How did the media cover Oprah's Harry and Meghan interview? That depends where you live

Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
·5 min read

It's been said that the United Kingdom and the United States are two nations divided by the same language. That applies equally to the media's responses to Oprah Winfrey's Sunday blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

With a few exceptions, U.S. TV networks and other news outlets appeared sympathetic to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who now live in California. They focused especially on a bombshell allegation of racism and Meghan's revelation that she had contemplated suicide when she felt unprotected by royal institutions during attacks by the British tabloid press.

Winfrey, widely praised for the interviewing skill she displayed on CBS Sunday with a couple she considers friends, had a debriefing Monday with her close friend, Gayle King, on "CBS This Morning." King called it the "best interview" Winfrey had ever done and said the duchess was brave for acknowledging her suicidal thoughts. (Winfrey's two-hour interview drew 17.1 million viewers, a huge number likely to grow with delayed viewing, and a further indication of strong American interest in royal intrigue.)

Prince Harry, left, and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, chat with interviewer Oprah Winfrey during a bombshell interview that aired March 7 on CBS.
Prince Harry, left, and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, chat with interviewer Oprah Winfrey during a bombshell interview that aired March 7 on CBS.

"I don't think anybody thought it was going to be this bad and this damaging and this explosive," King said in a later interview, speculating about how the royal family might respond. "It was very traumatic and very dramatic for (the couple). I think people got to hear and understand the journey that they've been through."

On Monday, People focused on the happy news that the couple's second child, due this summer, is a girl, with a sweet black-and-white photo of Meghan, Harry and son Archie from a maternity shoot.

Many U.K. outlets, which serve a voracious British appetite for every microscopic element of palace intrigue, were more skeptical. The harshest assessments came from the British tabloids, the target of blame from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for much of the mistreatment that led to their retreat from royal life.

Difficult revelation: 'I didn't want to be alive anymore': Meghan opens up in Oprah interview, more major moments

Oprah Winfrey, right, seen with Gayle King in March 2020, discussed her blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and Meghan with King and her "CBS This Morning" colleagues Monday.
Oprah Winfrey, right, seen with Gayle King in March 2020, discussed her blockbuster interview with Prince Harry and Meghan with King and her "CBS This Morning" colleagues Monday.

British TV news personality Piers Morgan, known to Americans for his CNN talk show and "America's Got Talent," was having none of it. He lambasted the pair in a column in the Daily Mail under the scathing summary: "Meghan and Harry's nauseating two-hour Oprah whine-athon was a disgraceful diatribe of cynical race-baiting propaganda designed to damage the Queen as her husband lies in hospital – and destroy the Monarchy."

And that was just an early salvo, since most of the British public won't see Winfrey's full interview with Meghan, 39, who's American and biracial, and Harry, 36, son of Britain's Prince Charles and Princess Diana, until Monday night.

Many U.S. publications, including USA TODAY, focused on the experience of Meghan and Harry, including allegations that, while pregnant with their nearly 2-year-old son, Archie, an unnamed palace official expressed "concerns" about the skin color of their offspring. Another bombshell: At one point, Meghan said she "didn't want to be alive anymore" and that "the institution" of the monarchy didn't provide help.

Some outlets expanded on the shocking revelations by exploring larger issues of racism and suicide, offering resources to readers who have considered taking their own lives. Almost every website featured lists of the biggest revelations accompanied by celebrity reactions and speculation about eventual palace response.

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Major American networks featured the story prominently on their websites, if not to the degree of CBS, which had exclusive access to Winfrey. By late afternoon, a story saying the royal family was "in crisis" headlined CNN's home page, but the story was less prominent on ABC News' site.

By late Monday, The Washington Post's coverage featured one column praising Winfrey as "the best celebrity interviewer of all time." The story had dropped down the homepage of The New York Times, which examined the response of Black U.K. citizens to racism "in the royal family and in British society at large."

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The New York Post more suspiciously questioned the claim that the couple were married privately three days before their 2018 royal wedding, and one of its columnists challenged Meghan to "out the racist royal" who worried about the baby's skin color before Archie was born.

Much of the U.K. coverage focused on how the royal family would respond to (and be affected by) the interview. The tabloid Sun coined a new Meghan pejorative in its speculative headline: "MEGXILE Meghan Markle may never return to Britain after angering Royal Family with bombshell Oprah interview."

The Daily Express defended the crown on its cover: "QUEEN: DUTY AND FAMILY UNITE US That's public service for you, Harry and Meghan ... NOT a self-serving TV chat with Oprah."

A columnist for the more staid The Times of London attempted to turn the tables on the duke and duchess by saying the Oprah interview "ditches subtlety in embrace of tabloid television." Writer Quentin Letts called the interview "soft-focus: the setting bucolic, Queen Oprah in delicate mauve, shots of the royal couple’s pets and – privacy alert – of toddler Archie."

But a headline on the website of ITV, the British TV channel that airs the interview Monday, was more tempered, seeking to assess royal casualties with a devastating headline: "Harry and Meghan loaded up a plane and dropped bomb after heavy bomb on Buckingham Palace in their Oprah interview."

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Media coverage of Meghan and Harry interview: Harsh to sympathetic