Sisters Talking On . . . Harry & Meghan – Private or Public Narrative?

Point for Discussion:

These days, sharing the intimate details of your life via social media is almost required for celebs and other public figures, if they wish to succeed. The first amendment allows for the press to publish whatever they want, truthful or not, and spread the stories worldwide in a matter of seconds.  These are career considerations not contemplated just a few decades ago.  But younger folks than us should be fully aware of this.  We have been following the Duke and Duchess of Sussex saga since the beginning (we are unapologetic royal watchers) and are a bit shocked at how much negative, dubious information has been published.  So much that it has motivated the Sussexes to try and manage the narrative in several ways.  All of this begs the questions, don’t we all have the right to control our own narrative?  Shouldn’t there be an underlying quest for truth?

Our Points of View:

(Lynn)

As I get older, I find myself wanting to be out of the public eye more and more often.  I’ve never liked being the center of attention and have lived my life accordingly.  But those are my choices.  For the British royal family, that option doesn’t exist.  For most celebrities in the world, that option doesn’t exist either.  So they are all out there every day trying diligently to avoid embarrassment and the potential long term impact of negative press.

Now, I clearly don’t know what to believe when I see stories online.  I see a lot of it as just entertainment, but the fact is, it’s someone’s life.  Not mine.  And as much as controlling the narrative is a personal choice, so much of the Harry and Meghan saga has become defensive and reactionary which just amplifies the stories already out there.

The Sussexes have been dealing with the negativity for years, and have yet to find a way to appropriately manage it.  In fact, they keep throwing themselves out there trying to tell their side of the story.  They started with Oprah Winfrey hoping that by calmly telling their truth, the noise would die down.  That clearly didn’t happen.  The noise just got louder.  They followed up with their Netflix documentary series hoping that would help.  The noise got louder still.  And now, Prince Harry’s book was just released.  In the week leading up to this, where excerpts were leaked, the media had already started talking about several new revelations.

So we have a couple that claimed that they were being tortured by the media to the point where their mental health was negatively impacted, and they continue to expose themselves to the general public hoping that the situation will improve.  Thinking that if people hear their side of the story and their truth, it will somehow make a difference.  Realistically, that is not likely to happen.

I see all of this behavior and reaction to be saying one thing and doing another.  To say they don’t want all of this misinformation out there (and I am not commenting on the veracity of the stories) and then very publicly tell their side (again, not commenting on the truthfulness) is nonsensical to me.  Clearly, they are upset, feeling like nobody sees their side.  But is all of this exposure a good thing?  Have they thought about how much of their story has been put out there for the world to see?  Will they someday regret this? 

I read an essay by Patti Davis, (Ronald Reagan’s daughter) in the New York Times where she examines the value of silence as it relates to her own experience.  In a period of personal frustration, she, too, felt obligated to tell her side of the story to clear the air.  In hindsight, decades later, she can look back and see the events from a distance.  She also has a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding events that had not been clear to her at the time.  She understands now that everyone sees events through their own lens. I know, living in the same house with three siblings, that we did not always interpret events the same way.  Each of us has our own personal truth that is in line with our individual view of life.

Truth has clearly become more of a concept in recent years thanks to our former President who wouldn’t recognize truth if it slapped him in the face.  His truth was whatever he needed it to be to accomplish his personal objectives.  For the rest of us, we may still seek truth, but as I’ve said, each person’s truth may be a bit different.

I understand that people are very interested in how the Royals live, what they do for fun, how they serve their country, etc., as public figures.  But really, why does this give the media the right to make up stories and publish them?  It really comes down to us.  Why do we feel we have a right to the intimate details of someone else’s life?  Don’t we have enough to deal with every day?  How would we feel if we were being chased by paparazzi every time we leave home?  And then, if we don’t give them SOMETHING, they would just make it up and tell EVERYONE!  Personally, that would suck.

On the other hand, for either of the Sussexes to naively think that they could live under the radar is shocking to me.  We have all seen how crazy the paparazzi can be.  Every photo or story, the more sensational the better, could be worth a lot of money, which ultimately is their goal.  Both of the Sussexes have been in the public eye for years.  They know what it’s like and how brutal it can be.  The palace may have thought that controlling the narrative for them was necessary to protect the monarchy.  They’ve done it for years and have managed to improve the public perception of the monarchy during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.  Why, all of a sudden would things change? 

If we believe the Sussexes, the coverage went negative to make the rest of the family look better and to maybe knock their popularity down a bit.  Somewhere along the way, it appears that things may have gotten out of control.  There should have been a way to pull the negative coverage back or at least balance it out for a bit to let things settle down.  Or we all need to remember that just because we see it or read it somewhere, it may not be true.  The public has an uncanny ability to believe anything they see.  You would think there would be some skepticism, but sadly, not so much.  The general public loves a good story and there have been several published, truthful or not.

So what is the best way to deal with this?  I suppose it depends on which side you’re on.  For those that publish this stuff, there should be some attempt to verify before publishing by talking to those involved or having them sign a general release so that they would be aware of the intent to publish it.  That could work for actual printed materials like tabloids and other news publications. For things on the internet, the standards are different, but misinformation on social media sites needs to be stopped.  So many people have been injured by deliberate negative stories without any attempt to verify.  The social media sites in the US did a better job at fighting misinformation in the last election cycle.  But there is much more to do.

Most importantly though, we all need to remember that we are the caretakers of our own truth.  We know the story.  Whatever anyone chooses to say about us, or use to knock us down, cannot and should not be able to impact how we choose to live our lives.  That’s just plain bullying and we all know that this is wrong.

If we can’t control the narrative in the manner we would like to or need to, then we need to shut it out.  The people who know us, know who we are.  They are all that should matter.  The rest is just noise and we should not take it personally or give it any credibility at all.  To give it credence just feeds the monster that we’re trying to stop.

In the end, be true to yourself.

(Laurie)

I’m not sure why the Royals matter to me, but they do.  Over the years, I’ve collected mugs, trinket boxes, cardboard doll cut-outs, People Magazine covers, Will & Kate wedding dolls, and even the latest Platinum Jubilee Queen Elizabeth II “Barbie” (woo hoo!). 

It’s the “celebrity follower” in me, which is counter to the market research analytical person that I usually am.  When I read about celebrities (or the Royals), I feel like I get to know them a bit, even though I only know what I am reading or hearing.  There lies the issue at hand.

Early on, I was very excited for Harry and Meghan, was an enthusiastic spectator of their wedding (on TV), and was so hopeful to see how they could become part of the “fab 4” future of the monarchy.  We all know what happened next as they stepped back from royal duties to make their life together in California – after their narrative was being controlled by others and in such an offensive way.

All of this drama made me ask myself, “Why couldn’t they make it work?” “Wasn’t their potential impact on the world more important than the stories being written about them?” “Couldn’t they rise above it?” It made me feel “against” them rather than “for” them.  Then I watched the “Harry & Meghan” docuseries on Netflix, and I got some of the good feelings back.  They were able to tell their side of the story and provide some perspective for us to consider.

But, with the Archewell podcast, the docuseries, and now the book, “Spare,” they are continuing to put themselves out there in the public eye – maybe they are now controlling their own narrative, but many are “done with them” and wish they would simply stop the media push. I had even heard that Meghan was planning to write her own memoir, which was later proven false and retracted (and on it goes).  No family is perfect and everyone has struggles.  If someone puts themselves in front of the media or is put out there by others, there is freedom to publish, but we all have freedom and the power to disregard it.

In this world of social media, even a small spoken word can lead to offense and critique whether intended or unintended.  Maybe now is the time to create some ground rules for social media.

For example:

  • Verify the facts.  Just as for news stories among regular journalists, require verification of facts before publication whether online or in print. (This applies to all, including any royal family story “planting” that shifts focus from one member to another, if this is true).
  • Penalize rather than pay those who express bias, prejudice, hatred and racism.  (Publishers should not accept or pay for stories that violate these requirements).  Free speech is not a proxy for ignorance and harmful intention.
  • Reset the relationship between the Royals and the tabloids.  Their agreement to share details publically is expected and fair given the taxpayer funding, however, beyond the “exclusive” or “first” source opportunity, the stories should be verified and the royal family should begin to prioritize stories to publications that show them respect.
  • Ultimately, create a “Code of Ethics” for “social media” whether in print or online.  It is all social media now.

These efforts would apply to any publications of any parties, not just the Royals, but their example provides a clear case study of how new rules of social context are needed and how they could be applied.

I agree with Lynn that celebrities and Royals alike, should just “shut it out,” so they can be true to themselves and live their own lives. I know, easier said than done. In my humble opinion, I think that Harry and Meghan could have/should have stayed in the royal family and changed perceptions through their own actions rather than be defined through the words of others.  Control what we can control and ignore the rest.

Our Question for you:

What do you think is the best way to address information accuracy/truthfulness/humanity in the social media age and control one’s own narrative?

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