Institutional gaslighting: The way it works

December 19, 2022

The Harry-Meghan documentary clarified a lot for me.

You may or may not know that I had a 30+ year career in public relations, much of it involving high profile people or public companies seeking positive media coverage. And attempting to avoid negative coverage.

I ran my practice ethically, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t see how deals were made, stories were planted, audiences were manipulated. How truth wasn’t necessarily important if it could damage “the cause.”  Lies were ok if the ends were gained. Well, they called it “stretching the truth.” Or “a different interpretation of the facts.”

Today, they’d be called “alternative facts.”  Same thing: The end justified the means. I saw it all. People lost jobs. Big deals happened or didn’t happen based on the work of a PR machine. Stock rose and fell. This is the way it works. The way public opinion is manipulated. Every day. Without us, the public, being any wiser.

You might think you know this. But I can assure you that you do not know the depths of it. Not unless you were on the inside. As I was.

Backstage at the Palace….

Harry-MeghanAudiences read stuff and assume it’s true, but it might not be. And if it involves high profile people with lots to lose, there’s a PR machine at work making sure you see it their way. As a member of that club, it was my job to know a lot about how that works. It still works that way. And it works that way backstage at the Palace.

That knowledge of how it works is the filter through which I view news. Usually. Of course, like many of us, I have consumed the British tabloid, Daily “Fail” online, knowing full well that its’ like candy for the brain: Oh-so-pleasurable to consume but oh-so-bad for us. I have been guilty of reading it online without pausing to think critically and of course, my views only naturally were skewed.

You eat enough candy and you crave it. You love it. You believe in it.

The Harry-Meghan documentary: having their say

I thought I was watching the Harry-Meghan documentary out of interest in human behavior and also because I am an Anglophile, having read quite a bit of royal history, both ancient and current. I follow some British writers, both historical and not–even one mean-spirited woman who married into the peerage and leveraged that into toxic celebrityhood. As our tour guide in Britain told me as we dished in the car last month, “Oh, my friend knows her, she is wacko!”

Suspending judgment, I watched the first episodes of the Harry-Meghan documentary with interest. Then, I came to Episode 5. I watched with increasing horror and then, tears.


Because the entire PR plan against this young couple became clear to me, a lifetime PR professional. The gaslighting.

How the common technique of trading stories about one principle so another story unfavorable to a different principle would be dropped was in full force. I couldn’t believe I’d not thought it through before. That I’d let myself be manipulated, when I knew full well how this PR “horse trading” worked.

Take, for example, the little story that faded fast about the alleged affair Prince William had with Kate’s “best friend”. The bestie she all of a sudden no longer speaks to after years of being thick as thieves. That’s pretty juicy tabloid fare and, true or not, it should have been kept alive for months. A big story, not a little one. Perfect clickbait.

But…it wasn’t. It disappeared pretty quickly.

But look at the Daily “Fail “any day and you’ll see 5, 6 or 7 horrible stories about H&M. Hmmm.

This is a straight-out trade. It just is.

Making it go away. Or at least fade away.

Think also about Andrew. Yes, he had his share of bad press, but not anywhere near as much as this young couple who did not commit crimes. That toxic celebrity peer I told you about spouts bile about H&M online several days a week with a HUGE following of sycophants who also hate Meghan, and I mean real bile about Harry and Meghan, while protesting Andrew’s innocence and shouting that a key victim, Virginia G. was lying about being forced to have sex with him.

Now, if you are a thinking human, you know that young woman wasn’t lying. You also know that she became “confused” about her charges against Allen Dershowitz because she got a huge settlement. I don’t fault her for that or for the one she took from Andrew. But those crimes happened. And yet, those stories fade away. It’s a trade. Andrew press coverage is going…going..gone. Harry and Meghan attacks increase and increase. It’s a trade.

Harry points out in the documentary that he and his brother both disapproved of the practice and when their offices merged, vowed they would not trade one bad story for another. Then, their offices split. And the future king began the practice again in his independent press office. Or let’s say he let it happen.

Money talks. Always. And literally.

Harry-MeghanMeghan’s father has admitted to other press he’s made made money off of staged photos for the press. and that horrible stepsister has said publicly that she’s sold interviews to British tabloids. That even clearer in Episode 5 of the documentary. Now, I can’t say enough about the evil stepsister. Truly an awful person, selling exaggerations and even what sound like straight up lies to tabloid press. And Tom Markle, who has been manipulated by tabloids from the start and allegedly has the bank account to assuage any guilt he might feel.

How would you feel, if this were your family?

Let’s remember that Charles is a new king. That some of his subjects still look on his behavior toward Diana with jaundiced eye. He absolutely needs public approval to keep the monarchy going. And the courtiers, the institution of the monarchy, are in  survival mode. They’ll do what they’ve always done: like, cheat, steal and horse trade to keep the institution going.

Have we forgotten Diana? She was a flawed woman but she was also not wrong about the campaign against her. Not wrong at all. Have we forgotten how petulantly irritated Charles was that the public wanted more of her and less of him? That certainly wasn’t going to do. He should’ve been the star. So. A bunch of negative stories about Diana, true or not, would help dull the shine of her star, thought the palace courtiers, as they told stories to the press that should’ve been kept in the family. The goal was to make sure the institution of the monarch wasn’t damaged. Survival of the institution.

A word about the Queen

She does not own the rights to the name “Lilibet.” I think it was charming that their daughter now carries both grandmothers’ names. All that crap about how they didn’t get the Queen’s permission was total BS. Oh and another word:

We’ve seen a lot in the tabloid coverage about the Queen and how she was responsible for booting Harry from the royals and how she did not speak out in his support. But the Queen has long prioritized the survival of the institution over family. Think of how she went along with the courtiers when they said Princess Margaret could not marry Group Capt. Peter Townsend. She was equally mute. Because, in fact, she felt she had a responsibility to support the institution, not the family.

So it’s probably not wise to think we know what she thought about Harry & Meghan. But we DO know how she felt about the monarchy.

It was all about survival.

A high stakes game of Survivor

That’s still the goal. Survival.

As I watched the documentary I felt this young couple’s frustration. They truly had no place to tell their own story, so told it themselves. And reveal what was happening behind the public media coverage.

Speaking truth to power is always dangerous.

Meghan has paid a huge price in the attacks on her past, her character and her race.

Harry commented that most people think racism is the use of the N word, but he pointed out that there are many other ways it is evident, including the trope of the angry black woman. Part of the campaign against her. Like many Black women, Meghan has been called a “monkey.” She has been depicted as leading Harry around on a leash. She has been subjected to vile insults and …

Meghan has had death threats. Death threats. Over this. Can you imagine? THIS is why it was such a big deal that the palace pulled their security with only three weeks notice. There are crazy people out there. She is a mom worried about the safety of her kids.

And there’s this: according to Bot Sentinel, some 70% of the online hatred spewed against Meghan was generated by only 83 Twitter accounts. If that isn’t evidence of a coordinated campaign, I don’t know what is.

The institution is always in survival mode today, because people don’t see value in the monarchy like they used to.

Takeaways from the Harry-Meghan documentary

Harry-MeghanSo here’s are my take-aways:

Harry watched what happened to his mother and didn’t want the same for his wife.

Harry was the one who wanted to leave the fold. It was not Meghan. He was firmly in the lead. But the press points at Meghan. Megxit. Well…not accurate. hope.

Harry is incredibly articulate and astute with his observations. Far more than I had imagined.

This young couple is clearly in love. And happy together.They want to raise their family and do their public works. That’s all. And we should let them.

Yes, they are well-off. Yes, they have projects through which they make money. I have no issue with their making money or living well. That’s not a sin. They do nothing others in their position don’t also do, but they’re crucified for it.

There is no need to subject them to a constant barrage of insults and horrible tropes. Racist tropes.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, look at THIS:

This past week, Camilla gave a private party and invited many tabloid journalists. Including this one, a British broadcaster in a column for one of the tabloids:

The column also detailed how much he “hates” Meghan. And then, this “dream.” Think about that violent fantasy for a moment. Is this normal? Is this a guy you want in your home? And then consider that the Queen Consort of England invited him to a private party.

Harry-MeghanAttribution for these images:

The Harry-Meghan documentary answers more questions than I have room to cover. But I came away from it feeling their frustration. Their fear. And firmly on their side. I also came away vowing to no longer give the Daily “Fail” any clicks.

I hope after reading this you’ll give stories about them a critical view and consider that what you’re reading could be the product of a Palace PR campaign.

If you think you know enough about this young couple to have an opinion and haven’t seen the Harry-Meghan film, you don’t have enough information. Watch it. If you do not have time to see all 6 episodes, I recommend you see Episodes 5 and 6, at minimum.

Oh and enjoy this Instagram vid, which sums it all up.

18 comments on “Institutional gaslighting: The way it works
  1. Mel Studer says:

    Wow! I need to watch past the second episode and finish this. The spin is real, and I know it, yet got sucked in too. So glad they broke away, and hopefully can find some peace over time…

  2. Dianne Jurgensen says:

    Well said! It’s a shame that H & M can’t just live as they choose without all the hate.

  3. adela says:

    I don’t have your training. Instead, I had eight weeks “media training” where I learned how to get the company talking points across in any situation, including crises. I’m not that interested in the royals and I have not watched the M&H documentary. I’ve heard it’s a pretty slick production with music setting the mood.

    One thing that turns me off to watching is that from my understanding M&H don’t want to be in the spotlight. They just want to live their lives and protect the family they’ve created. So why a slick production? It’s important to remember that M&H have a their own media spin.

    I personally think it’s sweet that H&M named their daughter Lillibet, and I don’t think she needed permission. But, on a private curfluffle note: My daughter wanted to name her son after her dad, which is also my son’s name. (My son chose not to pass the name on to his own son.) My son threw an adult fit at the very idea, especially since my daughter didn’t ask permission. People of all walks of life get tied up in knots over things I think are part of the “small stuff.”

    • Yes, I gave those media trainings. If by slick production you mean professional, it absolutely was. Professional and impactful. But what was their alternative, to tell their story into their phones? I don’t understand….Why wouldn’t they want to tell it professionally? H&M want to do their charitable work, not disappear.But. There are gigantic lies being told about them. The public (you and me) are being manipulated into believing things about them that are not true. They wanted to put their truth on the record. I just don’t think talking it into their phones would’ve had the same impact. No problem at all with them doing the most professional job they can do.

    • Jill Klausen says:

      adela says:

      “One thing that turns me off to watching is that from my understanding M&H don’t want to be in the spotlight. They just want to live their lives and protect the family they’ve created. So why a slick production? It’s important to remember that M&H have a their own media spin.”

      This just proves the insidiousness of the negative press right here! Where did you come by this “understanding”?

      Harry and Meghan have never once said they didn’t want to be in the spotlight. That’s a lie the Firm and their complicit press put out to get you to feel exactly like you do: not interested in hearing their side of the story.

      Use your critical thinking skills. Why would an actress, of all people, not want to be in the spotlight? Why would activists for numerous causes not want the spotlight on their work? Why would a woman who didn’t want the spotlight start a podcast? Does any of that make sense whatsoever? No, it does not.

      Harry and Meghan even address and dispute this very notion in their documentary … which you’d know if you’d watched it.

      I hope you take this as a lesson in how to process the information you’re being fed by the tabloid press. 99.999% of the time, they are lying to you. But here you are regurgitating what they’ve told you as if they were a reliable source.

      Have a Happy New Year.

  4. Laurie Stone says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I watched all 6 episodes and ended up happy for M&H. They clearly have a happy life and escaped a suffocating, torturous, toxic existence in the UK. I wish them all the best.

  5. Beth Havey says:

    This is fascinating and goes against much of what I want to believe. But I know that money and power is ALWAYS behind things. Do I believe everything you wrote here? No, because many involved also see MONEY and POWER by writing and putting forth what they think. My bottom line is sadness overall, for M&H and for the family in general. Because they have to live their lives in front of the public. And Diana, Meghan, even Kate…bought into the fairy story before they saw what was underneath. Easy to do. I will always support QE2. I feel very saddened for Meghan.

    • I am heartened by their getting their story out. To really get what I saw when I watched it, I think you have to have my background and experience. Otherwise, why would you believe it? THAT is the power of propaganda. Just the fact that you are loathe to believe it proves my point. But I could tell you stories… oh and Nazis understood propaganda very well. They counted on its effectiveness. Exact same technique. Different topic, same method.

  6. Diane says:

    Never have I blessed my anonymity more than I do right now. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have my family laundry hung out for the whole world to discuss.
    Having said that, I ache for that young couple who just want to live their lives. Marriage and family life is hard enough without hurdles cast your way by the very people who should be your greatest support.

  7. Lisa Selwitz says:

    I just watched all 6 episodes this weekend. I am not a tabloid reader or royal watcher. I did not follow what was happening with Harry and Meghan. Nor did I watch the interviews with Oprah. So I was shocked to watch this series and see what was actually going on. I truly had no idea. It’s very upsetting to see the way they were treated. They were pure fodder. It’s unbelievable that a family would allow this type of behavior/activity to take place. My heart goes out to Harry and Meghan. I knew nothing about Harry other than he wore a Hitler outfit on Halloween many years ago, so to discover that he had grown up into this sensitive, responsible, caring husband and father made me so happy. He’s such a mensch, and the two of them are amazing! I hope this documentary sets the record straight and they lead happy lives here in the US.

    • The truth shines through. And everything they said is consistent with my old profession’s tactics. I think you have to watch it, as you did, to understand. Can you even believe that Jeremy guy?

  8. Jennifer says:

    Well said. I’ve been watching it for years, it’s all in the headlines, especially in any comparison to Kate. Kate holding her baby bump was called cradling, while Megan doing the same was called contrived. Lily of the Valley in Kate’s wedding bouquet was considered romantic; while for Megan, it was called dangerous. Or that infamous headline, (Almost) Straight Outta Compton; or referring to Megan as having exotic DNA. It’s disgusting how the press has treated her and that’s without stories being planted. And why isn’t the British press making more of a big deal about the fact that Andrew is complaining because he’s losing his taxpayer security (three years after he was asked to step back from duties.) He wants to fight it in court because he doesn’t want to pay for his own security. But I don’t see or hear a lot of new stories about that, only about Harry’s lawsuit because he wants to pay for police protection. (How dare he want security and pay for it too!)

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