If you searched for Meghan Markle over the past couple of days, you probably found dozens of stories about how the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry plan to raise their unborn baby “gender fluid.” Whether one decides to embrace a flexible gender identity for themselves or their child, is a personal choice. What is of public concern, however, is how low reporting standards have become that one outlet can make a claim, based on an anonymous “source,” and like lemmings a slew of others accept it without bothering to fact-check the premise or do any reporting of their own.
In this instance, Vanity Fair reported on February 28 that an unnamed and unaccountable “source” told the online edition of the magazine how Prince Harry and Meghan Markle “plan to raise their child with a fluid approach to gender” (below). That alone was enough for dozens of publications and websites to repeat the claim without verifying with Kensington Palace’s media relations office whether or not it was true. Most legitimate journalists and organizations won’t run with a story unless they have two independent sources confirming the same information and ideally on-the-record.
Vanity Fair did not indicate that it had a second source. Nor were there any attributed quotes from named individuals. Just one unidentifiable and untraceable “source.” And yet that was more than enough to lead a number of sites to run the false report with little skepticism and even less fact-checking.
Cosmopolitan exclaimed, “Meghan Markle Raising Baby with Fluid Approach to Gender – Meghan Markle Won’t Gender Stereotype Royal Baby.” The Daily Caller noted, “Duchess Meghan Markle Reportedly Plans To Raise Royal Baby Gender Neutral.” And Jezebel asserted, “Meghan Markle Wants To Raise Her Baby With A ‘Fluid Approach To Gender.'” Those are just a few of the many inaccurate articles that had prominent placement on the web (below).
Guess who didn’t fall into that trap? Gossip Cop, and the reason is that we simply fact-check every article we publish rather than hastily posting falsehoods like other outlets. Nor do we ever post stories without reaching out to multiple individuals or pass off responsibility for our work by appending words such as “reportedly.” That’s not journalism. That’s lazy cutting-and-pasting, and sadly the Internet is filled with that. It’s this type of non-verifiable, non-transparent, and non-accountable “reporting” which allows bogus blogs as well as brand names publishers alike to post and profit from lies.
Among the biggest issues is that if one searched for a real and accurate story about Meghan Markle earlier this weekend, one would have instead found only those untrue articles on the Internet. The women’s magazines and political sites that regurgitated the phony tale have no expertise, authority or trustworthiness when it comes to reporting about the royals. Conversely, Gossip Cop is on the phone with Kensington Palace at minimum once a week. Over the past decade, we’ve built contacts and trust in the royal residences of Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace.
While individuals at Kensington Palace sometimes offer unattributable “guidance” about whether or not a story is true or direct us to where we can find specific answers, as a matter of policy, the media department for the royal household rarely issues public statements to correct inaccurate reports. When the palace denied the gender fluid stories as “completely false,” it had nothing to do with its thoughts about whether one is brought up or identifies as gender fluid; rather it was a statement about the Internet, and how it has become a magnet for media outlets to hide behind nameless and unreliable sources, as well as ignore basic reporting practices such fact-checking.
Gossip Cop does not believe Vanity Fair fabricated its source the way far too many celebrity tabloids and entertainment blogs do. The magazine appears to have gotten bad information. And we credit the outlet for at least trying to verify its story by contacting Kensington Palace, which appears to have not offered any guidance.
The outlets that cherry-picked the article, however, focused on just certain aspects they knew would be juicy and click-worthy. What they didn’t bother doing was any independent reporting of their own or calling on Kensington Palace. And that’s where they failed.
Where the Internet failed was promoting those stories in highly visible positions, allowing those wrong reports to be picked up and spread. In reality, though, the premise was nothing more than “fake news.” And not what both sides of the aisle call “fake news” when they disagree with the facts.
Equally concerning is how the outlets that posted the inaccurate articles responded after the narrative about Prince Harry and Markle raising their baby as gender fluid was debunked. Some of the aforementioned sites haven’t posted new stories to acknowledge their errors. Meanwhile, others simply added a line or two to their original pieces with the word “update.”
But the word “update” is a misnomer and not enough. There’s been no “update” to the situation. Markle and Prince Harry didn’t change their minds to bring up their baby gender fluid. Nor did any of those outlets commit to getting better or more accurate in the future. Gender may be fluid, but what’s acceptable reporting is not.
Gossip Cop has determined this story is totally false.