Princess Kate photo ‘manipulated,’ fueling conspiracy theories

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LONDON — It was a simple family photo apparently intended to show the world that Kate, the Princess of Wales, was OK.

Instead the image released Sunday has only added fuel to a global firestorm of speculation and conspiracy theories, after it emerged that the picture — Kate’s first since having abdominal surgery in January — had been potentially manipulated.

The internet was already rife with conjecture after Kate, the wife of William, the heir to the British throne, took an extended step back from her royal duties following the unspecified surgery.

But the photo, an intended fire blanket, has instead acted as gasoline.

At first it was just social media sleuths pointing out apparent discrepancies with the picture. But then four of the world’s largest news agencies, The Associated Press, Reuters, Getty Images and Agence France-Presse, all issued what are known as “kill notices,” an advisory for broadcasters and newspapers not to use the image.

Image: kill notice sent by AP
A ‘Photo Kill’ notice sent by the Associated Press to editors.Prince of Wales / Kensington Palace / AP

“At closer inspection it appears that the source” — in this instance the royal family — “has edited the image,” the AP said.

The picture was posted on William and Kate’s Instagram account to mark mother’s day in the U.K. on Sunday and released officially by their residence, Kensington Palace.

It shows Kate posing in a garden with the couple’s three children, Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and the palace said it was taken by William.

Usually such a photo would attract positive front-page coverage throughout the British press, allowing the royals to get out their intended message in a carefully managed way.

But The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, two right-wing newspapers that can usually be relied upon to support the royals, did not shy away from the controversy Monday morning. 

“Photo from palace was doctored, say agencies,” the Telegraph splashed on its front page while the Mail read, “This joyous Mother’s Day snap was meant to be the reassurance we all needed. But has it backfired?”

Kensington Palace did not respond to requests for comment from NBC News.

Far from any nefarious plot, photography experts said the photo may simply have been edited to clean up the image or splice together different shots, circumventing the challenge of getting three kids to sit still and smile all at the same time.

But the kill notice put out by the photo agencies is nonetheless a rare and serious step.

“When this picture initially dropped in hit all our social media channels, everyone just breathed a sigh of relief because here was Catherine looking beautiful and healthy and happy and clearly recovering well,” said NBC News royal contributor Katie Nicholl.

“But within hours of that image coming out, four international press picture agencies decided to kill that image,” she told NBC’s “TODAY.” “I certainly can’t remember this ever happening in my career as a royal correspondent.”

Some royal observers saw it as another needless public relations misstep by the royal family as it navigates a new era after the death of the widely popular Queen Elizabeth II.

King Charles III was lauded for sharing his cancer diagnosis last month. But many doctors and other health experts faulted him for withholding which type of cancer he was suffering from, making it hard for members of the public to follow his example and get themselves checked.

That tension between the modern demand for details and the royals’ tradition of secrecy was apparent, too, with the vacuum of information around Kate’s surgery and withdrawal from view. 

“Royal press management isn’t easy,” Catherine Mayer, author of “King Charles III, Charles: The Heart of a King,” said in a post on X. “But this doesn’t explain serial mistakes in royal comms.”

She said that even releasing the photo of Kate itself, with no other details, was a questionable tactic: “You either feed demands for information or you don’t.”

And if the image had indeed been edited, she added, that’s at direct odds with the values as described on the royal family’s website.

“The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride,” it says, adding that the hereditary household “gives a sense of stability and continuity.”



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