Dignified Statement Effectively Balances Privacy and Accountability
3/9/21 – – Last week I criticized a statement issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in response to multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Today, I would like to praise the response issued by Buckingham Palace in response to assertions of racism and cruelty made by rebellious royals Meghan and Harry in a prime time interview with Oprah Winfrey.
If you were not among the 17-million U.S. viewers of Sunday evening’s two-hour CBS broadcast, you missed a breathtaking assault on the character and conduct of Great Britain’s royal family. Next-day headlines read: “After Meghan and Harry’s interview, royal family has to decide what ‘family’ means” (Los Angeles Times); “From suicide to race: Harry and Meghan unload on royal family” (AP); and “Queen, Prince Charles and William have crisis talks after Harry and Meghan press ‘nuclear button’” (Daily Mail).
The interview clearly cast the royal family in the role of villains, driven by historic, institutionalized racism to make life unbearable for the victims on-camera; two wonderful young people just trying to find a peaceful place in the world for themselves and their young child.
It took Buckingham Palace a day and a half to finalize its response, but the time was worth it. Here’s the statement released this afternoon on behalf of the Queen:
The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.
The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.
Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.
Here’s my take on why the statement is an excellent example of effective crisis response:
First of all, this is a crisis worthy of strategic response. Beyond the embarrassment of family squabbling, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are charging that the Crown — a bedrock institution in Great Britain — is riddled with racism. That explosive accusation will surely be used by those who question the very existence of the royal family (referred to by Meghan as “the Firm”), seen by many in the U.K. and its Commonwealth to be a disgraceful vestige of colonialism.
Understanding the stakes, Buckingham Palace has chosen to lower the temperature.
The Queen’s volley is far from the retort London’s tabloids were hoping for. The closest the language comes to rebuttal is the dignified phrase, “While some recollections may vary . . .” According to the media’s fact-checking of the interview, there were many opportunities to “correct the record.” Sources other than the Palace are pointing out inconsistencies in Meghan’s and Harry’s recollections. Let them point their fingers back at the royal couple. And getting into a tit for tat would have surrendered the high road and needlessly fueled additional news cycles.
The first sentence in the statement includes a very important phrase: “The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan.” By including this qualifier, the Queen is artfully saying that although the royal family was not clueless about the couple’s hard times, they were not aware of everything. They were learning some of this (maybe the worst stuff) along with the audience for the first time.
The statement tackles the most potentially damaging claim of racism, labeling it “concerning,” taking it “seriously,” and pledging to address it “privately.” In other words, “we’re not dismissing the claim (although ‘some recollections may vary’) and will handle this in our own way, not in the newspapers.” Because they do not include an unqualified denunciation of all forms of racism, my guess is that they know it’s a problem within their ranks in need of reform. Good for them to recognize that they don’t have the credibility — at least not now — to preach about racism.
The statement ends with its most important sentiment: We’re still a family, and we will always love Harry, Meghan and Archie. Villains don’t talk like this. Close your eyes and you can hear Beatles music playing in the background, “We can work it out . . . all you need is love.”
I make it a point in this blog to present and analyze both good and bad examples of crisis response. You can learn a lot from others’ mistakes and triumphs. Governor Cuomo’s waffling mea culpa was worthy of study for how it worsened his troubles. The Queen’s response merits attention for how it will, I believe, lower the temperature and effectively position the royal family to weather this storm.
Good job, Your Majesty.