The emperor's new tabloids: The British media denies the naked truth about bigotry

From a disgraceful statement from the Society of Editors to Piers Morgan's petulant display on Good Morning Britain, the British media is circling the wagons and screaming blue murder.

Sometimes I just want to write four words — “Burn it all down.” — and press send on this newsletter. On days like yesterday, today and, in all likelihood, the rest of this hell week, the British media manages to be patronising, disgusting, myopic, cruel, insensitive, racist, misogynist and absurdly puffed up with its own importance all at once.

It is the emperor not only boasting about his new clothes but windmilling his cock at the disgusted crowds and loudly denying that anything is amiss. British newspapers are both immoral and moralising, a vicar delivering a sermon while he takes a dump in the font.

The Society of Editors — a chimeric beast founded by Bob Satchwell (a former assistant editor of The News of the World and editor of the Cambridge Evening News) through a merger of the Guild of Editors and the Association of British Editors in 1999 — exists to defend and justify the culture and practics of British newspapers. Yesterday, it put out a statement that declared, “The UK media is not bigoted…” and demanded that Harry and Meghan provide “evidence” to support their claims that it is.

The evidence is printed in tabloids and broadsheets on a daily basis. It was in Kate Middleton being praised for eating avocados to ensure she had a healthy baby while Meghan Markle was castigated for loving a fruit “linked to human rights abuse and drought”.

It was also in Kate touching her baby bump being seen as tender by The Daily Mail then the same paper asking, “Why can’t Meghan Markle keep her hands off her bump? …Is it pride, vanity, acting — or a new age bonding technique?” BuzzFeed collected many more examples besides.

It was there in the very first headline about Prince Harry’s new girlfriend from The Daily Mail in 2016 which blew the dog whistle so hard that the newspaper’s Kensington office was immediately surrounded by Corgis. It read…

Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed - so will he be dropping by for tea?

… and told readers that Meghan’s mother lives in a “rundown area”. She doesn’t. She lives in the View Park-Windsor Hills neighbourhood where a quick look at Zillow will tell you that the majority of homes for sale are listed at over $1 million.

Then there was the talk of Meghan's ‘exotic DNA’ (also The Daily Mail, from a column written by the Prime Minister’s sister Rachel Johnson1) and the time when Danny Baker compared baby Archie to a chimpanzee, claiming that it wasn't at all racist and was “just a stupid gag”. Oh, and there was The Daily Telegraph’s claim that Meghan’s support for a charity cookbook was actually “linked to terrorists”.

While the British press contorts its face into mock outrage, a group of 76 MPs from across the political spectrum wrote an open letter to Meghan in October 2019 specifically calling out the “outdated, colonial undertones” of much of the coverage about her. This story has been on the boil for a long time.

From outriders like The Society of Editors to big-name columnists, the media is circling the wagons because not only did Meghan defeat The Mail on Sunday in court but Prince Harry is now speaking plainly about how the hand-in-glove relationship between the Royals and the British newspapers works.

The moment in the Oprah interview that really set the tabloids and so-called broadsheets off was barely mentioned in the blanket coverage of the conversation. It was when Harry talked about how scared of the tabloid his family is and how they know they have to play the game that has really angered the chasing press pack. You are not supposed to say out loud how the trick is done. But Harry has; he said:

I am acutely aware of how scared my family are of the UK tabloids… if you as a family member are willing to wine and dine and give access to these reporters, you will get better press… the institution survives based on that perception.

Later in the interview, he returned to the topic and said:

For so many of my family, there is a level of control because they are afraid of what the papers are going to say.

This is why people who snicker when Harry and Meghan talk about having felt trapped and miserable are way off. Yes, Harry grew up rich and remains rich. Yes, Meghan made a huge error if, as she claims, she didn’t thoroughly research what being a Royal would actually mean.

Harry was born trapped and the Royal Family only exists because of a demonic pact between press, politics, and The Firm’. Though the total dysfunction of this collection of crown-wearing celebrities is widely-known, we’re meant to pretend that they serve an important function while also being politically neutral and embodying the abstract concept of majesty.

The tabloids run as a protection racket for the royals as much as other celebrities. You smile for them, you praise their ‘campaigns’, you give them interviews, access and tidbits of information and they deign to give you ‘nice’ coverage. Consider how William and Kate let pictures of their children appear in calendars given away with The Daily Mail. And how tabloids in turn damp down the more spicy rumours about Wills in return. Such as that he [REDACTED FOR LEGAL REASONS]

In professional wrestling, there’s a concept called kayfabe, which means portraying staged events as ‘real’. When wrestlers appear as their real selves in interviews and discuss how storylines and matches were developed, they’re breaking kayfabe. Prince Harry just broke kayfabe to a global TV audience of millions and the massed ranks of British newspaper columnists are now scurrying under the ring to find a steel chair to hit him with.

That’s why Piers Morgan — a former tabloid editor, remember — was on TV yesterday claiming he doesn’t believe that Meghan felt suicidal and will give airtime today to her estranged father. It’s why The Daily Mail’s front page today screams, “What Have They Done”. What Harry has done is to pull back the curtain on royal reporting and reveal the squirming many-tentacled Lovecraftian horror hiding behind it.

The Daily Mail’s leader column accuses Harry and Meghan of “a ruthless stab at the heart of the family”, but the interview contained nothing but warm words for the Queen and plenty of mollifying statements about other Royals. What’s really driving the media into a frenzy is that it has been attacked.

Despite dismissing the story as a “here-today, gone-tomorrow melodrama”, the Mail dedicated 14 pages to it yesterday. I suspect that the print edition will have even more coverage today. Prince Andrew’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein has never warranted so much of the paper’s attention for so many days.

So remember today as you hear the usual parade of ‘royal experts’ talk about betrayal and read the aggrieved words of columnists who fawned over Kate while attacking Meghan just why they are so angry. It’s not about the Queen, the honour of the monarchy — that sound you can hear is my hollow laugh — or Prince Philip’s health. It’s about the tabloid grift — whether it’s perpetrated by tabloid format papers like The Sun or tabloids in broadsheet form like The Daily Telegraph — being talked about so openly.

A huge part of the British press is built on gaslighting, bullying and abuse, and like so many abusers it has now turned to DARVO — Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim-Offender — in its counter-punch against Harry and Meghan. The Society of Editors claims, with a straight face, that:

…the UK media has a proud record of calling out racism and also being at the forefront of campaigns to support mental health awareness, another of the issues raised by the couple. It is also unreasonable for the Duke and Duchess to conflate the legitimate coverage provided by the edited and regulated UK media with the wild west of social media.

… while piles of old newspapers prove precisely the opposite. The British media always tries to deflect criticism towards social media and to pretend that IPSO, a regulator so toothless it has to have its food liquidised, is an effective bulwark against abuse. It’s a lie even bigger than the ones that will cascade from the mouths of royal correspondents and conceited columnists today.

I’m a republican. I don’t think there should be such things as Queens and Kings, Princes and Princesses, but Prince Harry’s life is a high-profile example of a fact that anyone — celebrity or ‘normal person’ — who has come to the attention of the British press knows: You play their game or they will try to break you. He’s refused and now the dogs are running wild.


Want more? Read yesterday’s newsletter on how the British press’ initial response to the Oprah interview:

Another Royal Rumble: The British media's racist royal commentators are shocked to be called racist


Johnson wrote: “So I have done my due diligence on Miss Markle, and this is where I stand. Genetically, she is blessed. If there is issue from her alleged union with Prince Harry, the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA. Miss Markle’s mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks who lives in LA…” Yikes.