Everything I needed to know about international crisis management I learned from esteemed savior of the world and fictional Baltimore native Jack Ryan in the 1994 film adaption of Tom Clancy’s “Clear And Present Danger.” Ryan (Harrison Ford) is in the Oval Office as other advisers suggest that the president (Donald Moffat) play down to the press his relationship with an old friend that’s just been murdered running drugs on his yacht for a Colombian cartel. Ryan has another idea.

“I’d say, ‘No, we were good friends … lifelong friends.’ I’d give them no place to go. Nothing to report, no story,” he explains. “There’s no sense defusing a bomb if it’s already gone off.”

I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot in the last couple of weeks as the British royal family continues to bungle the narrative of the months-long public absence of Catherine, Princess of Wales. The former Kate Middleton was said to be privately recovering until Easter after abdominal surgery. in January She hadn’t been seen out in the world from December until this week, when TMZ released a video that reportedly showed her and husband Prince William walking quickly through a farmers market. In between those appearances were a couple of weird photos, one admittedly botched by the princess herself, and more questions than answers. The handling of the brouhaha was giving less well-oiled machine and more “What had happened was …”

Kensington Palace could have just followed Jack Ryan’s advice and released one of those proof-of-life photos they make the wives in the royal family take within hours of giving birth — a nice shot of Catherine propped up in bed and smiling. Mystery solved, nothing more to see — even if there actually is.

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But that didn’t happen.

As the weeks sped by without as much as a simple wave from a balcony, the controversy bomb exploded. And once it did, it became impossible to contain the storm of rumor and crazy. Was she more ill than had been previously stated? Where are her parents and kids? Had Kate left home because of William’s alleged affair with a comely noblewoman, or was it something more sinister?

You know how nature abhors a vacuum? So does gossip, and the internet and tabloids were only too happy to fill in the blanks. Even the Swifties, who had some free time between “The Eras Tour” and the release of that concert movie, were on the case.

Yet despite all their well-paid spokespeople and a history of national scandal dating back 1,000 years or so, the royals are head-scratchingly bad at this. The family institution has been nicknamed “The Firm,” but even the menacing law group in the Tom Cruise movie would have just dispatched evil henchman Wilford Brimley to shut this all the hell down.

I wonder if the missteps are out of an assumption that when the Crown puts out a statement through the media, everyone’s supposed to just accept it and move on. But British journalists and citizens alike seem confused by how this gossip bomb has gone international. There was some amusing grousing that American late night host Stephen Colbert didn’t give the palace a head’s-up before joking about William’s rumored affair with Rose, Marchioness of Cholmondeley (the most gloriously “Downton Abbey”-esque title ever). We don’t do that here.

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Every weird misstep has had its own eruption. First came a grainy paparazzi photo that seemed to be of Catherine and her mother on the school run for her kids. The woman’s face was visibly bloated, which would make sense after surgery, but the car also seemed to have five wheels. It was suspicious that in this era of phones capable of shooting movies, the only available images looked like the lens had been dipped in soup.

Up next: A sweet shot of Catherine with her kids taken by William, posted to her official X account, said to be taken that week to celebrate U.K. Mother’s Day. Again, the questions started: Why are the trees green in wintery Britain? Isn’t there something off about the sleeves and tile and fingers? And how is this slim-faced woman the same person from the car with fuller face?

Catherine herself took the blame for allegedly over-editing the photo, but be for real: There’s no way the notoriously tight-lipped Firm let her post anything without eight layers of approval. I’m shocked she’s allowed free access to her phone. The Associated Press and others agencies took the unprecedented step of killing the photo, naming manipulation as the reason for doing so. You can almost imagine the family trotting out Marvin The Martian with his drawing board to come up with a new plan.

Which brings us to this week and the farmers market video that members of the British press are confident is the end of the controversy, but of course it’s not. The original sighting came without photographic evidence and sounded a lot like, “Girl, my cousin saw them, but she had left her phone in the car, right? But you totally believe her, spit spot, all done.” Obviously that didn’t fly, so the video appeared the very next day of the Wales couple smiling and carrying large bags. At first, it didn’t look like Catherine to me, but I want to believe it is. Still … you’re telling me there is only one video of the royal Carmen Sandiego, taken in a public space? And there’s no security? Yeah, OK.

Again, I’d like to believe it. But if Catherine is well enough to go speed-walking with heavy bags of veggies, why wouldn’t the palace just release an official photo of her weeks ago? Why all the skullduggery? Let me be clear: I have no idea what’s going on with Catherine, and this column is not about peddling conspiracy theories. I hope that woman and her children are well and thriving, out of the public eye. But I believe the decision to, at least for a time, remain stoically and insistently uncommunicative was a mistake, because logic follows that if it were possible to share a photo just to shut people up, they would have released one.

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Remember how Prince Philip was photographed in a car looking frighteningly unwell not long before he died? Those photos were released for reassurance, so if everything really is OK with the recovering princess, why not do that here, too? Instead of not giving them anywhere to go, like Jack Ryan advised, they opened the floodgates.

I’ve also been tickled by the scolding of the curious from royal commentators about how hideous it is to inquire about the health of a public figure, despite the precedent set by other family members who’ve shown up on camera in the middle of a crisis to head off whispers. For instance, Catherine’s father-in-law King Charles did the smile and wave on the way out of cancer treatment at the same time she was allegedly hospitalized as well.

Not to mention the media-sanctioned vicious pillorying of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, which has wildly ratcheted up to the point where outlets freely said she and her husband had weighed in on #KateGate when it was just “close sources” that the outlets probably made up. Some even straight-up blamed whatever was happening on the stress of Catherine having to deal with — checks notes — a woman in a different country she hasn’t seen in two years. (Misogynoir is wild.)

By the time this column publishes, there may have been even more bombshells in this case as curiosity continues to build. Unless and until Catherine comes out of the house and waves live in front of cameras not dipped in soup, the chatter isn’t dying down. Rumors and badly-played PR, in the end, are good friends.

Lifelong friends.

Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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