On July 15, 2019, Us Weekly published a glowing retelling of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal tour through Africa. The magazine breathlessly compared their trip to Princess Diana’s famous 1997 walk through a minefield in Angola, and claimed the newlyweds were “continuing Diana’s work.” With the pedestal Harry’s late mother still occupies in the American (and British) imagination, the allusion carried with it an obvious dash of reverence. Meghan was not just a princess, but an American princess. This cover was the apex of her time on the front pages of Us Weekly—a new mother and a new monarch. No higher standing could be afforded to her in the mythos of the gossip hierarchy, even if the tabloids tried.
This week’s issue, however, tells the tale of a woman so far removed from the sparkling princess of yesteryear, it’s hard to imagine the same publication churned out both stories. In a shocking cover, which alludes to a showdown between Meghan and Queen Elizabeth, Meghan is not a paragon of virtue or imperial power. She is a temptress, a fiend, a succubus. A woman who invaded the royal palace and stole the heart of the affable and easily swayed prince, obliterating his family and the arcane rules of British high society in the process.
This change in narrative, albeit drastic, did not happen with a bang. Instead, it slowly crept into the swirling legend around Meghan’s feud with Kate Middleton, another in the long line of British royals perplexingly beloved by American media properties. A stalwart symbol of picture-perfect motherhood, Meghan’s youthful maneuvering through the palace clearly clashed with Kate’s old-world approach to her marriage and station. At first, Us Weekly stuck fast to the narrative that Meghan was the victim of Kate’s Buckingham machinations, which included leaks to the press, public displays of contempt, and a revolting palace staff. Later in 2019, months after the coverage of their African tour, Us Weekly wrote that the Sussex’s were “tired of the lies,” citing rumors that they would flee the palace in the new year. By Christmas, their feud had exploded. Kate received a glowing profile of her “royal Christmas” affairs, and even Fergie, embattled wife of alleged sex offender Prince Andrew, was painted as a strong and resilient wife. Coincidentally, sources claimed elsewhere that Meghan and Harry were distancing themselves from Andrew and his cohort, wanting nothing to do with his perverted predilections.
When Megxit struck mere days into 2020, Us Weekly claimed in a dramatic cover that Harry was “under Meghan’s spell.” The reference to the Jezebel figure, a longstanding racist caricature, was clear. With its inclusion, any feeble posturing of American tabloids that they were any less racist, or vitriolic than the British counterparts the Sussex’s were fleeing disappeared.
In the time since Meghan and Harry announced their partial departure from British royal life, Us Weekly has stood fast to Kate’s side of the story, which alleges manipulations on Meghan’s part in extricating her husband from royal life. Kate, once seen by the tabloid as the malicious matriarch-to-be of Buckingham Palace, was once again the sympathetic victim, a woman who only ever wanted to do her job as the turbulent storms surrounding the Sussex’s batted at her family’s ivory tower. Us Weekly also claimed that Meghan and Harry have unceremoniously burned their bridges in Britain, firing longtime staff and rejecting both Kate and the Queen’s attempt at rekindling their familial bonds.
Rather than Princess Meghan, she is “Cruel Meghan,” denying the British family their right to live as pure and powerful monarchs. And where Us Weekly would have once disavowed Meghan’s malicious and desperate family members, like her father, who routinely sold her out to British and American tabloids alike, her estrangement is now a strike against her. If her own family hates her, the logic goes, what else is she hiding about her clearly conniving personality?
The transformation of the media narrative surrounding her is unsurprising if you understand the function of tabloid plot lines in selling magazines and pushing agendas. Before scandal struck and her public perception was complicated by a battle with the royal family and British public, American Media clearly found profits in pushing her as a wholesome, American princess. With scandalous exit from the royal family, however, the more profitable venture is transforming her into the caricature of a witch from legend, casting a dastardly spell over the wholesome, yet clueless, prince.
Us Weekly’s in-tabloid assassination of Markle is further muddied by her impending move to Los Angeles, long-rumored by official palace sources, the couple, and tabloid gossips alike. Out of all of American Media’s properties, Us Weekly has long been the most congenial, rarely sinking to the depths of its sordid sister tabloids like Star or Life & Style. These new covers, however, are openly antagonistic towards Meghan in a way that Us Weekly has long strayed away from, leaving the mudslinging and racist attacks to the cabal of less-circulated gossip rags lining its parent company’s coffers. As the only real competitor to People, its more prestigious foil on grocery store aisles, I’m genuinely shocked that Us Weekly has dialed up the attacks in recent weeks. Straight access to the couple was never a viable path for Us Weekly, of course, but the royals are now uncoupled from the palace completely. Unmoored, and free to live as rich influencers and charity attendees, you’d think that tabloids would want to foster goodwill with the most famous couple in the world moving into Us Weekly’s backyard.
On one hand, I am genuinely shocked. On the other, I know that American Media properties can’t help themselves. They’ve pushed the agenda of the conservative nuclear family since long before Meghan ever carried a Deal or No Deal briefcase. Why should they stop now! If anything, the pendulum will eventually swing the other way, and the tabloids will find some new, terrible narrative to push about the next darling.
- Kendall Jenner, on wanting to know what Beyoncé eats in the morning: “I wanna know what she eats in the morning.” [Us Weekly]
- Amanda Seyfried, on recently became a doula: “I recently became a doula.” [Life & Style]
- Gwyneth Paltrow, on coronavirus: “I’ve already been in this movie.” [Us Weekly]
- Aaron Paul, on being excited about rocks: “I never thought I’d get so excited about rocks.” [Life & Style]
- Lana Condor, on pretty much stalking her boyfriend: “I pretty much stalked my boyfriend.” [Us Weekly]
- “Hailey Baldwin, on being interested in neuroscience: “I’m interested in neuroscience.” [Life & Style]
- Martha Stewart, on her guilty pleasure: “Single slices of American cheese.” [Us Weekly]
- Anthony Anderson, on having a townhouse: “I have a townhouse.” [Us Weekly]
- Aubrey Plaza, on robots killing us all: “Robots will kill us all.” [Us Weekly]
- Tom Hanks, on growing a beard: “It’s really great to grow a beard.” [Us Weekly]
- John Mayer, on blushing: “I’m blushing.” [Us Weekly]