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The birth of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son has been reported on by the British media in time-honored fashion: souvenir editions of the national newspapers, pull-out sections, bunting-bedecked front pages and rolling coverage from the gates of Windsor Castle.
Behind the scenes, however, there is a sense of anger within news organizations, whose reporters feel that they have been disrespected and deceived by Harry and Meghan—and sidelined in favor of the big American networks.
The lies, as the aggrieved parties see them, began with the bizarre decision of the Palace to announce that Meghan Markle had gone into labor eight hours after her baby had already been born.
Although the press release was, on a second reading, carefully framed to state that Meghan had gone into labor earlier in the day—so it was not technically a lie—the document was clearly intended to give the impression she was actually in labor at the moment it was issued.
It was an entirely reasonable assumption, given that the palace had previously advised journalists that it would announce “when the Duchess of Sussex is in labor.”
Bill Clinton, who famously noted that it all depends on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” would have appreciated the Palace’s delicate pirouette on the pinhead of veracity.
Of course, many people find the whole idea of publicly announcing that a woman is in labor a gross, archaic and invasive action. Understandably, Meghan and Harry were deeply uncomfortable with the mechanics of their child’s birth being played out in real time commentary.
But coming up with this ruse instead pleased nobody; privacy is one thing but active obfuscation is something else.
Furthermore, the practical reason for announcing that Meghan was in labor was to allow the press time to congregate in Windsor for the announcement of the birth. But then the palace announced the birth less than an hour later, while most were still in transit.
Richard Palmer at the Express publicly called the debacle an “absolute shambles.”
It would, in retrospect, have been infinitely more dignified if, instead of the inaccurate and misleading ‘in labor’ statement, the Palace had simply released an operational note on Monday saying that the baby had arrived and Prince Harry would be making an announcement in two hours time.
The worst thing of all, though, is that the email announcing that Meghan was in labor didn’t arrive at press inboxes simultaneously.
The first most reporters heard of it was when Sky News flashed the announcement.
One senior correspondent told The Daily Beast: “I was told by the newsdesk. Someone came over holding a phone with a Sky News alert. I checked my email, checked the Twitter feed, looked everywhere, and there was nothing. It made me look like a c***, basically. Luckily, I work for a very understanding newsdesk where I can get away with looking like a c*** once in a while, but other reporters aren’t so lucky. They were bawled out by their bosses and were furious, rightly so. You know, the Palace had one job.”
The Palace tried to blame a technical snafu, but as one editor said: “If you are going to take control you do it authoritatively, but this was shambolic. ‘Oh, sorry, we sent the email, it just didn’t arrive.’ It was a piss-take.”
As reporters packed laptops and rushed to Windsor, another humiliation awaited: Sky News broadcast the live birth announcement by Prince Harry.
Fleet Street’s most senior royal correspondents were caught out big time. Camilla Tominey, royal correspondent of the Telegraph, confessed in print that she was in a taxi racing down the M4 when Prince Harry made the big reveal.
There had been absolutely no heads-up from the Palace that this was how the announcement would be made; rumor has it that even Alan Jones, the domestic news agency reporter asking the questions, only made it to the Windsor stable yard with minutes to spare.
Some new parents may like a ‘surprise’ on the day of birth, but journalists prefer to know what’s going on.
For the consumers of the news, of course, none of this mattered. The politics of who got to send a camera to cover Harry’s beautiful statement is irrelevant.
And for Harry and Meghan that was the point. “They made it very clear that they would do things their way, and the media could like it or fuck off,” said one experienced newsman.
The near-duplicity continued in the official statement announcing the birth which made a reference to Meghan’s mother being at her daughter’s side “at Frogmore Cottage” which seemed to confirm longstanding rumors that Meghan was having the baby at home.
The Palace declined to guide journalists and as a result, the ‘born at home’ narrative gathered steam and even began to appear on major British news and media websites without the Palace refuting it.
Then, late on Monday night, the edifice crumbled when the Daily Mail reported that, actually, Meghan had been whisked to an exclusive private London hospital, the Portland clinic, late on Sunday night and that the baby had been born there on Monday morning. This clashed with spreads in other papers about her lovely home birth.
Thus three times over the course of 24 hours, royal correspondents had been made to look foolish.
On Wednesday morning, Tominey, who is also a senior executive at the Daily Telegraph, took her revenge, penning a scathing indictment of the Harry and Meghan’s new PR team. She spoke about how the BBC was ‘blindsided’ by Harry’s impromptu statement, and relayed that the Sussexes’ new communications chief, Sara Latham, had blamed a “colossal tech failure’’ for the email screw-up.
She also accused Latham of “personally text messaging Savannah Guthrie, co-anchor of NBC’s flagship Today Show,” suggesting that Latham, a dual national with a powerful set of US media contacts, was favoring American outlets over British ones.
The bones of this suspicion were given flesh when a camera from CBS was given a coveted spot at Wednesday’s photocall with the royal couple and their newborn.
Why should one extra camera matter? Well, given that the British media unions had been in negotiations with the Palace for months about whether they could have one or two video cameras at the event—in the end the palace reluctantly agreed to two cameras, one for the wide shot and one for the close ups—they were understandably rather miffed that the presence of a whole new crew for American TV was waived through at a moment’s notice without anyone batting an eyelid.
Critics also noted that the appearance appeared to be timed with more consideration of hitting the American breakfast shows than the British evening news bulletins.
The big question, of course, is what this means for the future relationship between the media and the royals.
Stig Abell, a former managing editor of the Sun and the author of the book, How Britain Really Works, said: “Harry has always indicated that he does not like the media, in part because he understandably holds them responsible for his mother’s death. In the old days, however, the media and the royals needed each other, so it was in both party’s interests to have a bit of an accommodation with the other.
“But now, with newspaper sales declining, and TV viewership declining, and all these other channels of communication available to them, there is no obvious, rational requirement for that give and take.
“This has been happening for several years and it is probably only going to get more pronounced. They are saying, ‘This isn’t a game we want—or need—to play anymore.’”
A senior editor at a major tabloid agreed, saying: “The royal pack [of journalists] are fucked off. There is a palpable sense of anger but there is also great concern for what this means for the future relationship. Harry and Meghan are the big thing. But how can we write about them when there is literally no channel of communication, even for guidance?
“The day after the birth we knew they were going to be dicks and not give us the pictures. But to get nothing at all? Not even a hint of something?
“The Queen could have said something. She was asked [by the former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien] if ‘life was good,’ and she just said, ‘Yes.’ So he tried again, asking her how many grandchildren she now had. She replied, ‘Eight.’
“Two words. ‘Yes’ and ‘eight’. Try getting 16 pages out of that. It’s not fucking easy.”