Like many Americans, I’ve gone on a real journey with Harry and Meghan. When they first got together, I loved everything about what they symbolized. I loved that she was a California girl. I loved that they seemed so genuinely in love.
But by the time the Sussexes landed on that Montecito veranda with Oprah, I had been reduced to just one reaction: oy.
I didn’t think it could get more uncomfortable. I clearly suffer from a lack of imagination.
Next came the various deals: a reported $25 million for a Spotify podcast; a rumored sum of $20 million for Prince Harry’s just-published book; and then, of course, the eponymous Netflix series.
Reader, I am not proud to admit this but admit it I must: I watched the whole thing.
Somehow, six hours I will never recover later, I found myself nodding along to these lines from my friend Caitlin Flanagan: “When she was miserable, the way his own mother had been miserable, he didn’t do what his grotesque father had done—cheat on her, treat her like a broodmare, ignore her suffering; he moved her and his family far away.”
But what I couldn’t get over was the extent to which the couple—Harry especially—blames the press for everything. The tabloids in particular are the subject of the Sussexes’ white-hot rage.
So we thought: who better to hear from than Martin Clarke, editor-in-chief of dailymail.com from 2008 to 2022? He argues that Prince Harry’s deep hatred of the media is based on a delusion. In fact, writes Clarke, “the great revelation at the heart of Spare is that so much of the reporting Harry has objected to over the years turns out to be substantially true.” —BW
“Infected pustule on the arse of humanity.”
“Sad little men.”
“Scum of the earth.”
I guess I’ve been called worse.
There is no shortage of people who spark deep resentment in Prince Harry, as revealed in the stew of self-pity that is his ghosted autobiography, Spare.
The Duke of Sussex takes digs at his brother William (whose crimes include ignoring him at Eton, having a nicer bed in their shared boyhood room, and warning him against marrying Meghan Markle too soon); his distant and adulterous father Charles (who hung upside down in his underpants at Balmoral Castle like a bat); and Camilla (who he claims leaked stories about himself and William to rehabilitate her own reputation in the media).
But absolutely nothing matches the antipathy Harry feels toward journalists—and freedom of the press in general.
Rupert Murdoch is “evil.” No “human being in the 300,000-year history of the species (has) done more damage to our collective sense of reality,” he writes.
Eat your heart out, Goebbels.
Photographers, or “paps” as the prince brands any journalist who’s ever picked up a camera, are as bad as the Taliban he “removed from the board” (i.e., blew away from his Apache helicopter as they fled on motorbikes) in Afghanistan.
Indeed, the prince even manages to blame the press for a Taliban attack in September 2012—allegedly targeted at him—when he was based at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province after UK news outlets reported that he was there. This, despite the fact the British Ministry of Defense had formally announced the news a week earlier, and a U.S. investigation found that the attack had been planned before he arrived.
On another occasion he complains about being “papped” with a girlfriend at an England rugby game at Twickenham. . . in front of 50,000 people. How dare the press take pictures of such an intimate moment?
Harry’s obsession with the press so permeates every chapter of Spare one wonders if it’s some kind of psychological condition. He leaves nightclubs in the trunk of his bodyguards’ car rather than risk a harmless snap on a London sidewalk. He goes on honeymoon in a vehicle disguised as a removal van.
This is probably not surprising given that, almost immediately after his mother’s death, much of the public focus fell on the scooter-borne paparazzi who constantly pursued her. Memories of Diana weeping as journalists swarmed around her are deeply imprinted on his childhood.
It was perhaps not healthy for him to be handed the secret UK file on her fatal accident, which included pictures of photographers snapping away at the wreckage containing his dying mother.
In short, he thinks those photographers—and by extension, the press in general— killed her.
Of course, it later emerged that the paparazzi were nowhere near Diana, who wasn’t wearing the seatbelt that could have saved her life, when her drunken driver lost control and crashed the Mercedes into a concrete pillar.
But for a boy who lost his mother when he was just 12, perhaps none of that mattered. And perhaps it never can.
Ironically, the great revelation at the heart of Spare is that so much of the reporting Harry has objected to over the years turns out to be substantially true.
The press was right about the drug use that started in Harry’s teens. He cheerfully admits to smoking large amounts of cannabis in the years up to and following his escape to California. He even cops to sampling chocolate-covered magic mushrooms from Courteney Cox’s fridge in Montecito.
The press was right about allegations that Meghan bullied Palace staff (though Harry maintains it never happened).
We were especially—and tragically—right about the friction among “The Fab Four.”
In fact, by the time we got around to reporting about the tensions between the Cambridges (William and Kate) and the Sussexes (Harry and Meghan), they had been simmering for some time.
As an editor for 27 years, I can assure Harry that nobody sits around in editorial conferences plotting how they can screw over the Sussexes today. In my experience, senior journalists are much more likely to be plotting how they can screw over each other.
But, above all else, the main gripe Harry has with the press is the way the media—the tabloid media in particular—allegedly hounded, smeared, and demeaned his wife. So much so, he says, they ultimately had to flee for North America.
In his book, Harry claims that the media’s unacceptable treatment of Meghan started the moment news of their relationship leaked on October 31, 2016.
But I went back and reviewed what the UK papers wrote about the then-Ms. Markle in the days following that report. And while there was plenty of comment about her biracial background, it was almost entirely in the context of how it showed Britain had become a color-blind society (yup, that was still a good thing back then)—even if some of it was clumsily worded.
Most pieces lauded her for her beauty, style, and acting career. In fact, several female columnists wondered why on earth she’d want to marry Harry.
But what struck me most was how little coverage there was. Meghan was barely on the front pages and some days didn’t appear in most outlets at all.
Nevertheless, days later, by November 8, 2016, Harry had had enough. Pushed over the edge by an essay in HuffPo (of all places) that claimed “the mild reaction of Britons to this explosion of racism was to be expected, since they were the heirs of racist colonialists,” he overrode longstanding Palace practice to issue a statement.
It said, in part: “The past week has seen a line crossed. His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment. Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments. . .
“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her.”
I can remember the morning that statement dropped. My colleagues and I felt shocked after giving the couple what we thought was pretty positive coverage.
Looking back, two things strike me. First, Harry casually conflates social media and The Media. While there are some horrendous racist trolls on social media, they are not the same as the press. (You see this same conflation, by the way, in the couple’s Netflix series, in which random, anonymous tweets by trolls are shown on the screen as a way of illustrating the hate the couple faced.)
Secondly, this was the first instance of him playing the Diana card, suggesting that negative press coverage can cause physical harm. Most notably, he writes that he found Meghan weeping and saying she wanted to die if it would make “the press go away.”
Yet the constant resurrection of his mother fails to mention the biggest irony of all: when it came to playing the press, Diana invented the game.