Harry and Meghan feature in award drama with RFK Jr. and Alec Baldwin

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The usually uplifting Ripple of Hope Award, presented by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization to honor the world’s most “exemplary leaders across government, business and advocacy,” has been engrossed in drama this year due to its association with some of American pop culture’s most divisive figures: Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Alec Baldwin and the prominent anti-vaccine crusader Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are set to receive the award in New York City, alongside Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at a gala ceremony on Dec. 6. The event will be emceed by the ever polarizing Baldwin, who’s friendly with the Kennedy family but remains embroiled in civil litigation and a criminal investigation over his accidental 2021 killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of a movie.

Baldwin’s presence at the ceremony is the least of its public relations issues. Among other things, the choice to give Harry and Meghan the award has once again stirred up Kennedy family rifts. Kennedy Jr., Robert F. Kennedy’s second son, and at least one prominent Kennedy family scholar have scoffed at the idea that royal celebrities are worthy of an award given in the U.S. senator’s name.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Hilaria Thomas and Alec Baldwin attend RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala Awards honoring VP Joe Biden, Howard Schultz & Scott Minerd on December 6, 2016 in New York City. / AFP / ANGELA WEISS (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) 

In comments to the Daily Mail, Kennedy Jr. said he was “bewildered” and “baffled” by the choice to give the Sussexes the same honor that previously was bestowed upon people with long and distinguished careers in public service or the arts, including Barack Obama, Joe Bidden, Hillary Clinton, Desmond Tutu and Robert De Niro.

Kennedy Jr. is no stranger to speaking his mind — while inciting public outrage. He is one of the leaders in the movement to discredit the use of vaccines to prevent common childhood illnesses and to protect people against COVID-19.

His anti-vaccine stance has landed him in fierce public battles with his sister, Kerry Kennedy, who is president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. She first stirred up the debate about honoring Harry and Meghan when she announced in October that the organization would spotlight the couple’s work on “racial justice, mental health, and other social impact initiatives.”

“They embody the type of moral courage that my father once called the ‘one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change,’” Kerry Kennedy said.

With Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine stance, his other comment about Harry and Meghan shouldn’t be surprising. He said that honoring them this year was at least “an encouraging step up from 2020,” referring to the choice that year to give Dr. Anthony Fauci the award.

But Kennedy Jr. isn’t the only person of note to question Harry and Meghan as recipients. Kerry Kennedy’s announcement was immediately slammed by British historian and best-selling author David Nasaw, who called it “somewhere between sublimely ridiculous and blatantly ludicrous,” the Daily Beast and Daily Mail reported.

On “Good Morning Britain,” Nasaw, who penned a biography of Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, said: “If you look at the people who have been awarded the Robert Kennedy prize in the past — Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative), Bishop Desmond Tutu – and then you have to ask what are Harry and Meghan doing here?”

“What in God’s name have they done to merit this? What percentage of Harry and Meghan’s wealth is going to worthy causes?’” Nasaw said.

It’s true that Harry and Meghan’s joint careers as media moguls and global philanthropists is pretty new, begun a little over two years ago when they stepped away from British royal duties and moved to the United States. Before that, they spent just a little over a year together as a married couple, representing the royal family at public events and world tours.

Before his marriage, Harry helped to found the Invictus Games and worked with his brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Kate Middleton, on mental health initiatives in the U.K. Meanwhile, Meghan mostly worked as a TV actor, though she made public appearances as a World Vision global ambassador.

There’s been the suggestion that Harry and Meghan are mostly being honored for their star power and ability to drive ticket sales and donations to the organization, the Daily Mail said. Indeed, anyone willing to spend up to $1 million can buy a “Pioneer” package that will allow their party to sit at the same table with Harry and Meghan at the gala.

It’s also possible that some show business synergy has come into play with Harry and Meghan’s award, according to the Daily Mail. Kerry Kennedy’s sister, Rory Kennedy, runs a film production company with Liz Garbus, the director for Harry and Meghan’s Netflix docuseries, which is expected to be released at the end of this year. Rory Kennedy has not confirmed whether she had any role in deciding who should be honored, the Daily Mail.

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