Royal reporters are pushing back against accusations of racism in their recent coverage of the Duchess of Sussex, with the British press pack saying they’re now being trolled and threatened by Meghan Markle’s American fans on Twitter.
The latest claims started when an NBC correspondent went on America’s top-rated breakfast show Today on Tuesday and said a series of recent negative stories about Markle were being motivated by a mixture of snobbery, sexism, and racism.
“I’ve also said to you guys it was going to be tough for her to join the royal family,” NBC’s Keir Simmons said on Tuesday morning. “It’s turning out to be tougher, quicker than I thought. She’s getting a hard time.
“I think there’s some old-fashioned snobbery, there’s a little sexism, there’s a little racism, I’ll be honest.”
Stories about a Markle-led rift in the royal family have dominated the UK tabloids in recent weeks. There has also been coverage about everything from her pregnant belly to her choice of dark nail polish — which “broke royal protocol” and was labelled “vulgar”. Her father gave an “exclusive” UK TV interview earlier this week, claiming he wants to rekindle his relationship with his daughter.
When Simmons shared the clip on Twitter with the hashtag #TeamMeghan, fans of Markle tweeted in support of the recent coverage being called out on US television.
But some royal reporters reacted angrily — especially to the claims of racism. The Evening Standard’s royal editor Robert Jobson replied: “Myself and royal reporting colleagues have been unjustly & bizarrely accused of racism by faceless online abusive trolls. You are now making serious allegations on television. Where is your evidence?”
The Daily Express royal reporter Richard Palmer agreed, posting a run of tweets comparing the situation with coverage of the White House: “I’m amazed to see a #teammeghan hashtag on a link to a broadcast by a mainstream US journalist. Can you imagine a Washington-based BBC, ITV or Sky reporter writing #teammelania in a report from the White House?”
When contacted over Twitter direct message, Jobson told BuzzFeed News he didn’t want to fuel the issue in the media, but added: “Royal reporting colleagues have been subjected to vile, unfounded claims of racism from online trolls. The claims are totally baseless and those who make them are faceless cowards.”
Questions about whether critical royal coverage of Markle and Prince Harry has been fuelled by racism have been around since Markle arrived on the royal scene.
In 2016, Prince Harry published an unprecedented open letter slamming the media for comment pieces with “racial undertones”, and saying his then-girlfriend been the victim of “the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments”.
Those accusations have been magnified, and personalised, by a growing number of Meghan Markle fan accounts on social media. Since the royal wedding earlier this year, they’ve formed dedicated communities around hashtags like #SussexSquad, and have been calling out specific royal reporters for stories about the couple.
Recently, one member of the #SussexSquad made an intimidating graphic using photos of the royal reporters with a call to share it on Instagram and Tumblr, around the title: “The Faces of the U.K RACIST MEDIA/PRESS CORE OF EVIL”.
But they’ve also taken to mocking royal reporters (or “RRs”) and their reliance on anonymous sources. During the latest round of stories about an alleged spat between Markle and the Duchess of Cambridge, Markle’s fans began tweeting sarcastic claims with the hashtag #MyPalaceSource.
Palmer, who said someone on Twitter recently told a royal reporting colleague she deserved to have acid thrown in her face, defended their coverage to BuzzFeed News.
Palmer believes Americans misunderstand how the British press covers the royals.
“I think [Meghan] is a breath of fresh air who will help the royal family reach parts of the population in Britain and the Commonwealth that have not historically felt represented by the monarchy,” Palmer said. “She has become a standard bearer for people of colour. That’s fine as far as it goes. She has particularly been embraced by her fellow Americans, and especially black Americans. It’s the American dream maxed to the hilt to become a British princess of mixed race.”
“The downside of that is that many of her fans view British media coverage of Meghan through the prism of hundreds of years of slavery, the civil rights movement, and the inequality that still exists in much of the US.
“They see any coverage of her that is not gushing as evidence of racism. I fully accept the UK still suffers from racism and that our newspapers can be guilty of it but I honestly don’t see coverage of Meghan as evidence of that.”
UK broadcaster and journalism lecturer Marverine Cole said she believed some of the tabloid coverage was fuelled by racism. She pointed to Markle being branded “Duchess Difficult” in some recent stories, which relied on reports from anonymous sources and “royal insiders”.
“It’s one of the tropes wheeled out in relation to women of African and Caribbean heritage,” Cole told BuzzFeed News. “We are difficult, we are seen as getting upset, getting angry. We’re never seen or viewed with rounds of sympathy. There are lots of people tired of this sloppy, lazy reporting.”
She said it’s part of the “divisive” language used by the tabloids to describe black women: “I remember reading the News of the World and black, female celebrities being described as ‘dusky beauties!’ I mean, please!”
“This kind of language needs to stop. This type of reporting of people who are from black and minority heritage, the type of language is divisive and inciting in a way.
“Like them going off at ‘look at Meghan holding her baby’. Can’t we just stand, and be? Can we look different? Can we exist in our difference?”
For Palmer and others in the press pack assigned to follow the royals around the world, the accusations ignore a somewhat noble goal of holding the family accountable and scrutinising their behaviour for the British public.
“We’re writing for Brits who buy our papers, who pay their taxes and want to see a return,” he said.
“We’re not writing for Americans who see the royals as celebrities.”
Additional reporting by Ellie Hall