Dysfunctional families make for great television. That’s why the media love stories about divorces, sex scandals and warring political parties.
Throw in some celebrity stardust and the British monarchy and you’ve got 17 million Americans watching the latest spectacle with Oprah, who interviewed more than her share of warring couples back when she had a daytime talk show.
The Meghan and Harry show on CBS was destined to be a hit, just as Harry’s mother attracted huge audiences in the Diana era—and such soap operas have been a global phenomenon since King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry his twice-divorced American girlfriend.
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The Megxit melodrama has the added element of race, since she told Oprah Winfrey—who’s a very shrewd interviewer, for all the hugs and empathy—that Buckingham Palace was concerned her baby’s skin would be too dark.
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Throw in the dark shadow of mental illness—with Meghan revealing that at one point she no longer wanted to live—and the coverage morphs into a global public service announcement, complete with suicide hotline numbers.
As the wealthy couple painted themselves as victims, they seemed incredibly tone-deaf. Was Meghan really unaware of the duty and burdens of life in a centuries-old monarchy, and so seduced by the fairy-tale version? Didn’t Harry tell her? Could she possibly have been that naïve? That just didn’t seem credible.
And yet I understood for the first time how awful it must be to have been relentlessly attacked by the British press. As Meghan described the stories that she claims are falsehoods—even on such cosmically insignificant matters as whether she made Kate Middleton cry or vice versa—I could appreciate how her life felt out of control. She insisted the Queen’s minions didn’t defend her, though she and her husband could have been more media-savvy in getting their side out.
Harry described the palace as being intimidated by the London tabloids. And when he said his wife’s spiral made him fear history was repeating itself—losing his mother as her car sped away from the paparazzi—it was a moving moment.
It was no surprise that most of the British press, led by chief Meghan-hater Piers Morgan, who accused her of lying, trashed the couple’s interview. (The Sun: “Prince Harry’s Socks Mocked in Oprah Interview.”)
And no dysfunctional-family story is complete without Meghan’s estranged dad, who told Morgan’s show he drops stories on his daughter in the tabloids (and lied about it) every 30 days when she won’t talk to him. Quite a dad.
But the palace must recognize the damage done, given the tone of Queen Elizabeth’s statement: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan. The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” No mileage in beating up on a previously suicidal pregnant mom.
Here in America, where enough people are fascinated by the royals to make “The Crown” a hit, reaction tended to break along partisan lines.
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As Politico points out, many liberals embraced the notion that Meghan, the American outsider, was victimized by her “hope that an antiquated institution was ready for the real change she represented. The disaster that resulted, according to this view, is the fault of the institution—and the rigid inside players who set the rules of what Markle referred to as ‘the Firm.’ The monarchy was never ready to change. And someone like Markle, idealistic and well-meaning, never had a chance against that antiquated power.”
But if the left treasures individual rights, conservatives care about upholding institutions:
“Meghan should have known exactly what she was getting into—and, in fact, should have been thankful for the astounding privilege that had been bestowed upon her. Her declaration that she hadn’t researched Harry’s background before she dove into a relationship strained credibility:
Who doesn’t precede a first or second date these days with a deep dive through Google?” These are, after all, “people who lived in literal palaces and stepped out in designer eveningwear.”
It’s hard to feel sorry for a duchess. But Meghan and Harry will be fine. They are living near Santa Barbara and have insanely lucrative deals with Netflix and Spotify. What’s really revealing about this episode is how the media on both sides of the Atlantic, and Americans of the left and right, choose up sides.