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British tabloid claims Oprah Winfrey ‘seriously misled’ viewers in royal interview

An arrangement of British newspapers after Oprah’s explosive interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images)

The owner of the Daily Mail has requested that Oprah Winfrey’s production company and CBS alter a widely viewed interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — specifically that they stop using the British tabloid’s headlines to demonstrate racist coverage of the royal couple.

“Many of the headlines have been either taken out of context or deliberately edited and displayed as supporting evidence for the program’s claim that [Meghan] was subjected to racist coverage by the British press,” Elizabeth Hartley, the chief legal officer for the Mail’s parent company, Associated Newspapers, wrote to CBS on Friday.

She cited three instances in which Winfrey’s company, Harpo Productions, “seriously misled” viewers during the two-hour interview, which featured allegations by the duchess and her husband that racism had driven them to leave Britain for the United States. The program has been seen by tens of millions of people since it first aired Sunday, and was rerun on CBS on Friday.

Meghan is an unusual figure in the British royal family: an American actress, the child of a Black mother and a White father, and a divorcée before she married Harry, who is sixth in line for the throne. The British media’s obsession over their relationship has been shadowed by claims of racism and double standards from the beginning.

Some of the coverage has been overtly racist. “Harry to marry into gangster royalty? New love ‘from crime-ridden neighborhood,’ ” read a 2016 headline in the Daily Star, a competitor to the Mail, which is one of Britain’s top-selling newspapers.

Associated Newspapers claims that Winfrey’s interview with the couple misled viewers by including Daily Mail headlines in a montage of offensive coverage that periodically flashed across the screen.

One of the tabloid’s headlines that was used read, “Meghan’s seed will taint our royal family.” It was in fact a direct quote of a text sent by the girlfriend of the leader of a far-right British party. She was suspended from the party after the Mail reported on her texts.

At another point, CBS showed an excerpt from a 2016 Daily Mail column written by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sister, Rachel Johnson. As presented on screen it read, “Miss Markle’s mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks . . . ” underneath the Daily Mail logo.

In the complaint letter, Hartley wrote that the comment was intended to praise Markle for bringing diversity to the insular, overwhelmingly White royal family. In the sentence before the excerpt, Hartley noted, Johnson had written: “If there is issue from her alleged union with Prince Harry, the Windsors will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA.” (Exoticizing multiracial people and relationships is itself an offensive stereotype.)

The third instance involves the blurring of a single word in a Mail headline from 2017 that was shown during in the interview. As presented by Winfrey, the headline reads: “Yes, they’re joyfully in love. So why do I have a [word obscured] worry about this engagement picture?”

The word in question is “niggling,” a commonly used adjective in Britain (and The Washington Post) that means petty or trivial. By blurring out the word and including the altered headline in the montage, Hartley wrote, the producers “invited audiences to speculate on what word had been used and, in the context of the program, to reach a false and damaging conclusion that it was racist.”

The demand letter asked that all three headlines be removed from reruns of the interview. It did not threaten legal action, and so far neither Winfrey nor CBS has shown much inclination to comply with the request.

In a statement Friday, a spokeswoman for Harpo said no changes are planned. The royal couple “shared in the interview their personal story,” she said. “We stand by the broadcast in its entirety.”