Although she notably starred in the legal drama Suits prior to her foray into royalty, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, is not especially known as litigious. She’s usually off doing her princess thing (so it’s more like Dresses than Suits). But this week, she and Prince Harry announced that they are indeed suing a tabloid in England. How did we get here? Is Harry following President Donald Trump’s footprints to an all-out assault on the press? What does this have to do with Princess Diana? All those questions and more, answered below.
Who are Meghan and Harry suing, and why?
On Tuesday, while the couple was still finishing up a 10-day tour of Africa (dramatic timing!), Harry announced the lawsuit against the parent company of the Mail on Sunday, a British tabloid. At issue specifically was a private letter from Meghan to her father that the tabloid published earlier this year. The prince also released an incensed 500-word statement (“written himself and not passed by the queen’s advisers,” according to the Daily Beast) calling out the paper’s “relentless propaganda” and “ruthless campaign” against Meghan. “I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been,” Harry’s statement said.
Have the royals ever sued the press before?
Yes, many times in fact, so it’s not unprecedented.
Has press coverage of Meghan really gotten that bad?
Throughout this year, royal observers have noted that tabloid coverage of the Sussexes has been particularly aggressive, and it escalated during Meghan’s pregnancy and maternity leave, as stories continued to emerge about her estranged father and half siblings. Recently, the duchess was criticized for her guest editorship of an issue of British Vogue and her use of Elton John’s private jet, among other things.
What’s the deal with the specific letter the duke and duchess are suing over?
The couple did not specify which letter is at the center of the suit, but all signs point to one published in February, handwritten by Meghan and provided by her father, Thomas Markle. What was so special about this letter that it pushed the couple over the edge into legal action? Meghan supposedly wrote the missive to her father after her wedding last year. At the time of the wedding, Meghan and her father’s relationship was reportedly in a rough patch because of his decision to speak to the press, and he did not attend. Friends of Meghan said the purpose of the post-wedding letter was to ask to heal their relationship privately, but Thomas told the tabloid the letter left him “devastated.” “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces,” an excerpt read.
What law do the royals allege that publishing this letter broke?
The royals claim the letter was manipulated to mislead readers (through the omission of words) and is in breach of the U.K.’s Data Protection Act 2018, which requires the permission of the author to publish a letter. The Mail on Sunday in turn announced that it plans to defend its case vigorously.
Didn’t Harry write a letter yelling at the press for being terrible to Meghan already?
Yes, he did: In 2016, the prince censured British tabloids for racist coverage of his then-girlfriend.
Does this mean Harry is taking a page out of Trump’s “fake news” book?
Even if this is the start of a full-on war against the papers, it would still differ considerably from Trump’s war on the media. The U.K. tabloids have … very different journalism standards and practices. More austere outlets like the Guardian would seem to be exempt from this war, in contrast to Trump’s disdain for our high-minded New York Times and Washington Post.
Why did Diana come up in all of this?
The most dramatic part of Harry’s statement compared his wife’s situation to that of his late mother, Diana, who died in a car accident while being pursued by paparazzi, warning that he does not want to see “history repeating itself.”
There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.
Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because 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.
How have the lawsuit and statement been received so far?
A BBC royal correspondent called Harry’s statement “remarkably outspoken” and “a stinging attack on the British tabloid media.” Another royal commentator told the news agency, “The press—particularly the tabloid press—is far less powerful now than it was during his mother’s era.” Also working in Harry’s favor is that his popularity is at an all-time high; NBC News cited a recent poll that ranked him the second-most popular royal—after his grandmother. The press storm is a good reminder for Harry that whatever the outcome, Granny remains No. 1.