Even if you didn’t watch the Harry and Meghan interview this week, you still know what went down. It was splashed all over the news. Globally. It’s likely your group chats among family and friends were blowing up about it too.
Not being able to escape the noise around the “bombshell” interview, as countless media reports have called it, I decided to embrace the discussion and use it as an opportunity to understand a little more about how the media can report the same story so differently and what drives this.
There was a lot to unpack in the two hour interview. Racism, mental health, family divides and a gender reveal - it’s a girl!
Let’s start with the American media. On the whole, news coverage in the US appeared sympathetic to Harry and Meghan, choosing to focus on their experience and what led them to step back from their royal duties.
USA Today ran in excess of 40 stories from 6 March to now (I stopped counting when I got to 40). The headlines ranged from reporting on significant revelations within the interview like “‘I didn’t want to be alive any more’: Duchess Meghan opens up in Oprah interview, more major moments” to celebrity reactions in support of Meghan through to commentary about what these mean on a larger scale, such as “Some people don’t believe Meghan was suicidal. Why that’s so dangerous.”
Similar themes ran through The Washington Post’s voluminous coverage, and there was a strong focus on the issue of racism. Headlines included analysis of the racism claims and its impact on Meghan, the palace and black women. It also included defence of the claims from Prince William and commentary on how the racism claims were unlikely to change the monarchy.
The New York Times also ran countless stories on the interview and even dedicated a homepage to the subject, with an explanation of ‘The Firm’ and the royal reaction. Racism was a strong focus, with vox pops of Black British people reacting to the interview and commentary around the societal and political impact of the racism claims.
Now let’s look at the reporting of the same interview across the pond by the British media. The tabloid media took a more critical view of the claims made in the interview and chose to focus on the impact this would have on the Royal family.
Following in the footsteps of ‘Megxit’ The Sun decided to coin another snappy term “Megxile” running with this in a headline that suggested Meghan may never be returning to Britain because of the allegations in the interview. They also created a rolling blog to examine every single detail of the interview - from Meghan’s former co-starts hitting out against her, the rift with Piers Morgan and the various reactions from the Royal family.
The Mirror took a sympathetic tone for Charles and William running, with a story on how they were deeply saddened by the interview and had tried to mend the rift. The narrative around the brother’s rift continues to be a regular theme in their reporting, with stories around the brothers arranging a chat after a year of not speaking and the heartbreak Diana’s fans are feeling over the distance between her two sons.
And then there’s the Daily Mail, who let’s not forget Meghan successfully sued earlier this year. They chose to focus on the more salacious aspect of the interview with a special 3am edition front page that read “How dark will the baby’s skin be?” and a shopping list of other explosive topics covered in the interview. This was followed by another front page the next day reading “What have they done?” which seemingly blamed them for the post-interview nuclear fallout.
As a side note, it’s interesting to see in the majority of the tabloid coverage Meghan is referred to by her name before marriage - Markle - and not Duchess, as we saw in some of the American media coverage. Is this another way to segregate her from the royal family?
What about the non-tabloids in the UK? The Guardian ran with a front page “Palace in crisis after devastating racism claims” and The Daily Telegraph said “Queen stresses importance of family despite divisions”.
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the global media coverage from this interview - that would take years. But we can see some common themes here. The American media were more sympathetic to Harry and Meghan, more likely to believe them and analytical on the topics of racism and struggles with mental health, and the broader impact this has on society.
The British media were at times scathing of Harry and Meghan, questioning the truth in their claims and more concerned about the impact this would have on the royal family than how Harry and Meghan were coping. Perhaps most importantly, there didn’t seem to be as much focus on how their society might be dealing with such sensitive and important topics.
Now back to my original question - why is the same interview being reported so differently? In my humble opinion, it’s driven by the difference in societal values. America is the land of the brave and the home of the free. They value free speech and the pursuit of your rights and Meghan was standing up for herself against racism. Their ‘modern day’ royals are celebrities, like Meghan was in her former life.
Britain on the other hand is a society steeped in tradition - with institutions like the Royal family perpetuating that sense of tradition. The Royal family is much loved by many (not all) British people and there is a sense of loyalty that goes with this. Meghan was widely regarded as an outsider to the Royal family, someone that didn’t understand tradition and her naivety was a threat.
Where Meghan and Harry were bold, brave and speaking up for themselves in the eyes of one society, they were unloyal, breaking tradition and speaking out against a much loved British institution in another.
What is the lesson for us here? It’s a lesson on the importance of understanding values. It’s so important that we get under the skin of what makes someone tick as it can frame their perception of a person, issue or even a brand. So, I’ll leave you with one last question to ponder. What do you value?
Words by Jade Glashoff