Even Photoshop Can’t Erase Royals’ Latest P.R. Blemish

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a digitally altered picture of an absent British princess is apparently worth a million.

That seemed to be the lesson after another day of Internet-breaking rumors and conspiracy theories swirling around Catherine, Princess of Wales, who apologized on Monday for having doctored a photograph of herself with her three children that circulated on news sites and social media on Sunday.

It was the first official photo of Catherine since before she underwent abdominal surgery two months ago — a cheerful Mother’s Day snapshot, taken by her husband, Prince William, at home. But if it was meant to douse weeks of speculation about Catherine’s well-being, it had precisely the opposite effect.

Now the British royal family faces a storm of questions about how it communicates with the press and public, whether Catherine manipulated other family photos she released in previous years, and whether she felt driven to retouch this photo to disguise the impact of her illness.

It adds up to a fresh tempest for a royal family that has lurched from one self-created crisis to another. Unlike previous episodes, this involves one of the family’s most popular members, a commoner-turned-future queen. It also reflects a social media celebrity culture driven in part by the family itself, one that is worlds away from the intrusive paparazzi pictures that used to cause royals, including a younger Kate Middleton, chagrin.

“Like so many millennial celebrities, the Princess of Wales has built a successful public image by sharing with her audience a carefully curated version of her personal life,” said Ed Owens, a royal historian who has studied the relationship between the monarchy and the media. The manipulated photograph, he said, is damaging because, for the public, it “brings into question the authenticity” of Catherine’s home life.

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