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This is Sarah Jones on the Politicus Pod for PoliticusUSA’s The Daily.
Harry and Meghan outed how the media works with the royal family in their Netflix documentary, and it turns out that it’s similar to how some of our media works with certain favored politicians.
It tells an important story about how media is crafted for an audience, how hate pays, and how social media algorithms further incentivize hate, and an even bigger story about what is behind all of this hate and who benefits.
“I feel as though being part of this family, it is my duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media,” Prince Harry says in the opening episode of Netflix’s new documentary series “Harry and Meghan”.
Harry is referring to the bargain the royal family has made with the UK media, which is related to some of our own media issues in the United States in that it’s a form of “access journalism,” which can end up misleading the public about the subjects and even agreeing not to cover one thing if given a scoop on something juicy. It can mean agreements about how coverage is handled, including what is off limits.
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This relationship between the media and the institutions they cover is important because this is the lens through which we are being informed, and when it comes to politics, that means it’s coloring events that impact our lives. But even when the coverage is seemingly trivial, when it stokes hate it is no longer just celebrity culture. It’s a weapon being used to distract and divide and make a lot of money for a very small group of people.
Bot Sentinel’s Chris Bouzy found there is a $3.5 million industry behind Meghan Markle social media hate accounts. This hate is fueled by racism and misogyny, which are so prevalent in our culture that a story that looks unrelated to our daily lives and even our politics turns out to be actually a global political story.
Racism and misogyny are inadvertently, but sometimes deliberately as we can see with Meghan, fed to the audience by the mostly white media owners and storytellers who become the gatekeepers of information.
Gatekeeping can play a vital role in vetting information, as we are seeing play out with the Republicans’ ongoing attempt to get a certain laptop to become The Issue of Our Times, instead of addressing the issues upon which they ran to get re-elected, like gas prices and inflation. Gatekeeping can be a good thing in responsible hands and if treated transparently.
This is one reason why newsroom diversity has become such an important topic, but the individual journalists are not the reason why this is happening. They, too, are feeding a machine.
Here in the U.S. it was clear that our media was at the very least unschooled in racism and so during President Obama’s two terms, we were often told that he was “causing” division, when it was actually racists reacting negatively to a Black man being their President that was causing the issues.
President Barack Obama was often blamed for white grievances against him which were clearly based on stories that these people had been told and hate they’d been fed instead of the reality of him trying to help them get affordable healthcare, for example.
In Obama’s case, it wasn’t necessarily that the people weaponizing racism were racists themselves (although plenty of them have since made it very clear that they are); rather, it’s that racism was used as a tool, as it has been throughout history, by white (mostly) men to achieve a political end through division. Divide and conquer the little people by telling them these people are to blame, it’s a lot easier to control the masses.
That is the point of racism. The true believers think it’s about their “culture,” but their culture is how they are being fed to support policies that aren’t meant to help them.
For example, currently in the UK as these Right-wing media outlets blast stories about how Meghan Markle has destroyed the monarchy, the economy is in a recession for the first time since 2008. They face inflation, damagingly high energy prices and disruptions in the supply chain in part as impacts from the war in Ukraine and the pandemic, as we do here.
But more to the point, some of this was dramatically caused by Right-wing policies, like the previous far right Prime Minister Liz Truss (the one whose tenure was compared to a head of lettuce and lost to the lettuce) who planned to cut taxes for “financial growth” (I’m sure that sounds familiar) so drastically it scared the markets. So the Right-wing papers focus on Meghan. Hate Meghan, not the people covering for Prince Andrew’s payoff of a woman who accused him of raping her when she was a minor or the conservatives in charge of the government whose trickle-down economics have failed them so badly.
A lot of this hate is pushed on the Daily Mail. We’ve talked before about bloviating billionaires who own much of our own media, and the story here is no different, with Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere as the current owner of the Daily Mail.
He is the great-great grandson of the original owner, Lord Rothermere. Sure, the Daily Mail is conservative, but it also has a history of supporting fascism. The original Lord Rothermere was a friend of Mussolini and Hitler. Now, editors often have control over content rather than owners, so just because an owner is friends with Hitler doesn’t mean necessarily they’re pushing that agenda. But in this case, there’s a story that relates a lot to modern day Right-wing (and far-Left) talking points about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Let’s see if this argument sounds familiar:
On 24 September 1930, Rothemere wrote: "We can do nothing to check this movement [the Nazis], and I believe it would be a blunder for the British people to take up an attitude of hostility towards it.”
He came about that feeling after being targeted by a Nazi Princess and spy who facilitated discussions between those in the UK who believed in appeasement of the Nazis. This part-Jewish Austrian princess was adored by Hitler, it was said, until her Jewish ancestry became a problem. (I mention this as a reminder to all who carry water for fascists that rare is the person who is the exception.)
So Lord Rothermere was manipulated by a Nazi spy into using his paper to support appeasement of the Nazis. Now, fair enough, he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and plenty of seemingly smart people are still falling for the ‘just give in so the Russians don’t have to keep killing people’ line today, even though they should know better.
The UK’s far Right and ours are not exact mirrors and often our left is their center. But the broader context here is that there is a concerted global effort to push Right-wing populism as a cover for democratic backsliding, and culture wars like the hatred of Meghan Markle play an important part in that effort.
Buzzfeed did a deep dive in 2017 into a now-indicted former Trump advisor Steve Bannon and how what he calls his “killing machine “dredges up the resentments of people around the world, sifts through these grievances for ideas and content, and propels them from the unsavory parts of the internet up to TrumpWorld, collecting advertisers’ checks all along the way.
“These documents chart the Breitbart alt-right universe. They reveal how the website… links the Mercer family, the billionaires who fund Breitbart, to underpaid trolls who fill it with provocative content, and to extremists striving to create a white ethnostate.”
Bannon, it turns out, was not only involved in the racist, Right-wing populist movement of the Tea Party during Obama’s tenure, but 2014 he launched a London branch of Breitbart to capitalize on rural white Britons’ anger about immigration and eventually became involved in the United Kingdom Independence Party and then celebrated Brexit.
“Steve Bannon is done wrecking the American establishment. Now he wants to destroy Europe’s” the New York Times wrote in March of 2018. Bannon is creating a network of far-right groups in Europe to build "the infrastructure, globally, for the global populist movement” called “The Movement,” about which Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, has spoken positively. He is, of course, the man who literally gives instruction to American Right-wing conservatives on how to take over a democracy.
I bring this up because it so clearly lays bare that there is an audience for racism, there are people willing to peddle it for political power, and there are millionaires and billionaires making a lot of money off of it and using it to get tax breaks and even religious policy implemented.
And quite pertinently, there are rising global Right-wing populists using racism (and homophobia, bigotry, anti-Semitism and misogyny) as tools to propel themselves to power via a culture war. It hurts real people, first and foremost the targets like Meghan, but also all of the regular citizens of color who carry the burden of that racism on their backs. Because hate, unlike tax cuts, does trickle down.
Racism is one of the biggest tools of power for Right-wing populists. It is their gateway to pushing authoritarianism, as we see from Hungary to Italy to Russia and here in the United States.
When we see a media organization weaponizing racism, be it social media or news media, we should be aware of the consequences. Hate is the disguise for tyrants.
I don’t have easy answers for this problem, but awareness can help us see when we are being played. One thing we can all do is not participate in the rage machine. While elevated and highly-platformed lies and hate need to be fact-checked, we don’t need to echo lies and hate. We can do the fact sandwich: fact, lie, fact. We don’t need to repeat the lies and hate or reward it with clicks and eyeballs.
We do need to stand up for the targets of hate and speak out when we see racism and all of the other isms, and do so with the sense of responsibility for all humanity. This is not just about Meghan Markle. It is so much bigger than one person.
Hate helps someone, but it doesn’t help us. The global us, who need to stand together to fight attacks on western democracy and freedom.
This is Sarah Jones with the PoliticusPod for PoliticusUSA’s The Daily. Thank you so much for joining me today and please consider subscribing and gifting a subscription to our Substack, which we are using to help keep information and analysis free for all on PoliticusUSA, where we focus on how the news impacts The People.