Was Emily Giffin's apology sincere or was she scared of backlash after branding Meghan Markle a 'phony'?
Emily Giffin, the best-selling author whose debut novel Something Borrowed was adapted into a movie in 2011, also calls herself a "royal watcher".
She spends a lot of time on her Instagram account (which currently has 85 000 followers) writing about the queen; Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge; and Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
But on Wednesday, her thoughts sparked backlash after she called Meghan "unmaternal" and "phony" after watching a video that the couple released on their son Archie's first birthday. In the clip, which urged donations to Save the Children's covid-19 fund, Meghan held a squirming Archie in her lap and read a picture book called Duck! Rabbit! while Harry was behind the camera.
In multiple Instagram stories, Giffin slammed Meghan (misspelling her name throughout) for turning the video into the "Megan show". "Adorable child and book. But ... Holy 'me first'," Giffin wrote. "Why didn't she film and let Harry read?"
She posted a text message exchange with a friend who called Meghan "a joke" and told Giffin "I feel so sorry for that little boy". Giffin published a screenshot of the video and wrote, "Happy birthday, Archie. Go away, Megan."
The now-deleted stories were captured and tweeted by "Royally Obsessed" podcast co-host Kaitlin Menza, who wrote, "Man oh man does Something Borrowed author Emily Giffin hate Meghan Markle."
Man oh man does “Something Borrowed” author Emily Giffin hate Meghan Markle pic.twitter.com/bjnoDNTY9p— Kaitlin Menza (@heykmenz) May 6, 2020
Furious comments poured in as it was retweeted more than 1 500 times. Many dubbed Giffin a "cyberbully" and tagged her publisher. News sites quickly picked up the firestorm, as others accused her of locking down her social media to dodge negative comments. (Although it's unclear when her Twitter account was locked, her Instagram was already set to private before Wednesday.)
After hours of this, Giffin released a statement and apologised.
She noted that she posts dozens of Instagram stories in "a very honest, unfiltered way" to have conversations with her readers, and has long been interested in the British monarchy. While at first she was thrilled with the Harry and Meghan coupling ("I absolutely loved that a biracial, American woman was marrying into the royal family"), she said, her feelings changed "over recent months" – alluding to the couple's bombshell decision to step back as senior royals and move to North America.
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She addressed accusations that her condemnation of Meghan was racially motivated. "I can say from the bottom of my heart that my criticism of Meghan has never had anything to do with race. Further, I understood why she wanted to leave the monarchy and carve out her own path. I do, however, find fault with the way BOTH she and Harry handled things, and those feelings bled over in later posts, including the ones today."
"I can see how some of my posts may have felt mean-spirited, and could be construed as having racial undertones," she continued. "It was not my intent, but I understand that intent and impact are two very different things. And I am truly sorry for that negative impact."
On many levels, the controversy was not surprising, as it involved some of the internet's most sensitive topics: Mom-shaming. A woman pitted against another woman. Meghan herself, who became even more of a lightning rod for criticism when she and Harry stunned the world by leaving their royal titles behind. Plus, Meghan's defenders are louder than ever now, especially with the brutal treatment she's endured from the British tabloid press.
The only surprise about the incident was that Giffin's posts didn't go viral sooner, given how fiercely people feel about the royals. Giffin has been writing critical posts about Meghan and Harry's decision for months, and is often drawn into long debates with commenters who vehemently disagree. (At one point, she posted a collection of earlier, glowing "girl crush" posts she had previously written about Meghan to prove she was once a fan.) Giffin frequently writes about her disappointment about the frayed relationship between Harry and William, and her sadness that Queen Elizabeth has to witness it all.
She has also pushed back before about race being intertwined with criticism. In January, she wrote that she agreed with a New York Times op-ed titled "Black Britons Know Why Meghan Markle Wants Out", which addressed the racism Meghan faced. "I believe this statement to be true," Giffin said. "I also believe that Meghan and Harry are behaving selfishly and impulsively by punishing the queen and Prince Charles (who walked Meghan down the aisle and welcomed her with open arms) for the repugnant behaviour of the press. Those two things aren't mutually exclusive."
At one point, Giffin posted a meme of Yoko Ono saying "I broke up the Beatles" next to a photo of Meghan that said, "Hold my beer". Giffin captured the image, "It's just a joke, people. Relax". But as a very popular author with a huge social media following, it was practically a given that at some point, her words would make their way out of her private Instagram account and onto the wider internet. Actress Jennifer Garner wrote a supportive post to Harry and Meghan later on Wednesday ("Thank you for sharing your gorgeous son with the world"), which some sites immediately connected to Giffin's earlier words.
Now, the timing is unfortunate: She has a new book, The Lies That Bind, coming out in early June. And as she does promotion, there's one question that will be on every interviewer's mind.