Friday, December 14, 2018

How to cover the royals -- as in stick to facts.

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 Full disclaimer here:  I am not a royal journalist.  I am a royal historian who writes articles for this blog and for several magazines  ... on royalty.

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I am a careful observer of coverage of British royals in British newspapers.  Several reporters (no names) have largely strayed from the who, what, where, how, and why in writing about the Duchess of Sussex, the former American actress Meghan Markle, who married Prince Henry of Wales - now the Duke of Sussex, last May.

The reporters have preferred to rely on innuendo rather than facts.  They like throwing around the word "protocol" without knowing what it means.

FYI: protocol has nothing to do with nail polish or off-the-shoulder gowns.  It has everything to do with diplomatic and state events or in medicine.

Nor has the Queen ever issued a decree or a Letters Patent regarding what color nail polish a distaff royal is allowed to wear.  The Queen wears Essie's Ballet Slippers polish.  That her is choice, her go-to polish when she has a mani-pedi.

I have checked the Gazette and have not found a Letters Patent that offers direction on what nail polish other royals can wear.  This means there are no rules. 
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This also applies to pantyhose (tights) as well.

There is also no need to keep mentioning that Duchess' father is white and her mom is black.  These are facts.  We know these facts.  The Duchess is a bi-racial American.  This is a fact.  There no need to write around it -- and try to make being bi-racial a bad thing.  It is not.  It is a good thing.  Diversity is good.  Celebrate it.

Adding color to a story does not mean writing about one's skin color.  It means filling in the who, what, where, how, and why of a story.

It is okay to describe the Duchess as a former actress.  The late Diana, Princess of Wales was described as a former nursery school teacher, which of course she wasn't.  She was a teenage assistant who worked part-time, wiping noses, and playing with the kids, but she was not a teacher.  Grace Kelly was an Oscar-winning American actress who gave up her career when she married the Prince of Monaco in 1956.  She did not have an easy time adjusting to her new life in Monte Carlo. 

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 Princess Grace was described as a former actress throughout her married life and she maintained contact with many of her Hollywood friends.

Unless a reporter has a direct quote from one of the royals or has received information from one of the royal's staff, who was authorized to speak for that royal, don't try to write stories about alleged family disputes.

I am not surprised that the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex are not best buds.  They are two totally different women with different personalities and backgrounds.  Both come from middle-class families.  Both attended private schools.  Catherine's parents are self-made millionaires.   The Duchess of Sussex worked hard to achieve success in television.  Acting is not an easy profession to break into and remain in and build a career.  Most actors will not win Oscars, or star on Broadway, or have their names above the title in movie ads.  The Duchess was what many would call a "middling actor."  This is not an insult.

She also used her position to support numerous charitable and humanitarian causes.  The Duchess of Cambridge's entry into the charitable world largely began after her marriage when she began to take on several patronages.   Her patronage list -- and the Duchess of Sussex's -- will continue to grow in the next few years.

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The late Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, was rather scathing about her two sisters-in-law, the Duchess of York and the Duchess of Gloucester.   (This was before Edward VIII abdicated in favor of the Duke of York,  and married Wallis Warfield Simpson.)   She described the two women as "those common little Scottish girls."  Ouch.  Marina was the daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark and Grand Duchess Helen of Russia.   Great titles, and a few good jewels, but the Russian monarchy ended in 1917, and Marina spent a good part of her young life in exile in France due to the fragility of the Greek monarchy.

The Duchess of York was the daughter of the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and the Duchess of Gloucester's father was the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury.  Nothing to sniff at.   These are ancient peerages with large estates and large back accounts.  Both titles were much older than the Greek monarchy.

The Duchess of York became the Queen consort in 1936 when her husband succeeded Edward VIII.  (Marina was a bit of a snob.  I can only imagine how she reacted to learning that the Hon. Angus Ogilvy turned down a peerage from the Queen and her daughter, Princess Alexandra, would have Mrs. in her title.  Smelling salts anyone?)

Reporters asserted that the Duchess of Cambridge cried during a fitting of Charlotte's bridesmaid dress.  This was followed by suggestions that Catherine broke down and cried during the fitting and it was Meghan who made her cry.

Several things here:  we do not know if Meghan was present for the fitting.  Is it not possible that Catherine cried because she was post-partum having given birth to Prince Louis less than a month before?   Did Charlotte have a meltdown?    Little girls, even cute little Princesses, have temper tantrums?

We don't know why?  But the reporters have written their articles to give the impression that a "difficult" Meghan was the reason for Catherine's tears.

We do not know.  So don't write it.  Stick to facts.

If I had been reporting about the move to Frogmore Cottage, I would have omitted the alleged tensions between the two brothers.  Why?  These are alleged and have not been backed up with real facts.    How many brothers live next door to each other?  It is possible that in the fullness of time that the Sussexes will have a London residence, especially after Charles succeeds to the throne.   Clarence House, perhaps.

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The Duchess of Sussex has barely put a foot wrong since coming out of St. George's Chapel.  Okay, she didn't wear a hat when she went to Chester with the Queen for a master class in royalty 101, but the Queen did not seem to mind.  There were no orders to send the Duchess to the Tower after they returned to London.

Who:  the Duchess of Sussex.  What:  the British Fashion Awards.  Where: Royal Albert Hall, London.   How:  a few things here.  The winner was the designer of Meghan's wedding gown. The event honored British designers.  That sort of thing.   Why:  So Meghan could present an award to the designer Clare Waight Keller.

It is all right to describe Meghan's gown, which was designed by Keller, who is Givenchy's designer.  I am not usually keen on what a royal wears, but others take pride in maintaining reference points on royal clothes.  It is also important to acknowledge that fashion designers benefit (more jobs) from what royal women wear, especially the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.

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But there was no need to mention over and over again that the Duchess of Sussex cradled her bump. It is a very natural thing.  Moms-to-be do it all the time.  Catherine was photographed often patting her bump.    Baby Sussex may be very active and mom was trying to calm her little one.  Meghan's back might have been hurting and holding the bump may have offered a bit of comfort.

Cradling a  baby bump is not important to a story unless you are writing about women cradling their bumps.

Meghan and Catherine are of the same rank, royal highnesses.  Meghan does not curtsy to any royal lady apart from Sovereigns and female consorts.  If someone says or writes that a HRH curtsies or bows to another royal highness,  look them straight in their eyes, take their hands to comfort them, and tell them they are WRONG.  Period. Full stop.   Smile politely and tell them to order a copy of Debrett's Correct Form because they need it.

Don't go to Compton.   If you wrote that, you are being racist and ignorant.  Meghan never lived there.  Meghan grew up in a nice middle-class area in Los Angeles.  She attended private schools.

Meghan is learning how to be royal and she has the support of her in-laws (Charles and Camilla) and her husband.   The Queen, too.   Royal staff was not keen on Prince Philip, who was born a Prince of Greece and Denmark when he married Princess Elizabeth.  He was seen as a foreigner even though most of his childhood was spent in the United Kingdom, he attended British schools, his mother and maternal grandmother were born at Windsor Castle and his grandmother resided at Kensington Palace.

I realize that the reporters are writing for particular audiences, but do we want to continue to encourage racist and anti-foreign sentiment in the press?   I hope not.  Would it not be better to celebrate what the Duchess of Sussex is bringing to her role as a member of the Royal family?

If your editor tells you to write with a particular slant that does not ring true but will appeal to the readership, just say no. 

I hope that these reporters will not be finding coal in their stockings this Christmas.

Here is another idea:  how about more diversity in tabloid newsrooms?  Britons are white, black, mixed-race, Arab, European, Asian --- it is time that the newspapers' reporting staffs reflect this growing diversity.  Employing and training a diversified workforce can only help with better coverage of all subjects, not just British royals.

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bluhare said...

Very nicely said, Marlene.

kc said...

Bravo. Well done. Sticking to the facts gives us plenty of real news. We don't need extra drama.

Shamrock and Rose said...

Way to go Marlene! That is a master class on how to report on royalty. Facts. So sadly lacking in this post-factual age.
One thing puzzles me though. You say that the Duchess of Sussex as an HRH does not curtsy to other HRH's, only Soverigns and their consorts. I believe I have seen the Duchess of Cambridge (and perhaps others styled HRH) curtsy to the Duke of Edinburgh. Hey, I've just answered my own question- the duke is the consort of a soverign!

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

More courtesy for Philip. But you do not see HRHs bobbing or bowing up and down to each other when they meet at official events. The Christmas curtsey/bow was to the queen. the Fab four did not bow or curtsy to Charles, etc

Unknown said...

Well said.

Patricia said...

So glad you have written this, well done! I wish you could get it published in a newspaper, but that will probably never happen!

Patoubidou said...

Wow a very well written article. Marlene never makes sentimentality. She speaks only facts, I appreciate very much. Never, preferably, just facts, I like this integrity.

Bel said...

Great article Marlene. On point. I wished royal reporters take time to read and better yet, follow your advices. Well done.

Raphaelle said...

You truly are a treasure and every article you write is a pleasure to read.
You cannot imagine how pleasant it is to read from a well-read and professional historian.
Thank you for this blog !

Unknown said...

Marlene, this is a great article. That you for telling the truth! You truly are a stand up person!

Austin Texas said...

Fantastic post. As a journalism major in college this is what I learned. It's so off-putting to see the way the press is reporting on the Duchess of Sussex. She's the most googled, so it's obviously to up their clicks, but if I feel beleaguered, I know she and Harry must be disheartened.

RoyalDreams said...

This article should be the Bible for Royal reporting going forward. Thank you Marlene.

Bernadette Clarke said...

Well done Marlene! Not only have I learnt something new (late Lrincess Marina) but your guide to reporting on tge royals is spot on and it is only consideration we have asked from Royal Reporters. I hope that they are reading and putting into practice your suggestions.
Thank you

Nala & Jo said...

Excellent post Marlene! This is type of work we could only hope RR's should churn out. It was very informative rather than provocative. Thank you for mentioning the curtsy rule. I got into an arguement with someone because they stated Meghan didnt deserve respect as a duchess because she always curtsies to Kate. I echo another reader I'm sure Meghan expected some form of press about her but not to this level. I can only imagine how she feels.

Susan Cosnick said...

Oh, this post was badly needed. Excellent work. It needs to be shared far and wide.

- said...

Totally agree with you, Marlene. Marina's in-laws' fathers' peerages were older in origin than the Greek monarchy, true, but she was directly from one of the oldest (and still) reigning Royal Houses in Europe - that of Denmark. And she was a King's granddaughter. And her mother was an Imperial Highness. She WAS of higher, more prominent birth than her in-laws. Although, it's true that, especially the Gliucester lady, came from the highest spheres of Britain's aristocracy. But there is nothing to compare, IMO.
You mentioned that Prince Philip was seen at the court as a foreigner and listed several things that bond him to the UK. Well, legally, he was born and still is a British dynast as a descendant of Electress Sophia of Hanover.
As for diversity as a good thing. Of course, personally I think it is great for the monarchy in our times. But we must remmember that the monarchy itself, per se, is a traditional institution. That's why it still matters! I doesnt mean that it should not change, but change should be natural. Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same, as the unforgettable Don Fabrizio, Prince of Salina said in The Leopard.

Robbie said...

thank you once again for outing the appalling things that some so called journalists write for the sake of selling papers.....the reason why I follow you is because I know that I am getting facts and insights into subjects that I find fascinating....thank you again and I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and continued success in the New Year

Bobbi L said...

Well said Marlene. I am tired of trying to figure out the truth between the innuendos that the media is reporting. Guess some reporters are more interested in selling papers than they are in the truth. Seems to be a problem overall, not just with those who cover the Royals. Thank you for sharing what many of us feel.

Unknown said...

This article is so true and so Importamt, not only concerning royalty

Liza said...

Bravo, Marlene! This had to be finally said, I applaud you. I am rarely tempted to comment, but the sweet "cradling" gesture was a poke into a beehive, to put it mildly, at another royal blog and. What shocks me, is that people are so lazy, not to mention uneducated about their (obviously) own hobby - the Royalty of the World. This is 2018 ! Internet under our fingers! Here again it's a question of one click: YouTube: and there's all information one could wish for: Including that lovely moment: a fraction of a second. The baby kicks, the mother reacts. I think it is very important to put things back in line for those who were absent when kindness was given in spoonfuls. Thank you for this! I love your writing, how well informed, human, kind and objective you are. Fondly Líza

Tropical Girl said...

Thank you so very much!At least there are still some websites such as these where sane, factual reporting and history can still be read!

Andrea Beth said...

Wonderful post, Marlene I agree with you 100% in sticking to the facts.

Lisa said...

Well done Marlene!!!!

RosieStroud said...

Excellent post Marlene, 200% agree with everything you have said. What's happened to people's tolerance?

John said...

Thank you so much for addressing this topic. I have found the tabloid coverage to be so over the top regarding the alleged bad behavior and protocol breaches of The Duchess of Sussex. She will find her way, I am sure she is on the path to becoming very beloved in the nation.