9 March

A Story Of Two Extraordinary Women: Oprah, The Queen Of Empathy; Elizabeth, The Queen Of Duty

by Jon Katz

One image I could not get out of my head after Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Megan Markle and former Prince Harry was the wrenching juxtaposition and contrasts between two of the most powerful and interesting women in the world:

One is the Queen Of Empathy,  Queen Oprah, and the other the Queen Of Duty, Elizabeth.

They met several times before Sunday, but this time the stakes were especially high for them both. The whole world was watching.

It isn’t easy to imagine any two people who are more different or come from such different places. But each, in their own ways, are amazing women, admirable and revered.

Winfrey got to demonstrate her incomparable promotional skills, and the Queen’s own grandson – who professes to love and honor her – put a dagger right into the heart of her beloved monarchy while thanking her for her support all the while.

There is no better soap opera or family story in the world than that.

This was an almost unprecedented opportunity to look at the very different and often disturbing ways power is gained, shared, and can destroy.

In our time, electronically distributed media is the most powerful of them all. Oprah knows better than anyone how to wield it for power and profit. Elizabeth knows how to keep her chin up and tough it out, a lost and lonely art.

As Queen, she is no match for Oprah in the real of culture.

Elizabeth has no idea how to adjust to the divergent cultures of the modern world, which is a part of her charm and appeal. Oprah has mastered her world and conquered it.

Elizabeth is not of this world.

She comes from another, she evokes another,  and she clings unwaveringly to her idea of duty without reservation or apology.

She is blindsided again and again by modern life by the changes and diversity of modern life. Although she is one, she seems utterly baffled by the strong-willed and independent women who have come behind her.

Everyone who knows her or studies her says she is of good heart, but she and her family seldom manage to look good when their scandalous and spectacular family feuds explode, as they always do in families and especially in hers.

She is unyielding in that way.

In a world that demands change, she refuses to change. In a world that values revelation, she offers none. In a world that worships regret and apology, she offers none.  In the world of spin, she doesn’t.Her response to a crisis is silence and resolve.

Her very white and privileged world is challenged by diversity, there is none around her and she seems not to understand its relevance, even to the crown.

She does her duty, day after day, and trusts history to explain her and ratify her. She is a relic, a dinosaur, an artifact.

Yet she has become an icon, a fixed point in a dizzy world, day after day, for nearly a century. And how many powerful people can we say that about?

Elizabeth has devoted almost every minute of her very long reign to what she believes is her God-given and sacred duty to sit on the throne of Windsor and rule England’s people. She believes God chose her and her family to do this.

And how can she or anyone question God?

She has, ever since World War II, been a unifying force for England, yet has shown dreadful marketing skills and a deaf ear when it comes to the monarchy and the media, and a stubborn refusal to change.

She doesn’t manage her image. She just lives it.

Although dull and even frowsy,  she is one of the most loved women on the earth. So is Oprah, her doppelganger from the other world.

Winfrey, one of the world’s most skilled marketers, is also a genius at bringing empathy to her work and interviews. On top of earning billions of dollars, she is now considered one of the best interviewers in modern media.

You don’t get to be an African-American woman who becomes a billionnaire without being shrewd, tough, brilliant. And ruthless.

It was perhaps inevitable that these two would come together in direct conflict, even if the confrontation were remote and slickly packaged as the tragic story of Megan Markle and the former Prince Harry, who no one understood or supported.

The British Monarchy is, by definition, both racist and moldy, if not rotten. Tradition has strangled the House of Windsor when the world screams out for radical change.

Yet watching some of the Oprah interviews and going back yesterday to fill in the blanks, I couldn’t help feeling more empathy for the Queen than for  Megan or Harry.

It seemed like a slick set-up to me.

Meghan and Oprah were just too polished and pre-programmed for me. Oprah was just a little too cozy for her controversial subject. Meghan’s mother is in Oprah’s personal yoga class, and they are neighbors. Apart from everything else, there was big, big money in this for everyone.

They should have been more transparent. Oprah made some great faces – shock, empathy, horror. But she was hardly tough.

To be honest, Meghan had real grievances and so did Harry, I have no doubt about it. They suffered cruelty, indifference, racism, and harassment.

But there was so much more going on in that interview that most people will never see.

It seemed as if I was watching a scripted film about prejudice and a new kind of victimization, that of the rich and famous.  We were set up for a pity-party, there was really no other evident purpose for a two-hour interview with these people. Look how they were treated, look what they did to them.

It felt as if I was peering intrusively inside of a brutal family conflict that wasn’t really my business, nor did it warrant the noise it was making and the impact it was supposed to be having.

In a sense, the interview was really about family, and how even the most privileged of families can be cruel, indifferent, unsupportive, and remote.

This one just did not seem horrible to me, perhaps because my own was worse.

I have always been an admirer of Oprah; she is a genius, and as far as billionaires go, an honorable one. Meghan just did not seem real to me.

Harry seemed the weakest personality in the drama, vulnerable and hurt and eager to betray his father, brother, and grandmother in the most hurtful way to demonstrate his own courage and suffering.

I’ve had a lot of trouble with my family, but I could never have done that to them on global television.

It felt like a global whine-a-thon to me, and a very slickly produced and rehearsed one at that.

There was no misstep, stumble, not even some throat clearing.

I learned from my TV days that normal humans aren’t as perfect as that. They forget things, hesitate, reach for words, cough, sneeze, wipe their noses, cry spontaneously, are stymied.

Like male and female Oscar nominees, Meghan was presented by Armani, sporting earrings that were a gift from the evil Prince of Saudi Arabia. Harry was casual, semi-formal in a country suit.

This was a perfect production by perfect people talking to a perfect interviewer who pretended to be challenging but never really was, not once.

Even in the most messed-up families, there are always two different stories to tell.

I just heard one Sunday night, over and over again, the Meghan/Harry bombs timed skillfully, one every half hour, to keep everybody’s interest as Oprah made faces of surprise and shock.

I can’t fault Meghan Markle for that; she was doing her job superbly. But I wasn’t buying it all either, not even when the race card, the biggest bomb of all,  came out, as it inevitably would.

As the Queen’s biographers have said, again and again, there is a difference between racism, arrogance,  cluelessness, and sheer stupidity; those traits and weaknesses, not racism,  are said to be the hallmarks of Windsor family life.

No one who has ever come close to Elizabeth believes she is a racist in any sense of the term as we understand it.

And as much as Oprah and Meghan and Harry tried to dance around it, Elizabeth is the head of the Royal Family; she sets the tone, she is its defender, she is responsible for all of it.

She is what they are.

And of course, there is this:

Everyone giving that interview knows Queen Elizabeth does not give interviews or reply directly to criticism. The people being attacked had no way of responding directly. Thus, they are pretty soft targets.

I was even more troubled the second time I watched than I was Sunday night.

My column yesterday drew a lot of comment, and while most of my e-mail was supportive, there was a great deal of criticism. Some people called me racist, blind, a prisoner of white privilege, or just plain cruel and stupid.

I feel good about what I wrote yesterday, now that I have time to think about it, and here is why:

The Queen: First, Harry and Megan both said the Queen had been nothing but “lovely” to them and supported their decision to abandon the family. The Queen, as we know, is the absolute head of that family.

If she has been nothing but supportive of them, how does one explain their decision to attack the institution she loves and has devoted her life to in so potentially lethal and damaging a way?

If she supported them and they suggested she is the only one,  why do they claim no one supported them? The Queen is a superb ally to have in the Royal Family. And if she didn’t support them, why was she spared the criticism labeled at almost everyone else, including Harry’s brother and father?

No one has more power in the Royal Family than the Queen; every final decision is ultimately hers.

Beyond that, the couple could hardly have delivered a more devastating series of blows on a person they claim to love and who has reportedly been good to them.

It is a conflicting message; I would have asked about it. I would have wanted to hear their thoughts about loyalty.

Racism: This is the most serious and damning of the many bombshells Harry and Meghan lobbied at the Royal Family. I have absolutely no doubt that it is true, or at least feasible.

I have always seen the family as inherently, irrefutably racist.

England is a diverse country now.  But just look at the Royal Family photos, almost all white, decked out with all those medals and spiffy uniforms. There are few black or yellow or brown faces there.

Megan is a young and savvy woman of color.

How could she really be so surprised and ill-prepared for something the rest of the world – including the man she sleeps next to – have been talking about for years?

She is a shrewd and successful actress and businesswoman, not a sheltered adolescent.

There is overt racism, as in the Republican Party in America as they work to nullify black votes across the country, or there is unconscious racism that comes when a white family, royalty for more than a thousand years, thinks God placed them on their thrones to rule and dominate the world.

That is super racism and global and official racism.

That includes but goes far beyond palace gossip about the color of babies. One would have to be almost clinically deaf or blind not to see it.

Here is this accomplished actress, a woman of color, marrying into a family notorious for cold-hearted devotion to duty, racially oblivious, and the preservation of white, royal bloodlines.

Yet she says she was stunned to discover there was racism in the family.

I would have asked more penetrating questions about that. Like why didn’t Harry tell her, or why didn’t she ask him?

The Blindsided Princess

Meghan said repeatedly that she had no idea what life as a royal would be like. She said she hadn’t read about it, watched the Crown, asked Harry about it,  talked about it, or inquired about it, not even after she signed up by getting engaged.

She had plenty of time to do some homework after that.

The Royal Family is one of the most written about, studied about, and analyzed families on the earth. Unlike Diana, Meghan was not a closeted socialite when she married Prince Charles.

For centuries women and men have joined the Royal Family with the clear understanding that this was a call, a duty, and a way of life.

It isn’t something I would care to do, or especially admire. But there is little doubt or confusion about what kind of life it is. The Royal Family is on public display every day, and many productions like the Crown have offered realistic portrays of life inside of that curious world.

I understand Harry and Meghan’s decision to leave that life and live their own on their own terms. I admire them for it. So why appear to be so shocked and betrayed when it turned out to be almost precisely what it is portrayed as being and known to be.

Getting Help: If I came home from work and told my wife I was contemplating suicide and the Human Resources Department declined to help me, I would be in a hospital or therapy by the next morning.

Meghan Markle worked in Hollywood; for God’s sake, every other person in the film industry has at least one therapist, some more than one. London is not Iowa in the 1800s, Freud lived there towards the end of his life.

It is hard for me to accept the idea that someone in such great distress, some of independent wealth and accomplishment, someone with many friends in England and at home, could not tell HR to piss off and hire a therapist on her own.

She presents herself as strong and in person, and I believe her.

She sure was polished and composed enough Sunday, her big night. Why didn’t she find her own therapist, and why didn’t Harry demand that she does?

Kensington Palace is not a prison, although she felt it was. I would hate living there.

But she chose to live there, and she could come and go at any time, and if she and Harry are sharp enough to pull off of a two-hour softball interview with Oprah, I believe they could have gotten to a shrink.

If I were interviewing her, I would have asked if she was seeing one now, or was still suicidal, since she raised the subject.

The Needy Couple: Let’s say for a moment that the story of the fragile, desperate, and needy couple is true. I’m sure there is much truth to it.

Isn’t it equally important to say that the flight from England was not only good for their own mental health and family’s security but has also been lucrative beyond anything life in the Royal Family could have offered them?

In just the last few months, Meghan and Harry have been busy and successful as they move to create a billion-dollar brand. They are apparently close.

They’ve signed multi-year deals with Spotify and Netflix, and Meghan has recently invested in an oat milk latte startup.

Fortune Magazine estimated the couple was worth $30 million before those deals. They are reportedly in negotiations with Disney as well.

Their Montecito Home, just down the street from neighbor Oprah, cost $15 million. On the grounds is a structure built to house rescue chickens from Factory Farms.

Whatever they suffered in England, whatever risks they took, they will soon be up in Oprah’s league when it comes to money. The interview had a billionnaire-to-billionnaire feel to it, even in the grandeur of their billionnaire neighbor’s yard.

Since we were led to believe again and again that this couple has suffered greatly and is deserving of much pity, shouldn’t this have been explored in some detail?

Unlike most refugees’ sad fate and sacrifice when they flee their homelands (you will see none of them in an Oprah interview), exile has been great for Harry and Meghan.

Why on earth would they go back to life in the dour palace cutting ribbons and touting their favorite chosen charities? (And what would happen to their rescue chickens, anyway?)

Escaping The Media?  Really? Harry and Meghan both spoke with great passion and feeling about their torment at the hands of the notoriously vicious British Media. Every royal in history has complained bitterly about it.

And once again, they are correct. It is a vicious culture.

Harry said this was an elemental reason for leaving the work and life of the Royal Family. He said his mental health depended on it.

So why, I wondered, was he destroying the privacy, security, and peace of his new life by giving Oprah a two-hour interview that drew 17 million viewers in America alone, and many millions more around the globe?

How will that protect his family’s privacy and keep them from becoming hounded and pursued celebrities, of which Hollywood is quite familiar?

Oprah said the couple wasn’t paid for the interview, but she didn’t say how much money she would make from it, or CBS would. She also didn’t talk about how the couple’s value in their negotiations would triple or quadruple overnight after the interview.

They are not only celebrities becoming more famous, but as presented by Oprah, they are also to be pitied, even as millions of poor Americans have no jobs at all, have died or gotten sick, can’t pay their rent or mortgage, or put food on the table for their children.

This all seemed to be off-kilter to me. Morally speaking, these are not the people in need, they are just among the most interesting. If they need help, they can afford to get as much as they need, unlike most Americans. And they don’t need to do an interview with Oprah Winfrey to get it.

They are a fascinating couple; there is nothing wrong with interviewing them; there is nothing wrong with their dumping on their families, grandmother, mothers, and brothers if that’s what they want to do.

But it doesn’t feel heroic to me. Harry accused the family of racism, along with Meghan, but they won’t tell us who said the racist things. Then why bring it up?

I wasn’t even clear on why they needed to do all this talk-from-the-heart now, they are settled and prospering in America.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the feeling I had was that they were marketing their brand, no one better to help than their good neighbor Oprah, who is always marketing her brand.

This marriage was beautiful and worked well. But it had the whiff of ambush.

I am sorry for the things they have suffered back home.  That is wrong. It is obvious the Palace handled things stupidly and in a cold-hearted, and perhaps even racist way.

I couldn’t get around to feeling sorry for them after this flawless and polished performance. If they were victims, they are no longer. And in that sense, the interview felt like a lie to me.

You don’t need to lie to be misleading or manipulative.

I felt I was being misled and manipulated Sunday night to some degree. And there was no balancing force to counter that.

In the media, we call it a free ride.

I was surprised that anything could make me feel sorry for the Queen.

But I did picture her at 95 years of age, still slogging away, doing her duty, never complaining, staying faithful to herself. As always, her own code forbids responding to assaults and accusations.

Harry claimed the Queen was forbidden to see him? Really? The Queen is a prisoner in Buckingham palace?

So she’s a sitting duck, she can’t talk back, and thus deserving of some consideration, at least to me.

The truth is,  I did find myself thinking she deserved better than this, as her husband lies dying in a hospital and she ends the end of her long and dutiful reign.

In America, we are a culture of victimization, outrage, and anger.  Some days it seems like everyone here is competing to be the real victims

I appreciate that the Queen is not part of that world. She seems like an ethical person to me.

The story of these two Queens is a marvelous one, I am forever grateful to be able to write about it.


  1. What do you mean you could “never do that to them?” You’ve aired your family laundry quite freely on your blog. Many have known you for your arrogance, but I never took you for a racist.

    1. Paula, I don’t talk about my work with rude and nasty people online. If you want to try to be thoughtful, please give it a shot. You are completely ignorant of what I have not written about my family, nor is it any of your business. I’m not on fire to know what you think of me, especially after reading this message. If you can’t be civil, get lost.. Jon

  2. I agree with everything you’ve written! Especially about the availability of counseling to a very famous person. I’m sure some analyst somewhere would have gladly accommodated her/them. Bless you Jon.

  3. You keep saying they dissed the queen or were disloyal to her. I don’t see it that way at all. They were very clear that SHE is not the issue, but that other in “the institution” and the family are. Why do they have to name names in order for that to be a valid point? I don’t need them to. I don’t really think any of us can truly appreciate how controlling “the institution” might be. I can believe that Meghan wasn’t “allowed” to seek therapy on her own – she told the story of not being allowed to see her friends because the palace thought she was too visible (when she hadn’t left the palace but two days in four months). That was a telling reality-check. She had her passport, driver’s license and such taken when she went there. Sounds pretty prison-like to me.

    When Harry was asked if he had spoken to others, he truthfully said, “No. That’s not a conversation that would happen.” Pretty prison-like to me.

    I don’t see them asking for pity. I see them speaking up about a system (not just the royal family, but “the institution” which does not include members of the royal family, but many have said that “the institution” which is the family business/brand run by non-family-members) is VASTLY more controlling than the family. From what I have read, and listened to – from many different sides – the royal family isn’t as independently-powerful as you pose.

    I saw two young adults admitting how profoundly strangled they felt by “the institution,” scared for their own safety (they mentioned death threats) and block at every turn when they asked for help, support or change. I’m cheering them on.

    1. Derek, please explain to me how the head of a racist, insensitive and uncaring institution is not responsible for it being racist, uncaring and insensitive. It’s a neat hat trick, tell it to all of the CEOs who have been rightfully fired over the sexism and harassmeznt in their companies.

      1. I actually was interested in the subtleties of all this, and listened to some lengthy discussions on NPR and other outlets. The family is truly separate from the institution. It’s not like a “company” – you can’t compare it like that. It’s a distinct and controlling entity. That’s why sometimes in the interview, M and H referred to the family, sometimes to the institution or the firm. I think it’s hard for us to grasp how the structure works. To us, it seems the same, and “OF COURSE” the queen is in charge. British friends say that’s just not how it works at all. In fact, she’s fairly powerless (more a figurehead, in some ways) – and in other ways she heads the royal family. What I learned was that there are subtleties in terms of who wields power, whether it’s about a baby’s skin color (family AND institution), getting help (institution) or reaching out and showing support (queen). It’s just not as black and white as your arguments want to make it – vastly more intricate, nuanced and complex.

  4. The philosophical tenet upon which many European monarchs ruled, called The Divine Right of Kings virtually disappeared after the French Revolution. I highly doubt that our Queen believes she has been chosen by god.

  5. Jon you are so creative in what you think to write, I’m sure this took a fair bit of time for you to put together. And you make some good points…but let’s both consider this: the two women in the interview on Sunday night are polished actresses, both of them. And you having been in the ‘business’ so to speak, would recognize immediately what it took to create that interview…that is why I said, at least H & M got to be heard…but I could see the performance was there from the moment they both appeared on ‘set’. As to the Queen, whatever she may feel, the Firm, the Institution of the Monarchy does not allow for emotions. As in every business, while she may be the titular head of that business, she is constrained and restrained from moving beyond the policy of that company. The policy who sets? The “Suits”….yes. That’s why I feel the monarchy may be slowly melting out. They work hard, or did, before the virus, in promoting their presence where invited to be, but as Harry pointed out, that too, is a performance, buck up, no matter how you feel, it’s like going on stage. They are not real. No.
    You do give people something to think about, Jon, I’ll say that for you. You run an interesting blog, and unlike Piers Morgan, you don’t walk away from anything when people disagree with you or bring another point of view to bear..
    Sandy Proudfoot, Canada

  6. You underestimate Elizabeth’s openness to change. When Ghana became independent, she waltzed with its Black president. For a white upper-class English woman let alone the Queen of England to dance in the arms of a Black man in 1959 was a massive shattering of the race lines of the time. And it was her idea.

  7. thanks for the article… your other one was better…. there is a difference between attacking an institution and attacking the queen directly, although they are inter-related…. fortunately all institutions have come in for questioning and this particular one ought to be no different…. i question the motives of the players involved myself, but i agree with the thrust of challenging this institution… when it is examined, it becomes clear it is based on a type of power that is not earned, so much as forced on everyone else based on heredity… people are less accepting of those who inherit great wealth and privileged, especially in a world as you point out – highlighted by movies like nomadland…

    “And how can she or anyone question God?” there is a lot of assumption built into this line…. i don’t agree with the premise..

    “It seemed like a slick set-up to me.” yes.. it was a golden opportunity to profit off of something where those involved knew this well before going in…. nothing ‘slick’ about it… more mundane then anything else…

    was british imperialism racist??? i would argue that it was, although within the framework of time – no one cared about this… our changing values in the world force us to re-examine the past and some of it doesn’t come out in a pretty light… the royal family as an institution, if looked at more closely doesn’t either…. amazingly, there are those who wish to continue this particular fantasy of royalty being something other then it is, or what it was historically… it was a power structure where those in power lorded it over others… now the power has shifted to one of finance and media… the royal institution is set to come off the stage, although it won’t be an easy death – it will be one non the less… was it heartbreaking to find the wizard of oz was just a silly man pushing levers in the movie? the world is facing a similar set up here. it is time we moved on and didn’t make this institution out to be anything other then an anachronism at this point in time… when the queen dies this institution is dead in the water… the pompous facade will have to be replaced with something different for the british…

  8. I enjoy your writing Jon, but I could not make it to he end of this. I’m 71. Not enough time left to spend any of
    it thinking about these (H&M) two spoiled brats. Can’t think of much I find less interesting. The up side, having plowed through much of this, I know I can now ignore anything else I may stumble upon. Thanks for sparing me that Jon.

  9. Minor details reveal a lot sometimes.
    Not Meghan nd Oprah wore so much makeip we could not see their eyes or barely. The eyes can reveal a lot.

    It was very staged. I can’t guess what was true.

    I felt like those people in coomunist places who must applaud the speaker smiling. This was a great dissection.

    I did feel thatHarry may be thinking that these Crowners killed his mom and their ennabling behwalav must end.

  10. Minor details reveal a lot sometimes.
    Note Meghan and Oprah wore so much makeip we could not see their eyes or barely. The eyes can reveal a lot.

    It was very staged. I can’t guess what was true.

    I felt like those people in coomunist places who must applaud the speaker smiling.

    Yours was a great dissection.

    I did feel that Harry may be thinking that these Crowners killed his mom and their ennabling behav must end.

  11. I applaud your post today and yesterday. Both perfectly expressed my views. Although I did not give my time to the interview I saw enough on newscasts that I flinched at Oprah’s dramatic facial responses and gasps to have lost some respect for her honesty.

  12. It seems to me it was bad timing as well as bad taste. I wasn’t interested and didn’t watch but I’ve seen pop-ups all day about how “so and so SLAMMED Oprah, or THE PALACE PANICS…blah blah…oh for God’s sake…..why do we care when there are so many in real pain, in really desperate straits? My only thought is that I shall always remember the sad little red-headed boy at his mother’s funeral, so brave but so lost. I was there at the time and saw it live on TV. It was all devastatingly sad and I always had a soft spot for Harry because of that .

  13. I did not watch the interview…I have always had an interest in the Royal Family….and in British History…but my issue with the Harry and Meghan was the position it left William and Katherine in…they have a young family and I would imagine that William thought he might have his brother to help him with some of the duties and obligations. My feeling has been that when the Queen dies, Charles will look to move the monarchy into the mold of the Scandinavian monarchs who with the exception of the King, Queen and heir, seem to live more normal lives.

  14. A few thousand shares on Facebook is “going viral on the Internet.” Wow. Get over yourself, Jon!

  15. Well said. I do believe there is racism I the royal family. That said, they certainly played the victims. They complain about having to live off Harry’s $10 million inheritance. They live in a $15 million house and she wore a $5000 dress. They get no sympathy from me. I’m sick of their whining. The average person is suffering greatly due to the pandemic.

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