‘Go f*ck yourself!’, booms James Acaster, followed by a wave of shock, laughter, and cheering from the studio audience. The target of the comedian’s exaggerated outburst?: TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, who had suggested on The Last Leg’s 2020 New Year’s special that Piers Morgan deserved to be nominated for ‘hero of the year’.
Kelly isn’t alone in lauding the controversial journalist. In particular, praise has been heaped on Morgan for his criticism of the government’s coronavirus policy. Despite previously showing support for Boris Johnson’s government during the 2019 election, Morgan was quick to point out the inadequacies of the Track and Trace system, as well as backing Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meals to more families during lockdown.
Although at the beginning of the year, Piers Morgan was being seen in an increasingly generous light, what sympathy he had gained over the course of 2020 was quickly squandered. Following Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, Morgan was notoriously quick to criticise Markle’s decision to go public with the information that there were ‘concerns’ over the colour of her baby’s skin. During a now-famous argument with fellow presenter Alex Beresford, he angrily walked off the set of Good Morning Britain, later announcing that he had quit the show.
So, should we re-examine Piers Morgan in the light of his criticism of the Conservative Party’s coronavirus policy? I would argue to the contrary, that despite the unprecedented circumstances, Morgan’s inadequacies as a journalist are as stark as ever.
To his fans, he is a lone crusader of reason, campaigning against the deranged ‘woke mob’
British journalists certainly have a reputation for a certain style of confrontational rhetoric. Even before Piers Morgan developed his aggressive interview tactics, Jeremy Paxman had a reputation for mercilessly dragging politicians on live TV. But even more so than earlier journalists like Paxman, Morgan’s popularity relied more on the displays of rhetorical force that he displays against his opponents. He frames himself as the stern voice of rationality and ‘common sense’, in contrast to the doublespeak of politicians and the perceived mania of many of his guests. To his fans, he is a lone crusader of reason, campaigning against the deranged ‘woke mob’.
How ironic it is then that despite Morgan’s insistence on the rationality of his views they are so frequently entrenched in personal and emotional baggage. Perhaps it was his time working in tabloid media that fomented these tendencies. Often accused of being complicit in invasive journalistic practices such as phone hacking, for much of his earlier career Morgan existed in the world of celebrity gossip rather than politics. In my opinion, this is reflected in his reactionary feuds with certain guests. It is common knowledge that multiple figures are banned from appearing on shows with Morgan, with names as varied as Hugh Grant, Kelsey Grammar, and Madonna making the list. Rather than the reasonable objectivity of a professional journalist, these feuds speak to an underlying petulance to Morgan’s character.
While he finds it easy to ban figures from his show because of personal antagonisms, in the case of Donald Trump, Morgan’s overly personal involvement with the president lead to a contradictory series of remarks. Although he stated that he had numerous disagreements with the president, Morgan himself admitted that he will never be able to truly condemn Trump because of their personal relationship. In 2008, Morgan won Celebrity Apprentice, hosted by Trump, and allegedly, the two had a friendship ever since. However, by 2020, Morgan had changed his mind on whether he ought to support the former president. He stated that, although he did not regret his earlier support, Donald Trump had become ‘mentally unfit’ to remain as president, evidenced by his inadequate response to, and previous denial of, the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I find this U-turn highly unconvincing, given that as early as 2016 Trump was defying scientific consensus over issues such as climate change, which he attributed, like the pandemic, to China. As much as Piers Morgan wants to be seen as the voice of reason, ultimately his decision to support Trump was based on personal allegiances rather than political ones.
Even more transparently than with Trump, Morgan’s personal biases affected his coverage of the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry interview. Rather than its wider ramifications, in his notorious argument with Alex Beresford, Morgan fixates on Markle’s personal traits. He states that his past experiences of her ‘informed me that she’s a bit of a cut-and-run’, referring to Meghan and Harry’s decision to distance themselves from the Royal Family. Pointing to many of his tweets, many have speculated, with some accuracy in my opinion, that the reason that he has such a distaste for Markle was due to personal rejection. Yet again, Morgan has failed entirely to separate his social connections from the issues being discussed.
I think quite clearly, therefore, that the answer as to whether Piers Morgan has been redeemed is a clear ‘no’. He has failed to improve on the same problem that have followed him throughout his journalistic career: the appearance of a reasonable man, contrasted against the influence of his social bias. Although he is right to criticise the government’s handling of lockdown, I see this as much more of a decision in the interests of his career than his personal beliefs. The situation has become so absurdly mishandled that any attempt by Morgan to defend it would disrupt the already shallow facade of rationality that he carries about him. It does not seem that Morgan will be changing for the better any time soon.
This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.