All it took for a reporter to get a genuine response from Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was a simple question. The reporter, in an interview with ITV for the new royal documentary, asked Markle what impact the media criticism has had on her “physical and mental health.”
Markle thanked the reporter and said, “not many people have asked if I’m okay.”
The Duchess went on to share personal details, including the warnings she received about the British tabloids and the stress of being both a new mother and wife in the public eye. It was a moment of vulnerability rarely captured on screen, especially when it comes to the royal family, who have had to harden themselves against the relentless press.
This single question and response has captivated the media, especially in conjunction with the lawsuits Markle and her husband Prince Harry have filed against several of the UK’s most popular publications. The couple is suing for “alleged misuse of private information” and “alleged illegal interception of voicemail messages,” according to Vox.
The British royal family has always been heavily scrutinized by the media, and has always refrained from commenting on the press. Penny Junor, a royal biographer interviewed by People magazine, said: “There has been a long tradition in the British royal family of riding criticism out and keeping your head down.”
Despite the royals’ traditionally unbothered appearances, the public is aware of press’ hostility. Reporters were known for following Princess Diana so relentlessly that there was popular speculation that the crowd of reporters following her car contributed to her fatal car crash. Although this theory has since been disproved according to History.com, the fact that it was prevalent enough to be investigated suggests that the public is aware of the press’ aggression.
Markle has faced similar, if not worse, levels of media attention throughout her relationship with Prince Harry. Standing out as an American and a woman of color, Markle is constantly being criticized for not aligning with British tradition. Whether a quote, her wardrobe, or even a hug, Markle’s every move has been analyzed and dissected.
The Express, a British publication, reported on a poll that asked whether Markle “understands British culture and our traditions.” Several Express headlines claim that Markle “refuses” to follow tradition.
Hillary Clinton has commented on the especially harsh treatment Markle has received in the media. In an interview with Newsweek, Clinton described Markle’s experience as “inexplicable.”
“If the explanation is that she’s biracial, then shame on everybody,” Clinton said.
Biased reporting by British publications on Markle is an unprofessional attempt for attention, and only enforces prejudice. Repeatedly singling out and attacking Markle turns from journalism into bigotry, and the media must be held accountable. Although publications may claim that they are representing popular opinion with polls and interviews, there is a difference between ethical criticism and racist reporting.
The code of ethics in journalism has been increasingly ignored as the competition for readers escalates. If a reporter simply asking an interviewee about their well-being constitutes a media event, the bar for honorable reporting is low. Since publications tend to value readership over ethical reporting, responsibility has shifted to the reader to keep publications respectable.
If readers refuse to support prejudiced reporting and hold biased organizations accountable, there is a chance that publications will rediscover the value of ethics.