The Prince Harry and Meghan Markle story can be characterized in a lot of ways: a romance, a family drama, a royal fairytale that went south.
But beyond all that it’s something else.
It’s a media story.
The Oprah Winfrey interview Sunday night on CBS News with Harry and Meghan — all three of the principals involved reside in the one-name-will-do category — proved it. The hype surrounding the interview, the royal family’s pre-emptive strikes before it aired and the social media reaction while it unfolded reinforced an age-old truth about power and the wielding of it:
It’s all about controlling the message.
That message was clear Sunday: The royal family writ large had no use for Meghan, basically from the start. Megxit, as Harry and Meghan’s withdrawal from front-line royal duties and the considerable perks that come with it was called in the British tabloids, was inevitable: a form of survival, at least in this telling.
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Oprah is the perfect person to tell Meghan and Harry’s story
Most interviews in which “nothing is off limits” don’t begin with hugs, socially distanced or otherwise. This one, conducted at the home of one of Oprah’s friends — she and Harry and Meghan live near each other — did.
Why not? Oprah attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding, and she and Harry have teamed up for an Apple TV+ documentary series. There was no apparent effort to get reaction from the royal family to the accusations. Oprah said up front that Meghan and Harry received no money for the interview.
There were plenty of bombshells. Shockingly, Meghan said that there were “concerns” about what the color of her baby’s skin would be when she was pregnant with her son, Archie. Meghan said that she had suicidal thoughts and got no support from the royal family when she was pregnant with Archie. For a time Prince Charles, Harry’s father, wouldn’t take his son’s calls. Meghan and Harry revealed that the child she’s expecting is a girl. Meghan said that, contrary to reports that she had made Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, cry, the reverse was true.
“This was a really big story at the time, that you made Kate cry,” Oprah said. That may sound like nothing much, but Meghan said it was “the beginning of a real character assassination.”
Indeed, the British tabloid press pummeled her; Oprah pointed out some examples of the discrepancies in the way she was covered, in contrast to Kate. Meghan recently won a lawsuit against a tabloid for violation of privacy.
So yes, to some extent this was both a form of ogling famous people — the super-rich interviewing the super-rich about the travails that come with being super-rich — and a series of jaw-dropping accusations of abusive behavior. It was also a look at weird institutional power dynamics, and how they can damage anyone who gets in the way.
It was also something we don’t really see much anymore outside the Super Bowl in the age of streaming: a broadcast television event people watched live. Must-see TV, as they used to say.
CBS paid about $8 million for the rights to broadcast it. That may turn out to be a bargain.
What Oprah is so good at is playing the role of the everyperson friend, just chatting — and getting you to reveal more than you might with someone else. In front of millions of people. (In this case she is a friend, though hardly an everyperson.)
But don’t be fooled — she knows exactly when and how to follow up on a question, and when not to. Meghan was noticeably more comfortable with her than Harry was. You can tell, and he acknowledged, how the British tabloid press affects the actions of the royal family, and how that helped influence his and Meghan’s decision to step away.
Princess Diana would be ‘angry’ about treatment of Meghan, Harry says
This is understandable.If a story like this and the people involved in it are a curiosity for Americans and a surefire ratings score for American media, for the British they’re something more. They’re an obsession, one that plays out through relentless media coverage. That can be damaging, and it can be deadly — media intrusiveness, after all, contributed to the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana.
Diana, of course, once gave her own shocking tell-all interview. Oprah asked Harry how Diana would have felt about the royal family’s treatment of Meghan; he said she would have been angry.
You got the sense that he was angry, too. And hurt (he said so).
But this was really Meghan’s story. Harry was to the manor born, literally. Meghan wasn’t, yet found her way there in what seemed like a fairytale but turned out to be something else. The interview will set off a hue and cry from the royal family and the British tabloids. But Sunday night Harry and Meghan had a not-so-secret weapon in this battle: Oprah. She proved, again, that she knows the message. And she knows how to deliver it.
Watch the interview here: https://www.cbs.com/shows/oprah-with-meghan-and-harry-a-cbs-primetime-special/