes a genius to work out that this was not the right time to make this announcement. People are dying, frontline carers are dying, and he brings it back to Meghan and Harry world.
“All this suggests is just how far out of the loop of his own country Harry now is,” he said.
The only solution, Borkowski says, is for them to shed their hubris: “They need people significantly challenging them to think about what they are doing. Unfortunately, as we have seen, that’s not part of their make-up. This is the result.”
None of the newspapers concerned, nor the Sussex's office, would comment to The Daily Beast.
However, the industry group the Society of Editors said the statement was “sadly a clear attempt to undermine certain sections of the UK media who often ask uncomfortable questions.”