Jen Gerson is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.
Behold, enemies of the press, and skeptics of free and open speech – your hero has arrived. Who better than a wealthy white prince with emotional problems to spare the fine people of the world – and himself – from the trauma of bad press?
Prince Harry has launched a series of lawsuits as part of his anti-media jihad, and one of them is now before the British High Court, where he has accused the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) of engaging in phone hacking. To prove his cause, he has submitted 33 examples of stories that he claims could only have been obtained through illegal means.
And maybe some of these stories did come from hacking. However, MGN could hardly count such a finding as a total loss; the court case has provided ample opportunity for the Prince to beclown himself in public.
Of the dozens of examples Harry submitted as evidence, lawyers were able to show that many of them were, or at least could have been, obtained through entirely above-board means. Some scoops had been published elsewhere before being taken up by the newspaper group’s outlets; other tidbits were released by Buckingham Palace. One story appears to have originated from an interview Harry himself had given.
Harry’s lawyer opened his arguments by claiming the grievances were not part of some grand vendetta. But there’s no question that Britain’s most beleaguered royal has long held a pathological hatred of the press. Given the circumstances of the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, the sentiment is understandable. Further, there is no dispute that the press has taken an inordinate and perhaps uncharitable interest in him from an early age.
But from his own statements, it’s also fair to assume that Harry’s ur-hatred of the media was reignited by the treatment it doled out against his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
In numerous interviews, the Sussexes have stated that the cruelty of the tabloids is de facto proof that the British media is motivated by racism. While there have been racist episodes, particularly early in their relationship, the evidence for this broader claim is thin; if anything, Meghan got an easier time of it than any of the women who have married into the British monarchy in modern times, including Camilla “the Rottweiler” and “Waity Katie” of the “Wisteria Sisters.”
In fact, the majority of the press coverage directed toward Meghan after her 2018 marriage was overwhelmingly positive. But over time, during her short tenure as a working royal, she elided her parents’ roles in paying for her university tuition; she claimed a South African cast member of the Lion King movie told her that when she married Harry, “we rejoiced in the streets the same we did when Mandela was freed from prison,” which the lone South African cast member did not say; she wore earrings gifted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; she was accused of bullying her staff (and results from a Buckingham Palace probe into the allegations were never released). And that was before “Megxit.”
This final detachment freed Prince Harry to do what he wished his family had done on his behalf – to seek redress for decades-old grievances.
In the process, he has demonstrated a shocking lack of understanding about how the press, or even the court system, works. Which might explain the real Dieu-et-mon-droit vibe coming off the guy as he goes about using his superior position and wealth to attack democratic institutions.
In 2021, Harry called the U.S.’s First Amendment “bonkers.” In a January ITV interview, he said he was “moving the mission of changing the media landscape in the U.K. from being personal to my life’s work.” One can even suss out this zeal in two of the goals of the Sussexes’ non-profit, Archewell: “building a better online world” and “restoring trust in information.”
If Harry’s sincere intention were press reform in the U.K., he would be delighted to learn that this task has largely been accomplished for him. The Leveson inquiry, launched in 2011, dug into the dodgy ethics and practices of the British press, exposing the widespread use of illegal tactics such as phone hacking. It prompted numerous apologies and multimillion-dollar payouts, including from MGN, which has also apologized “unreservedly” for hiring a private investigator to unlawfully look into Harry’s private life. All of Harry’s complaints originate from before 2011.
The only conclusion, then, is that Harry’s lawsuit-scapades are motivated by factors such as personal grievance, revenge and the encouragement of lawyers who have spent the past decade taking their fair cut of settlements between newspapers and celebrities.
But if he really wants the wicked press to grant him and his wife a little distance, he might have a try at simply going away.