Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's highly-anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey will air in a few days, and right on cue, a stream of disparaging leaks have hit the press. The Times UK is reporting that Markle was accused of bullying three of her personal assistants, prompting an internal complaint and the resignation of two aides.
A formal bullying complaint was made by Jason Knauf in October 2018, according to the report. Knauf worked as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's communications secretary. In the complaint, he said that Markle repeatedly bullied her staff, leading one aide to remark that they "can't stop shaking" following an alleged verbal altercation. A source told The Times that Knauf brought the issue to Prince Harry, who asked him not to send the complaint further up the chain (a lawyer for the Sussuxes have denied that they "interfered with any staff matter," reported People). Knauf allegedly sent the complaint to Prince William's staff anyway, where it then reached Samantha Carruthers, head of HR for the royal family's employ. It is not known what happened to the complaint at this point in the process.
Naturally, Markle sympathizers on social media are crying foul, given the timing of the leaks. Many view it as a pre-emptive attack on the Duchess before the Winfrey interview, pointing out that it feeds into the racist "angry Black woman" stereotype — an especially pernicious trope, as Winfrey is also Black. Meena Harris, a lawyer and Vice President Kamala Harris' niece, tweeted "Keep Meghan Markle's name out of your damn mouth. You are racist."
Others are pointing out the sheer hypocrisy of the royal family: Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, has been credibly accused of sexual abuse, stemming from his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. He's been relieved of his royal duties, but still has his royal and military titles, his riches, and protection from law enforcement. Federal investigators in New York have identified Prince Andrew as a witness in the ongoing minor sex trafficking case and filed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty request to allow him to be interrogated. It has been a year and that interrogation still hasn't happened. Prince Andrew has previously denied all charges.
The thing is, calling the leaks a conspiracy theory isn't all that far-fetched. The Firm is a very definition of a conspiracy — shadowy, well-connected figures who guard secrets with a viciousness matched only by their selective anonymous whispers to the press. And they exist only to guard the monarchy, to ensure its grip on power and taxpayer dollars, and this is only accomplished if the monarchs are seen as highly deserving of their riches. A divorced Black actress from a single-family home in America, suddenly joining one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the world? It's an affront to the royals' pristine image.
In a statement, the Sussexes called the Times report "a calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation," adding that they are "disappointed to see this defamatory portrayal of The Duchess of Sussex given credibility by a media outlet. It's no coincidence that distorted several-year-old accusations aimed at undermining The Duchess are being briefed to the British media shortly before she and The Duke are due to speak openly and honestly about their experience of recent years."
Buckingham Palace also responded to the report. "The Royal Household has had a Dignity at Work policy in place for a number of years and does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace," they said in a statement to the Times. "Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article. Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the Household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned."