Three Women: An Analysis of UK Media Narratives
Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, has won in the defamation suit brought by half-sister Samantha Grant, also known as Samantha Markle. Grant claims that the Duchess defamed her in the famous 2021 Oprah Winfrey interview, in which The Duchess claimed to be an only child who had virtually no relationship with Grant. The suit also alleged that The Duchess defamed Grant in the biographical book entitled 'Finding Freedom'. Previously, The Duchess also won her privacy claim against the Daily Mail in 2021, who published private letters that she sent to her father Thomas.
The UK media coverage of The Duchess remains relentless - and persistently disparaging - despite that she and her husband Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, have not resided in the UK since 2020. Notably, The Duke has also been successful in the courts, winning a defamation suit against the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 2022 and receiving significant damages for false allegations that he failed to take his military duties seriously. The Duke is currently one of six famous individuals alleging that Associated Newspapers Ltd gathers information about its written subjects by unlawful means. We have, of course, been here before. The phone hacking scandal of 2011 resulted in the closure of the News of the World newspaper after it was proven at trial that journalists were hacking phones to obtain information for stories. Regardless of one's personal views about The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which may inevitably be influenced by the press no matter how much one thinks their views are their own, an objective pattern emerges from the above: 1) The Sussexes have proven more than once that the press has lied about them; and 2) the UK press is a discreditable, polluted and deleterious machine.
Two weeks ago, I sat astonished while watching an interview between right-wing social and political commentator Ben Shapiro and notorious UK presenter and journalist Piers Morgan. Shapiro naively states, presumably because Morgan is British and in the media, that Morgan has the 'inside story' on what went wrong for The Sussexes in the UK. I then watched Morgan spin an entirely false narrative about how everything was perfect before and until the wedding, after which The Sussexes drew ire from the press and public for their wokeism. As a Brit who has watched this entire tale unfold, from Harry and Meghan dating rumours until now, I was disgusted by Morgan's lies in front of a gormless Shapiro who salaciously hung on Morgan's words because they conveniently fit his anti-Harry-and-Meghan narrative.
Shapiro clearly has no idea that Morgan's own profile has been significantly raised due to his nonstop obsessive rants about The Duchess. Morgan, who salivates at every opportunity to attack The Duchess, typifies the UK media's obsession with her from the beginning. Anyone in the UK who cares to remember will note that issues with the press did not begin after the 2018 wedding. The defamatory stories with racist undertones went back as far as 2016, leading Kensington Palace to release an extraordinary statement against the press at the time. An overview of some of these offensive headlines can be seen here. Morgan's spin to Shapiro is further indication of a malicious UK press that thrives on lies for its own gain.
I am reminded of two documentaries about high profile women and their treatment by the UK press. Firstly, I recall the Caroline Flack Channel 4 feature which I watched back in 2021. The documentary did a deep dive into Flack's life and ultimate suicide at 40. Flack, a British TV presenter, was a fun-loving, spontaneous but emotionally unstable person throughout her life. Her character was in no wise resilient enough for fame yet she pursued it aggressively. Her family watched helplessly as she would become consumed by new love interests and take overdoses when these relationships failed. Flack's demise came about after she attacked her partner Lewis Burton in her flat in December 2019, using a lamp to hit him on the head. Upon police arrival, Flack admitted the attack while covered in blood and threatened to kill herself. Flack was charged and trial was set for March 2020. However, she made good on her suicide threat, taking her own life by hanging just a couple of weeks before the trial started.
While the documentary does a great job of showing Flack's personality and life, it also paints her as a victim - of the press, social media and the Crown Prosecution Service. The media and online circus had been intense. Flack's mother has openly taken issue with the police for undertaking criminal proceedings, considering it a 'show trial' that capitalised on Flack's celebrity. This is despite that Flack admitted to the assault. Her partner Burton did not want the case to proceed but at the time of the attack he was apparently screaming for help to the 999 operator and alleged that Flack had tried to kill him. This was no small lovers' spat. Yet, the documentary places focus on pressure from the impending trial and the media machine, implying that these drove Flack to suicide. There is no responsibility placed on Flack for her violent temper or her determined pursuit for the very media attention and notoriety she was later unable to cope with.
More recently, I watched the documentary of British TV presenter Paula Yates, which aired in February this year. Yates, another dynamic and effervescent personality, made a name for herself from the inception of Channel 4. Stylish, talented and well-suited to the forum of visual media, Yates became incredibly popular. Yates married Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, with whom she had three children. Nevertheless, Yates later embarked on a very public love affair with Michael Hutchence of INXS. She was pregnant for Hutchence before her divorce from Geldof was final. A domestic war ensued as Yates sought to leave the UK - with Geldof's children - to reside with Hutchence in his native Australia. Geldof, as any decent father would do, blocked the move. Just over a year after the birth of Tiger Lily, his daughter with Yates, Hutchence took his own life by hanging, apparently devastated by the thought of being separated from his daughter.
It appears that the media was particularly scathing towards Yates (as opposed to Hutchence) during these events. But once again, like Flack, Yates had previously courted fame having hungrily pursued it. The documentary paints Yates as a female innovator in entertainment and a creative heroine who was vulnerable and victimised by men in media. And while it seems she was indeed treated harshly by the press and even her peers at times, no word is mentioned about her cruel betrayal of Geldof and her attempt to abscond with his children, ripping their family in two and undermining their relationship with their father. There is also no talk of her ill-fated decision to commit adultery so openly, thus directly contributing to the media furore, and the role this likely played in the demise of Hutchence. We are instead encouraged to look at Yates as a pioneering woman ahead of her time who, like Flack, was forced into an early grave by outside forces. The implication is that unfavourable and inordinate media attention played a role in Yates's drug relapse and accidental heroine overdose resulting in death at 41.
Even if the UK media is now genuinely sorrowful about its treatment of Flack and Yates, it has evidently learned nothing based on its treatment of The Duchess of Sussex. The media vitriol against The Duchess is unique. While Flack and Yates both engaged in selfish, distasteful conduct that brought about their own destruction, we are encouraged to pity them. Meanwhile, The Duchess is enduring a trial by media for crimes which are yet unproven. Buckingham Palace's conveniently timed investigation (which was launched around the same time of the Oprah interview) on allegations that The Duchess bullied palace staff has yet to produce a verdict. Nevertheless, she has been labelled in the media as entitled, demanding and even controlling of her own husband.
While we are meant to look at Flack and Yates sympathetically with regards to their poor mental health, The Duchess has been vilified and mocked for talking about her mental breakdown while part of the Royal Family. Piers Morgan has persistently and maniacally screamed that she lied about this while he, of course, has no proof at all to discount her claims. Also, the UK media completely overlooks the fact that The Duchess's late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, also endured the same deterioration in mental health while married to then Prince Charles, as she asserted in her own televised interview on BBC Panorama decades prior. But according to the media, The Duchess is merely seeking attention.
More recent attacks against The Duchess and her husband are complaints of hypocrisy regarding their so-called requests for privacy while courting the press as public figures. However, this is a perfect example of straw-manning, i.e., a false argument which is then argued against. The Sussexes have always viewed themselves as public figures and have never asked for privacy in the strictest sense. What they asked the Royal Family for, as stated in their Oprah interview and Netflix documentary, was mental health support for The Duchess, and for intervention to stop the media's printing of false and harmful stories. They left the UK seeking solace from malicious press intrusion only after the Royal Family refused both requests. The Duke goes further in his recent ITV interview earlier this year stating that the Royal Family have in fact been actively leaking stories about them to the press. In truth, The Sussexes are being castigated in the media for simply wanting the Royal Family to help them and not to betray them. The real horror show here is the dysfunctional Royal Family's cruel unwillingness to grant either request.
The Sussexes appear to be surrounded by horrible relatives but supposedly they're the bad guys. It is remarkable that while the media has given nonstop audience to deranged half-sister Grant, and has even paid father Thomas for stories and paparazzi photos, the media criticism is reserved for The Sussexes as the airers of dirty laundry. This is despite that King Charles himself did a televised interview complaining about the media and discussing his personal life decades ago, and that Princess Diana co-authored the release of her own biography 'Diana' just as The Duke has now done with his book 'Spare', released January this year. The Duke and Duchess have done nothing more than use the same media tools that The Duke's own parents used to have their say. But their actions have been decried as if royals have never used these means before. The real issue here is that the media wants the freedom to say whatever it wants about The Duchess and her husband but excoriates them for defending themselves.
Brother Prince William is apparently an ill-tempered, unhinged violent bully if stories in 'Spare' are anything to go by. Of course, the media has said little about him despite his appalling treatment of his brother. As for King Charles, instead of trying to restore relationships between his sons, to focus on building bridges with The Duke and Duchess, and to have a relationship with his grandchildren, King Charles is playing public power games by petulantly taking Frogmore Cottage from The Sussexes, their UK place of residence. This is a bit limp given that you can't really kick someone out after they've already left. But such is the Royal Family's desperation to save face and to have the upper hand in the media.
While the UK media pretentiously seeks to rehabilitate itself through recognising its mistreatment of Flack and Yates, the ongoing bitter narrative around The Duchess demonstrates the media's defiant unrepentance, and frankly, its dishonesty. The media accuses The Sussexes of taking the limelight from Prince William and wife Princess Kate, when the media places the spotlight on them by constantly talking about them. While attacking them for their complaints about leaked stories, the media knows exactly who its palace sources are. The media defames The Sussexes and has been penalised by the courts for doing so, but criticises The Sussexes for any attempt they make to correct the narrative. The media is fully aware that it started this war against The Duchess long before she married The Duke but attacks her for fighting back. We are spectators watching the media gaslight The Duchess by disabusing her of her importance while relying on stories about her to sell papers. The UK media hates The Duchess because it needs her.
As for Morgan, we all know his real issue with The Duchess is that he believes she ghosted him years ago. Morgan's fixation on The Duchess is personal and runs concurrent with the media machine that works against her. He's like a creepy stalker who can't get over the fact that the object of his obsession isn't interested. If I were his wife I'd be jealous. Under the guise of journalism, Morgan is no more than a dirty old man in relentless pursuit of the one who got away. And as for his career, it's unlikely that anyone would be talking about him if he wasn't constantly talking about The Duchess.
None of this means that The Duchess is perfect. She may well be unlikable in some ways or have made errors while navigating life in the public eye as a royal. However, within the context of this discussion, what The Duchess is really like as a person is irrelevant. Flack and Yates were deeply flawed people yet there is compassion and even admiration shown to them despite obvious failings. In contrast, there is a concerning disparity between how the media currently portrays them and concerted efforts by the media to ensure that we perceive The Duchess through a lens of hostility. We should ask ourselves why that it is.
It's easy for the media to be regretful to its victims once they're dead. But when victims like The Duchess are alive and daring to fight back, the media is not prepared to relent. Instead, it seems the UK media and The Royal Family are intent on making an example of The Duchess to teach her a lesson and put her in her place. Whether that's because she's part black, a woman, a foreigner, extremely popular - or all of the above, what this is fundamentally about is power. It should be noted that the Royal Family were keen on The Duchess when she made them appear modern, inclusive and relevant. The media tide turned against her as she began to eclipse them in popularity. To think the Royal Family had nothing to do with this is naïve. Diana, Princess of Wales, and The Duchess are incomparable in terms of cultural impact. Princess Diana remains a far more iconic figure. But The Duchess's popularity is surely a reminder to the Royal Family of how they were once eclipsed by Princess Diana. Determined to prevent this from happening again, they have turned against The Duchess without regard to any sense of familial loyalty. And this should be no surprise as the imperialist mindset is to exploit all it feels entitled to and to crush resistance. In these days, to maintain its power the monarchy is intent on capturing the territory of our minds and its weaponry is the media. As Malcolm X said,
"This is the press, an irresponsible press. It will make the criminal look like he’s the victim and make the victim look like he’s the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” ― Malcolm X
If indeed all the negative reports about The Duchess are untrue, I hope the narrative about her is corrected one day. And I pray to God she doesn't die before it happens.