DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So that decision by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to step back as senior royals and split their time between the U.K. and Canada has been dominating British news. After the queen gave her blessing to the couple's choice earlier this week, the Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper, responded with the headline, go if you must. In fact, Harry and Meghan are leaving in part because of the British tabloid newspapers, whose coverage of Markle, some analysts say, has been racist and misogynistic. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt from London.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Queen Elizabeth's mother, the Queen Mum, had a motto - never complain, never explain. But last year, in a rare interview with Britain's ITV, Markle broke that rule.
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MEGHAN MARKLE: My British friends said to me, I'm sure he's great, but you shouldn't do it because the British tabloids will destroy your life. I didn't get it.
LANGFITT: She's referring to embarrassing tabloid interviews with her estranged father. And Markle, who's biracial, is also referencing headlines like this from the Daily Mail in 2016 - Harry's girl is almost straight out of Compton; gang-scarred home of her mother revealed. Amna Saleem is a screenwriter and broadcaster of Pakistani and Scottish descent.
AMNA SALEEM: I feel that Meghan Markle is being treated extremely unfairly. It's been very racist and very misogynistic and, also, classless.
LANGFITT: For instance, Saleem says the tabloids have portrayed Markle as a social climber, while reminding readers she's descended from slaves. Saleem also cites how differently the tabloids treat Markle versus her sister-in-law Kate Middleton, who's the wife of Prince William, as well as British and white.
SALEEM: Kate Middleton wears an off-the-shoulder dress, and it's beautiful; Meghan Markle wears one, and she's breaking rules - and how offensive, it is too sexual. Kate Middleton caresses her bump, and it's beautiful and tender; Meghan Markle does it, and she's a narcissist and up herself.
LANGFITT: Saleem is not exaggerating. BuzzFeed documented this apparent double standard, comparing 20 headlines where the tabloids treated the women completely differently on identical topics. Meghan and Harry started off with mostly positive coverage when they were married in 2018. But Roy Greenslade, a former editor of the Daily Mirror, a tabloid, said the tone shifted when the couple refused to follow the traditional rules of royal press coverage.
ROY GREENSLADE: The major and overriding feature of the anti-Meghan cycle is that she was having it both ways - she was both a celebrity and a member now of the royal family, but that she was also wanting no negative publicity, no publicity, really, of any kind, except on her terms. It was suggested that this was her on her high horse.
LANGFITT: For instance, the couple broke royal tradition after the birth of their son Archie. Instead of presenting him to huge crowds and cameras outside of a London hospital, they chose a brief, limited photo op inside Windsor Castle.
GREENSLADE: It's all about whether or not you're willing to play the press game or whether you stand out against it. And they stood out against it, and in return, the press turned on them.
LANGFITT: Greenslade says this is part of a broader love-hate relationship the media and many Britons have with the royal family.
GREENSLADE: There is a love for the institution but a loathing for the fact that they are born into privilege. And in an era, really, of social democracy, it is an anachronism that this institution still exists.
LANGFITT: While some people are outraged the couple is leaving, many others are supportive, like Sade Giliberti, an actress from South Africa.
SADE GILIBERTI: I know a lot of people have been like, it's disgraceful. It's disgusting. How dare they? But who are you to say? People on the outside are not looking in and seeing what's going on inside. So I think that it's absolutely fantastic. I wish them all the luck in the world.
LANGFITT: The couple say, in their new roles, apart from the royal family, they'll no longer participate in the royal media pool here and instead provide access to what they call credible media focused on objective reporting.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.