The Media Circus, And What All The Fuss Is About

Britain’s very own outspoken, self-exiled “rogue” Prince Harry is back on home ground to take the stand — spectacularly, in High Court, bright and early on June 6 — as a star witness in a group complaint against the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN), publishers of the Mirror, for alleged cases of illegal news gathering. The allegations include but are not limited to instances of mobile phone hacking, a widespread practice among London tabloids in the Aughts, most prominently at the Murdoch family’s News Group tabloid, the News of the World, which caused the unprecedented conviction and jailing of then-top editor Andy Coulson, the closure of that paper and, reportedly, upwards of $1 billion paid by the Murdoch group in settlement to hundreds of victims well-known and not — among them Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller, and reportedly, according to Prince Harry, Prince William.

The Mirror Group itself settled phone hacking claims in 2017 with some 40 British celebrities to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. As a practice, then, it’s fair to say that illegal news-gathering was rather broadly entrenched in Fleet-Street culture.

Harry is by far the most prominent of the current plaintiffs and with his appearance lends his hefty renown, if not notoriety as the lone knight on the battlefield to be most aggressive in fighting the British press. Sharpening the blade of the current matter, at the time the alleged illegal Mirror Group news-gathering occurred, the group’s flagship tabloid, the Mirror, was top edited by the irrepressible London print and broadcast journalist Piers Morgan, a noted and quite outspoken media foe of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who was unceremoniously deposed from his ratings-leading perch as the main host of the ITV breakfast broadcast Good Morning Britain for his outspoken opinions (of Meghan Markle). But not to worry: Shortly after ITV abruptly dropped him, Mr. Morgan was heartily embraced by the Murdoch group and installed as a host for the new News Corp television startup, TalkTV. And he regained an arguably powerful bully pulpit in print on both sides of the Atlantic, at the New York Post, and at London’s Sun.

Morgan has steadfastly denied command or knowledge of phone hacking during his tenure as the Mirror’s editor, a denial that is under considerable debate, including in other legal proceedings. Ever the adroit swordsman and a fervent, knowledgable supporter of the monarchy — which is why he makes such a rollicking and broadly popular TV host in Britain and its realms — Mr. Morgan doubled down against this proceeding and its royal star witness earlier in May with this hilariously acid assessment:

“I am not going to take lectures on privacy invasion from Prince Harry,” he said, “somebody who has spent the last three years ruthlessly and cynically invading the royal family’s privacy for vast commercial gain and told a pack of lies about them.”

But this week in London, it’s Harry’s, not Morgan’s, moment to shine in the witness box. Along the way, Harry will, also, be making history in that he will be the first royal in In the largest sense, it will be an occasion when Harry actually physically appears on the legal battlefield in his unending war against the the British press. It is to be expected that he will come well-armed to the chair, which is to say, he will be schooled, level, and brisk. Because: He has spent the last few years in legal actions against various publishers, and his side has won more than it has lost, most recently, in Meghan Markle’s invasion-of-privacy suit against Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.

It’s important to note that the trial has been rocking along for a bit, with interesting appearances by, among others, Omid Scobie, author of Finding Freedom, a book extolling the Prince-Harry-and-Meghan-Markle move to America. Mr. Scobie was a cub reporter under Mr. Morgan at the Mirror and has recently testified that he questioned the sourcing of an article and was told that it was based on phone transcripts.

Suffice it to say, Harry’s appearance in the witness box will be Topic A this week in London. There is a kind of special delight, not simply on Fleet Street but out among the public, whenever Harry comes to town. It’s not just that his appearances are entertaining — even in the most serious of times, as during his grandmother’s funeral — but there’s also something right about it, meaning, the fact of Britain having an official “rogue” prince. As he has for the span of his irreverently lived, headlong and yet somehow genuine life — and as he will certainly do this week no matter what kind of jousting he gets ino with the Mirror Group’s defenders in court — Harry has the effect of humanizing the British Royal Family. For better and for worse, every family has its disagreements, and many millions of families sport a rogue or two on the roster. Perhaps, if we need a sum of things at this early point in his life, just being that is one of his greater accomplishments.

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