Last week, the Mail on Sunday filed court documents of their defense of their publication of the Duchess of Sussex‘s letter to her father in August 2018. Sky News published excerpts from the court documents.
You can read the full excerpts over at Sky News, and I’m going to quote some of them here. I will provide the quote, and then any of my own supplementary comments that I have. The titles are my own to describe the contents of the quotes.
There is public interest in the personal lives of the Monarchy:
“There is a huge and legitimate public interest in the royal family and the activities, conduct and standards of behaviour of its members. This extends not merely to their public conduct, but to their personal and family relationships because those are integral to the proper functioning of the monarchy.”
The public interest in the personal lives of the monarchy is evident by the fact that millions of people watched Harry and Meghan’s wedding on TV, and hundreds of thousands showed up to Windsor for the carriage procession.
Meghan has issued public statements about her personal life:
“Members of the royal family, including the Claimant, generate and rely on publicity about themselves and their lives in order to maintain the privileged positions they hold and to promote themselves, their fulfilment of their duties and functions, and the good causes they have espoused. This includes issuing public statements about developments in their family life as well as their official activities. By way of example, the Claimant issued a public statement (referred to further below) when her father did not attend her wedding to Prince Harry, and she encouraged and authorised the media to report on her and Prince Harry’s tour of Africa, including participating in a television documentary shown all over the world about the tour.”
Outside of the royal watching community, most people pay attention to the royal family only when significant personal life events happen: weddings, births, and deaths.
Meghan authorized her friends to speak to People magazine:
“In early February 2019, People magazine published articles that were said to be based on interviews with five unnamed close friends of the Claimant (“the People interview”). […] The interview included details of the Claimant’s personal life, way of living and relationships, including details of the interior of her home, domestic arrangements and pets. These details could only have been provided by people who know the Claimant intimately.”
Meghan’s friends brought up the letter first:
“The article also included details about the Claimant’s relationship with her father, and information about the Letter and its contents. […] After the wedding, she wrote him a letter. She’s like, ‘Dad, I’m so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimizing me through the media so we can repair our relationship.’ Because every time her team has to come to her and fact-check something [he has said], it’s an arrow to the heart. He writes her a really long letter in return and he closes it by requesting a photo op with her.”
There is more quoted from the People interview in the documents at Sky, where Meghan’s friend talks about the communication between Meghan and her dad in the run up to the wedding and after. The friend paints Meghan’s dad as the one who wouldn’t take any of Meghan’s or Harry’s calls even though they tried dozens of times to contact him.
Meghan’s dad had a right to correct false information about himself:
“The Defendant was given a copy of the Letter by the Claimant’s father together with his own account of his estrangement from the Claimant and his views on the content and tone of the Letter and what he considered the misleading impression of it that had been put in the public domain by reason of the People interview. The Letter was Mr Markle’s property, and he was entitled to give it to whomever he chose. Mr Markle was also entitled publicly to correct the false and damaging (to him) information that had been given about his conduct in the People interview, and to have as much of the Letter and its contents published as was necessary for that purpose.”
Meghan asked Jessica Mulroney to intervene on an article about her:
The Defendant is aware that the Claimant has on at least one other occasion caused or permitted a close friend to seek to influence what is published about her in the media. In April 2018 the Claimant caused or permitted a close friend of hers, Jessica Mulroney, to intervene in relation to an interview given to the Mail on Sunday by another friend and former commercial advisor of hers, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, with a view to influencing what Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne said about the Claimant and what would be published about the Claimant, as follows. In or before early April 2018, Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne gave an interview to Kate Mansey of the Mail on Sunday about the Claimant. On 7 April 2018, Ms Mansey wrote to Jason Knauf, Communications Secretary to the household of Prince Harry, notifying Kensington Palace of the contents of the interview with Ms NelthorpeCowne. It is to be inferred that on the same date the Claimant passed this message to Jessica Mulroney with a request that she (Ms Mulroney) intervene to try to ensure that a more favourable article was published, because on 7 April 2018 Ms Mulroney wrote to Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne putting pressure on her to withdraw or change statements she (Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne) had made to the Mail on Sunday. Nicholas Pyke, Features Editor of the Mail on Sunday, thereafter wrote to Mr Knauf on 9 April 2018 complaining about Ms Mulroney’s intervention. Mr Knauf responded by stating that he understood Mr Pyke’s position and that he would endeavour to ensure that ‘this does not happen again’.”
The publication of the letter was in direct response to the People interview:
“The publication of the words complained of was in direct response to the publication of the People interview (and the People interview was expressly referenced in the Articles). In the light of the publication across the world’s media of the one-sided, and/or misleading, account of the Claimant’s personal relationship with her father and the contents of the Letter set out in the People interview, it was necessary, proper and in the public interest to publish the full story concerning the Letter and the response to it, including Mr Markle’s account of events. This was necessary for the sake of truth, fairness, and Mr Markle’s reputation, and so that the public should not be misled. The Defendant did not publish the whole Letter but limited its reporting of the contents to the extent necessary to tell the complete story and/or set the record straight, for example, omitting the references to the private information of third parties.”
Meghan’s dad had a right to defend himself:
“Further in the premises, Thomas Markle had a weighty right to tell his version of what had happened between himself and his daughter including the contents of the Letter and his letter in response in order to correct the one-sided and/or misleading account given in the People interview and to respond to the attack on him in that interview, and this right outweighs any privacy right of the Claimant in the words complained of. The Claimant’s privacy rights do not extend to silencing her father in relation to his concerns about the portrayal in the People interview of his relationship with his daughter and their exchange of letters.”
MoS thinks Meghan’s problem is that their coverage of the letter is unflattering:
“The Claimant’s real claim in this action is transparently not that the Defendant has processed her personal data without consent, which all media publishers do on a regular basis, but that she does not like the effect of what the Defendant has published because she considers it to be unflattering. It is not unfair for the Defendant to publish material about the Claimant, a member of the royal family, that she does not like.”
Meghan’s problem with the letter is not concern for her father:
“The Claimant has stated that the “true sentiment of the Letter” is that the Claimant was concerned about her father and his welfare, as well as his exploitation by the UK tabloid media. That is also denied.The Letter showed no real concern for Mr Markle or his welfare. Had the Claimant felt such concern, she would have issued a statement supporting her father before the wedding, after receiving his text on 16 May 2018, making it clear to the public that he was too ill to attend the wedding; would have responded to his attempts to contact her after the wedding; would not have waited for a further three months before making any contact or responding to his messages; would have enquired as to his well-being in the Letter and offered support; would not have caused or permitted a tendentious and misleading account of the Letter and his letter in response to be given to People magazine; and would not now be insisting in these proceedings that her father’s account of their relationship and his reaction to the Letter had no validity and should never have been published.”
Trying to unpack all of this, from what I’m gathering, the defense train of thought will be that: Meghan previously asked her friend to influence the media on her behalf; therefore, she probably asked her friends to give the People interviews; therefore, she approved of the existence of the letter being put into the public sphere; therefore, the letter was public interest when Meghan’s dad gave the letter to MoS; therefore, MoS was within their rights to publish the letter. Do I have that straight?
I’m interested to see if this goes to trial, because it’s possible that not only will Meghan and her father be forced to testify, but Jessica Mulroney and this Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne person, too, as well as potentially the five friends who gave the People interviews.
I also think it’s interesting that part of Meghan’s team’s defense of this lawsuit is that the MoS mislead the public when they only published parts of the letter which corroborated their narrative about Meghan, and now the MoS is using, as a defense for publishing the letter, the fact that the People interviews were misleading in that only parts of the letter’s content were published which corroborated their narrative about Meghan’s father. Huh. I wonder if the full contents of the letter will end up being published with the courts because both sides are using the “misleading” defense, so the court will need to read the full letter to know if either side were actually misleading the public.