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Britain vs. America: The Great Harry/Meghan Coverage Divide

Britain vs. America: The Great Harry/Meghan Coverage Divide

It was only a few days ago that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they would take a “step back” from royal duties, but the announcement has thoroughly consumed the royal-watching world.

Unsurprisingly, Harry and Meghan’s decision has received no shortage of press coverage. American and British newspapers have covered the news similarly: Publications from the New York Times to the Guardian were, for the most part, focused on the facts in their initial coverage of what the Times called their “extraordinary retreat.”

American and British tabloids played a little more fast and loose with the news, but they did so in different ways. There was the New York Post‘s January 9 “Megxit” cover, which cheekily depicted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as American “commoners,” of course; other American coverage focused more directly on the couple themselves, speculating about their relationship dynamic and state of mind.

The New York Post, January 9:

Us Weekly, January 9:

People, January 9

It makes sense that outlets in America, the country where Meghan was born and raised, might show more interest in her relationship and state of mind; after all, she is a star in her own right here in the U.S., and while very few of us know what it might be like to join the royal family, many could sympathize with the challenge of facing scrutiny because of her difference. (It’s worth noting that writer Afua Hirsch’s incisive essay “Black Britons Know Why Meghan Wants Out”, in which she points out the high level of racist and misogynistic press Meghan was subjected to from U.K. tabloids, ran in the New York Times as opposed to a British publication.)

Indeed, several British tabloids aggressively targeted the Duchess; the Daily Mail quoted an anonymous source who criticized Meghan’s personality, while another article characterized her departure to Canada as fleeing. A Sun op-ed by a royal photographer alleged that Meghan—not, say, all the negative press—was “the problem” in Harry’s life.

Aside from these more egregiously anti-Meghan examples, much of the U.K. tabloid coverage focused on the Queen, often chastising the couple for allegedly not informing her of their plans.

The Daily Mail, January 9

The Sun, January 9

The Daily Mirror, January 9:

It might seem surprising to American readers that British tabloids were so focused on the Queen’s reaction to the news; after all, the princes and their wives have received a lot of press over the last decade, to the extent that it’s easy on this side of the pond to forget the significance that the monarch holds in the U.K. Despite the Meghan-and-Kate madness of the last few years, a 2019 poll showed that the Queen was still the most favored member of the royal family; she’s more than a figurehead to many who grew up under her reign in the U.K., despite a growing trend of antiroyalist sentiment.

The public’s fondness for the Queen aside, U.K. tabloids’ coverage of Harry and Meghan’s exit as disrespectful to her seems contrived to fit into a preconceived, pernicious narrative of Meghan as a villain. That doesn’t necessarily reflect the majority view of the public, though; a YouGov poll of 1,327 U.K. residents found that 50% supported the couple’s choice to step back from royal duties.

There are numerous reasons why the U.K. public might support Harry and Meghan’s exit, but one likely explanation is cultural memory. Harry has been open about his fear that the tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana, would repeat itself with his wife; in the October statement that accompanied his lawsuit against the Sun and the Daily Mirror, Harry wrote, “My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”

Princess Diana’s 1997 death may seem like a long-ago historical event, but a great number of U.K. residents remember it vividly and continue to mourn the “People’s Princess”. So perhaps it’s not surprising that many support her son choosing safety and self-determination for himself and his family. While the Queen represents the storied history of the monarchy, Prince Harry represents its future—and it seems like the people are rooting for him to take charge of his own.