How the Royal Family and Press’s Complicated Relationship Affected Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Coverage

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Meghan Markle and Prince Harry spoke openly about the palace briefing against them. In his new book Endgame, longtime royal reporter Omid Scobie offered insight into the situation.

When Meghan and Harry were working royals, there was a “toxic culture of leaking and negative briefings within the institution,” Scobie wrote.

Multiple sources told Scobie that Meghan and Harry were “easy targets for negative briefings because they believed other family members were jealous of their unrivaled popularity at the time.” Two others sources shrugged that idea off, saying this is “just how it goes”—the different royal households typically brief against each other to make themselves look better.

Additionally, a “handful of aides” told Scobie that “much of the venom was a result of the fact that some family members and staff just flat-out disliked Meghan for rational and irrational reasons,” he wrote.

Kensington Palace and Buckingham Palace would get worried about being upstaged by Meghan and Harry and would leak negative information on them, Scobie reported, calling it “a tactic that started before they even got married, during moments that could easily be focused on genuine royal news instead.”

Meghan discussed this herself in Harry & Meghan, saying, “You would just see it play out, like a story about someone in the family would pop up for a minute, and they’d go, ‘We’ve got to make that go away,’ but there’s real estate on a website homepage. There’s real estate there on a newspaper front cover and something has to be filled in there about someone royal.”

And Harry spoke about the households leaking negative stories about the other royals to Anderson Cooper in January. Whenever he tried to talk to his family privately about his issues, “there have been briefings and leakings and planting of stories against me and my wife,” he said. “You know, the family motto is never complain, never explain. But it’s just a motto. And it doesn’t really hold—”

“There’s a lotta complaining and a lot of explaining,” Cooper said.

“Endless—” Harry affirmed.

“Private—being done in—through leaks,” Cooper continued.

“Through leaks,” Harry said. He said he never would brief against his family. Instead, he’d speak on record. “So now, trying to speak a language that perhaps they understand, I will sit here and speak truth to you with the words that come out of my mouth, rather than using someone else, an unnamed source, to feed in lies or a narrative to a tabloid media that literally radicalizes its readers to then potentially cause harm to my family, my wife, my kids.”

So, how exactly does that system work? Scobie broke it down, saying there are “three channels” of information exchange between the press and the royals.

The Royal Rota

The first is the royal rota, which gets access to all royals events, rota-only briefings, and more.

Scobie wrote that a Buckingham Palace aide once told him, “We call it the cartel—a strange system that has a complete monopoly on coverage [of royal engagements]. And no one wants to change the system.”

Much like the White House press pool in the U.S., outlets share reporting from a pool of journalists. Unlike the White House press pool though, membership is very limited, as Scobie put it: “Established British national newspapers are the only ones allowed in from the print world, and journalists of all stripes from the Commonwealth—including Australia, New Zealand, and Canada—are banned from joining. Some exceptions have been made for the London-only Evening Standard newspaper and the glossy, royal-friendly Hello! magazine. Even though online outlets are now the dominant news source for people across the world, journalists from the U.K. divisions of all-digital news organizations, such as HuffPost and Newsweek, are also blocked from the rota.”

The rota is “fiercely managed and maintained by its members, which at the time of writing this book is just 10 print journalists.” The Daily Mail’s royal reporter is the captain of it and has been for 13 years. (Meghan famously sued The Daily Mail’s publisher and won.)

Exclusive Source Reporting

The second channel is exclusive source reporting.

“Exclusives, leaks from sources, and on-and-off-the-record briefings make up second type of relationship between Palace and the press,” Scobie shared. “While big scoops do sometimes come directly from Palace aides (especially those hunting for favors or are with an agenda), many are still down to good old-fashion reporting efforts.” Those other sources outside the Palace include assistants, stylists, and more.

Additionally, “while the Palace often chooses to offer ‘no comment’ on most things, staff in the communications offices will sometimes instead give quotable ‘guidance’ as a source to provide further information or context,” Scobie said. There is a “WhatsApp group with communication aides” where reporters can “fire off questions and comment requests at all hours of the day.”

Leaks

The third channel is leaks and conspiratorial briefings, which happens primarily with print journalists. This is where the briefing against other royals comes in, along with palace courtiers leaking information on their own to make their boss look good at the expense of other royals.

“With different households, it is common for an aide to look out for the royal they represent by using information about another member of the family (from a different household, and preferably less senior) as currency to win over the more ruthless media outlets or kill a potentially damaging story about the ‘principal’ [royal boss] they serve,” Scobie detailed.

Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace have different staffs. There was a real rivalry between different royal houses’ teams, Scobie wrote, that often causes “rifts, problems [and] confusion downstream after a particular household offers breaking news or choreographs a PR operation.” Aides in each royal house are paid to work for royals they represent and owe nothing to family members they don’t report to.

Scobie found himself a target of this kind of conspiratorial reporting, writing that tabloids positioned him as Meghan and Harry’s friend, a lie “largely create to delegitimatize the details I was sharing from sources close to the couple that often went against the narrative that tabloids were reporting.”

He recalled that an aide told him privately: “I’m not saying you need to pick a side, but you need to accept that there are sides in this.”

The toxic culture of leaking may be on its way out now though, Scobie shared, as Kate and William hired NBC’s former president of global communications and strategic partnerships Lee Thompson as their new head of press last year.

Thompson has been more transparent and direct, Scobie shared. A senior aide told Scobie in summer 2022 that after the Sussexes’ fallout, Kensington Palace wanted to “wipe the slate clean,” and do things differently.

But when Meghan and Harry were transitioning out of the Palace, it was a “dark time,” Scobie was told. A former aide in William’s circle said, “There was a frustration that control of the narrative was slipping away when Finding Freedom came out, then Oprah….[William and Kate] were exhausted and angered by it all.”

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Senior News and Strategy Editor

Alyssa Bailey is the senior news and strategy editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of celebrities and royals (particularly Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton). She previously held positions at InStyle and Cosmopolitan. When she’s not working, she loves running around Central Park, making people take #ootd pics of her, and exploring New York City.

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