The royal family has long been adept at using the media to deliver narratives that keep it in the public eye.
These narratives have historically been favourable to the family, offering a carefully curated glimpse behind the pantomime of royal events.
But The Firm’s hold on its own story isn’t as tight as it once was. Broadcaster Piers Morgan’s decision this week to name King Charles and the Princess of Wales as the two family members who questioned what skin tone Prince Archie, the son of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, might have.
Morgan qualified the information, saying he didn’t believe it to be true and that he was only repeating information already published in a Dutch version of the book Endgame, by Omid Scobie.
That information has since spread far and wide, becoming a wildfire the royal family simply cannot put out.
Emma Gleason, the NZ Herald’s deputy editor for lifestyle and travel, tells The Front Page podcast that the royals are not alone in grappling with the impact of social media in spreading a story.
“It’s this uncontrollable beast and it’s fed by algorithms that thrive on engagement and anger,” she says.
“We’re all trying to grapple with what it is now, what the rules are and how you control your image when you’ve got less control over it. It’s no longer them going for a pap walk to plant a story. It’s bigger than they can control now.”
Any effort to control a negative story can backfire and lead to more attention being directed to the event. This dynamic has a name, The Streisand Effect, which comes from the desperate effort by the singer Barbra Streisand to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her clifftop mansion in Malibu. The harder she pushed to have the photograph removed, the more media attention was placed on it.
When you look at this, it becomes clear why the royal family has taken a softly-softly approach to the latest claims.
“Statements from the royal family simply say that they’re exploring all options and not ruling out legal action,” Gleason says.
“It’s business as usual for the King, who’s at Cop28.”
The royals also know that their brand is far bigger than one bit of scandal. Members have historically been implicated in far worse and continue to appear in royal circles.
“It’s not the biggest scandal, and we’ve seen Prince Andrew back in the Range Rover going to church with the royal family,” Gleason says.
“They are a bit Teflon in a way … But I do think part of the reason people are hanging on this is that it’s representative of something larger with the royal family. There have been lots of discussions about race, legacy and accountability. I think the fact it’s framed around racism is why people are latching on.”
So what does this say about defamation laws? Should Piers Morgan be afraid of being sued? And could Harry and Meghan ever be allowed back into the fray?
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page for a full rundown on the latest Royal drama.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.