By:
March 9, 2021

Why should we care? What’s the big deal? Don’t we have more important things to worry about than some soap opera half a world away?

That was the general feeling among many following Sunday night’s Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

Millions of Americans tuned in and did care, but a quick glance of social media suggested that millions of others could not have cared less. They saw the interview as a complete waste of time — spoiled rich people complaining about other spoiled rich people.

Why should Americans care about the royal family when we have people still dying of COVID-19? Instead of talking about people of privilege, shouldn’t we be concentrating on those who desperately need financial help? Forget the queen, tell me when I’m going to be vaccinated!

First off, let’s get this out of the way: We are all capable of following more than one story at a time. Paying attention to the interview doesn’t mean we completely ignore everything else.

But, as far as the royal interview, certainly, going in, there was a bit of a gossipy feel to it, which made it feel as if we were giving importance to something that really wasn’t important. But as the interview played out, as our jaws dropped listening to the stunning revelations, and after we were able to digest and comprehend all that we heard, we quickly realized that the interview did matter. It was important. It wasn’t just fluff.

This wasn’t about how to curtsy or yelling at staff because a salad fork had spots. Or trying to figure out who made who cry.

This was about race. It was about the media’s coverage of race. It was about how a nation handles issues of race.

The Washington Post’s William Booth wrote, “The couple suggested that the palace — and the royal family — simply did not understand how powerful was the racism in the British press and on social media.”

In fact, in another clip that aired on Monday’s “CBS This Morning,” Winfrey asked Harry if he left the country because of racism, and Harry said, “It was a large part of it.”

He then recalled a conversation at a fundraiser in England with a powerful person who told him to not take on the media. Harry told Winfrey, “He said you need to understand that the U.K. is very bigoted. I stopped and said ‘The U.K.’s not bigoted, the U.K. press is bigoted — specifically the tabloids — is that what you mean?’ And he goes, ‘No the U.K. is bigoted.’ I said I completely disagree but unfortunately if the source of information is inherently corrupt or racist or biased, then that filters out to the rest of society.”

Writing for The New York Times, Megan Specia wrote, “For many Black Britons, the interview offered a scathing assessment of the royal family and resurfaced barely submerged tensions over entrenched racism in the country at large.”

During an interview on CNN on Monday, CNN’s Don Lemon said, “I don’t think anyone … is surprised … there was racism there. That is what the monarchy is based on: heredity, hierarchy, a caste system, bloodlines … the whole institution is built on a racist structure.”

In addition, it shines a light on how the media covers race. And this isn’t just about the British media. It’s about how all media sees race — collectively and individually.

How are issues of race covered? Who is covering it? Are news staffs diverse? Are people of color covering issues involving people of color?

These are critical questions always, but especially in the coming days. Not only for the British media covering this interview story, but for American media as the trial for the police officer who killed George Floyd begins.

Don’t dismiss the Oprah interview with Harry and Meghan as gossip or the background for a future episode of “The Crown.” This is much deeper. And much more important.

More interview clips

Oprah Winfrey appears on Monday’s “CBS This Morning.” (Courtesy: CBS News)

As I mentioned, “CBS This Morning” aired more unseen clips from Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan. They went into greater detail about the Queen’s refusal to see Harry at one point, eventually making peace with his family and Meghan’s relationship with her father and stepsister.

More cheers for Oprah

If you missed my Monday newsletter, I praised the job Winfrey did with Harry and Meghan. Her brilliant interview was pretty much universally praised Monday, including in the latest column from The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan: “Oprah proved she is greatest celebrity interviewer of all time. All journalists can learn from her.”

Sullivan wrote, “With her relentless follow-up questions, compassionate demeanor and focused skill in eliciting bombshell after bombshell, Oprah proved herself the best celebrity interviewer ever. This may not have been much in dispute, after her interviews with Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama, among many others. This, still, was clearly one of the biggest interviews of her life. Fully prepared for it, she delivered.”

For the record, Winfrey’s close friend and “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King said Winfrey told her it was the “best interview” of her career.

Across the pond

Piers Morgan (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

So how is the interview playing over in England?

My Poynter colleague Kristen Hare compiled what the front of the British tabloids looked like on Monday morning. Some of the headlines went straight to the news. For example, the Daily Mail wrote, “Meghan Accuses Palace of Racism.” The Sun wrote, “Meghan: I Felt Suicidal.”

Later in the day, the Daily Mirror’s headline said, “Worst Royal Crisis in 85 Years.”

But others took aim at Harry and Meghan. For example, the Daily Express wrote, “Queen: Duty and Family Unite Us” with the subhead of “That’s public service for you, Harry and Meghan … NOT a self-serving TV chat with Oprah.”

British TV personality Piers Morgan, who failed miserably as Larry King’s replacement on CNN and once won a celebrity version of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice,” went all-in criticizing Meghan and Harry.

Hosting the morning show, “Good Morning Britain,” Morgan said he was “sickened” and “angry to the point of falling over” by the interview, as well as calling it “disgraceful.”

In addition, he tweeted, “This interview is an absolutely disgraceful betrayal of the Queen and the Royal Family. I expect all this vile destructive self-serving nonsense from Meghan Markle – but for Harry to let her take down his family and the Monarchy like this is shameful.”

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” he said, “I thought it was two hours of disingenuous, horrible, one-sided, self-serving, delusional claptrap. It was utterly ridiculous from start to finish.”

On and on he went. He also wrote an overwritten and much-too-long column for the Daily Mail that trashed Meghan and Harry.

But Morgan’s most notable moment came when he was slammed by Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, who joined his morning show remotely. Mos-Shogbamimu and Morgan battled over Meghan’s claim of racism.

“What kind of grandmother would be so close to her grandson Harry, but then not use her power and influence as queen to protect them from the racist media coverage?” Mos-Shogbamimu said. “What kind of grandmother would protect her own son, Prince Andrew, from the potential crime of raping a minor, but will do jack-all to protect Harry and Meghan?”

Morgan said Mos-Shogbamimu’s comments were “disgraceful,” but she plowed on, saying, “Listen, you might learn something. The royal family as an institution is rooted in colonialism, white supremacy and racism. The legacy is right there. So you’re now surprised that a comment would be made by several members of the royal family about how dark Archie’s skin is? I’m shocked that you’re more outraged that Harry and Meghan had the audacity to speak their truth than you are at the actual outrage of racism.”

There was plenty more, as you can see in this clip, but if this was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the match because Morgan was getting destroyed.

Tuning in

This is undeniable: People were most definitely interested in Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan. Early numbers released Monday revealed that 17.1 million people tuned in. That’s a huge number, nearly three times what CBS drew on the previous Sunday night. As Deadline’s Dominic Patten pointed out, that’s more than watched last September’s Primetime Emmys and last week’s Golden Globes put together. As Patten also noted, other than the 20.4 million tuned into the post-Super Bowl debut of “The Equalizer,” the Harry and Meghan interview has been the most-watched nonsports show of the 2020-21 TV season.

Remember, these are just early numbers. They will likely increase in the coming day or two as more data becomes available.

CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote, “The high ratings are a testament to the public’s curiosity about the royal couple; confidence in Winfrey as an interviewer; and the enduring power of the broadcast TV platform.”

The White House reacts

The interview made such a ripple that White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about it during her Monday press briefing.

Psaki said, “For anyone to come forward and speak about their own struggles with mental health and tell their own personal story, that takes courage. That’s certainly something the president believes.”

More coverage

Here are a few more pieces in the wake of the royal interview:

Latest in L.A.

Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

So wait, the Los Angeles Times is not close to naming a new executive editor to replace Norman Pearlstine? My Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds has an insightful piece where he writes, “With the Los Angeles Times executive editor job open since Norman Pearlstine departed in December, owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong says that he is not yet close to picking a successor.”

That’s what Soon-Shiong told Edmonds in an email.

Edmonds also writes about some of the other things going on with Soon-Shiong these days, including the future of the Times, as well as another paper he owns, The San Diego Union-Tribune. It’s good stuff, so check it out.

A real version of ‘Succession’

Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw and Gerry Smith are reporting that CNN and The New York Times are collaborating on a multipart documentary series about media mogul Rupert Murdoch — the executive chairman of News Corp. and co-chairman of Fox Corp. His empire includes news outlets around the globe, including Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

Shaw and Smith report that New York Times reporters Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg are working on the project. They profiled Murdoch and his media empire for an incredibly detailed New York Times Magazine piece in 2019. It also should be noted that CNN’s Brian Stelter has written a book, “Hoax,” about Fox News.

According to Shaw and Smith, the goal is to release the series sometime in 2022.

Rich owners

CNN’s Kerry Flynn has a good story: “Being owned by a billionaire is a struggling newsroom’s dream. But it can turn into a nightmare.”

Some rich owners have helped turn their news outlets into a smashing success, such as Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post.

“But,” Flynn writes, “a rich owner does not necessarily transform a newsroom into a journalism utopia. They are ‘not a panacea,’ multiple people who work in these newsrooms told CNN Business. They do tend to alleviate the pressures that come with being a part of a publicly traded company or a hedge fund seeking high profit margins. But staffers are still at the whims of a super rich and sometimes capricious owner, and they often have to deal with some of the same issues they’d face with different owners. Employees must adapt to strategic shifts, often billed as ‘restructurings.’ They watch as their colleagues get laid off, resources dwindle and journalism suffers. And on top of that there’s always fear that an owner could suddenly decide their hobby needs to make real money and impose painful measures as a result — or simply get bored and sell the company.”

Controversial hire

Last week, Axios reporter Alexi McCammond was named editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue. But now there are complaints about anti-Asian tweets she posted in 2011. Fashion Week Daily’s Aaron Royce has the details, and more than 20 members of the Teen Vogue staff tweeted a statement expressing concerns over the hire.

Condé Nast, which owns Teen Vogue, gave a statement to The Daily Beast’s Max Tani that said, “Alexi McCammond was appointed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue because of the values, inclusivity and depth she has displayed through her journalism. Throughout her career she has dedicated herself to being a champion for marginalized voices. Two years ago she took responsibility for her social media history and apologized.”

Then Condé Nast shared a letter that McCammond sent to the staff. McCammond wrote, “I’m beyond sorry for what you have experienced over the last twenty-four hours because of me. You’ve seen some offensive, idiotic tweets from when I was a teenager that perpetuated harmful and racist stereotypes about Asian Americans. I apologized for them years ago, but I want to be clear today: I apologize deeply to all of you for the pain this has caused. There’s no excuse for language like that. I am determined to use the lessons I’ve learned as a journalist to advocate for a more diverse and equitable world. Those tweets aren’t who I am, but I understand that I have lost some of your trust, and will work doubly hard to earn it back. I want you to know I am committed to amplifying AAPI voices across our platforms, and building upon the groundbreaking, inclusive work this title is known for the world over.”

McCammond has been a rising star in journalism. Only 27, she has extensive experience covering the White House and then landed the editor-in-chief job at Teen Vogue. News about the racist tweets are not new. McCammond offered an apology in November 2019 when she removed the tweets in question. Certainly, Condé Nast had to be aware of it before hiring her.

McCammond’s name also popped up in the news recently when her boyfriend, T.J. Ducklo, resigned as President Joe Biden’s deputy press secretary after he threatened a Politico reporter who was working on a story about Ducklo’s relationship with McCammond and a possible conflict of interest.

Media tidbits

  • President Biden will address the nation Thursday night in prime-time to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown. During her news conference Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “He will discuss the many sacrifices the American people have made over the last year and the grave loss communities and families have suffered. The president will look forward, highlighting the role that Americans will play in beating the virus and getting the country back to normal.”
  • Katie Couric is the latest guest host of “Jeopardy.” She is hosting this week and next.
  • New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand reports that Fox Sports has hired former University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops to replace Urban Meyer on its college football pregame show, “Big Noon Kickoff.” Meyer was hired to be the head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News

Comments

Comments are closed.

  • 8 million dollars. A fact conspicuously unexamined in this breathless calculus of why Oprah is great, why this strategic “interview” has meaning, and why people – the same people journalists serve – are wrong to question its journalistic value. If racism and journalism are that important to Oprah andCBS and the two subjects, maybe 8 million could have been spent giving BIPOC journalists a living wage for a while, so they could bring stories to light from marginalized and voiceless people Oprah and CBS aren’t interested in. Instead the money was spent on a contrived, preplanned publicity event, engineered on behalf of the – uh – “royals”, and as a financial investment for CBS. If you didn’t see that, you didn’t want to. But I expect better analysis from a journalist than simply finding yet another way to join a bandwagon and amplify a narrative that obscures what this “interview” really was.