U.K. Newspaper Publisher Fires Back at CBS Over Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Interview

Associated Newspapers is accusing ViacomCBS of including "inaccurate" and "misleading" content attributed to its publications in its broadcast of its interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

By Corinne Heller Mar 12, 2021 7:42 PMTags
Watch: Meghan Markle & Prince Harry Interview Under Fire Over Inaccuracy

U.K. tabloid newspaper publisher Associated Newspapers says CBS' recent broadcast of Oprah Winfrey's tell-all interview with pregnant Meghan Markle and Prince Harry included "inaccurate, misleading and divisive content" attributed to its publications and is urging the network to remove it.

The Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, which aired last Sunday, March 7, highlighted many negative tabloid headlines, mostly from U.K. outlets, written about the Duchess of Sussex over the years, and especially after she became pregnant with her and Harry's now-22-month-old son Archie Harrison. Associated Newspapers, who recently lost a legal privacy case filed by Meghan, has now accused ViacomCBS in a letter of doctoring headlines in its televised montages of press coverage of the duchess (watch a clip above). 

The broadcaster had no immediate comment when reached by E! News. A spokesperson for Oprah's Harpo Productions said in a statement to NBC News, "Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, shared in the interview their personal story. We stand by the broadcast in its entirety."

"Associated Newspapers, publishers of Mail Online, The Daily Mail and The Mail On Sunday, fully support the importance of freedom of speech and the First Amendment," the group said in a statement to E! News. "It does not believe in seeking to stifle debate or criticism based on accurate facts, including on the vital subject of racism."

"However, the montage in this programme, said to be of British newspaper 'headlines,' contained images which had been doctored or presented as headlines when they were not," the statement continued. "A number of images were not of British newspapers at all. This is indefensible. It was inaccurate and viewers of their programme will have been seriously misled. It lent apparent support to claims that the Duchess of Sussex had been subjected to racist coverage by the British press."

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Associated Newspapers' letter was sent just ahead of CBS' planned repeat broadcast of the special on Friday, March 12. "We have written to Viacom CBS who have said that 'Maintaining the accuracy and creative integrity of our content is important," the publisher said. "In light of this, it is our hope and expectation that they will remove this inaccurate, misleading and divisive content from the programme which continues to be available on demand." 

Associated Newspapers cites the TV special's inclusion of a an image containing the headline, "Meghan's seed will taint our Royal Family." The original headline, printed by the publisher's newspaper and website The Mail on Sunday, read, "'Meghan's seed will taint our Royal Family': UKIP chief's glamour model lover, 25, is suspended from the party over racist texts about Prince Harry's wife-to-be."

Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions

"The headline you have broadcast is neither accurate nor could it be said to be an expression of 'creative integrity,'" Associated Newspapers wrote to ViacomCBS. "It is a thoroughly dishonest misrepresentation of a newspaper headline and article which was the opposite of racist. No one viewing the programme would have understood this from the montage."

Several real headlines from The Daily Mail and other tabloids were replicated in their entirety on the special. The program also displayed a partial quote from a 2016 Mail on Sunday opinion piece that Rachel Johnson wrote in 2016, soon after news leaked that Harry was dating Meghan and days before he confirmed their relationship, placed under a Daily Mail website header.

Rachel wrote, "If there is issue from her alleged union with Prince Harry, the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA. Miss Markle's mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks who lives in LA, and even the sourest spinster has to admit that the 35-year-old actress is extremely easy on the eye." However, the text shown in the headline collage Oprah's TV special contained the words, "rich and exotic DNA. Miss Markle's mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks..."

A 2017 front page headline published by the Daily Mail, for another opinion column, was highlighted in the Oprah special. One of the words was also censored, as at the time of its publication, some people considered its use racist, which the newspaper denied.

In his statement confirming his relationship with Meghan, who he would marry in 2018, Harry also condemned "abuse and harassment" lobbied against her. He wrote, "Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."  

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In October 2019, months after Archie's birth, the Duke of Sussex slammed the "British tabloid press" for "bullying" his wife. This past February, Meghan won a privacy claim in the U.K. High Court against Associated Newspapers over The Daily Mail's publishing of excerpts of a letter she sent her estranged dad. In March, a lawyer for the publisher sought permission to appeal the ruling, according to multiple reports.

During the special, Meghan did laugh off one negative headline. Oprah talked to her about how she was often criticized in the media for the same things for which her sister-in-law Kate Middleton was praised. She highlighted several examples, during which she compared two headlines published in the U.K. tabloid The Express. One, published in 2017, read, "Kate's morning sickness cure? Prince William gifted with an avocado for pregnant Duchess." The other, published in 2019, read, "Meghan Markle's beloved avocado linked to human rights abuse and drought, millennial shame."

"That's a really loaded piece of toast," Meghan joked to Oprah, laughing. "I mean, can you even- you have to laugh at a certain point, because it's just ridiculous."

(E! and NBC News are part of the NBCUniversal family.)