The Utterly Unpersuasive
Piers Morgan is “the man you love to hate.” If that seems like a pretty bare, narrow formulation along which someone could structure their entire life, well, whatever. Morgan (who is fifty-four) relishes any attention - if you hate him, all the better, says his smirk.
It begs the question - who the fuck is Piers Morgan, and why should I give a fucking shit about this guy? There’s no good answer to this question. What can be said are the facts. The only reason you know Morgan - know that he exists, know the stupid shit he has to say about Daniel Craig being a feminized cuck of a father, know that he is very close personal friends with Donald Trump - is because he has spent his entire career parroting and flattering powerful, evil men.
Indeed, Morgan seems at his most triumphant when, after saying something patently false, or nauseating, or indefensible, someone he’s not sucking up to gets upset. In this sense, Piers Morgan - disgraced Fleet Street newspaper editor, former CNN fixture, winner of NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” British morning show host - is a bit like an old, boxy cargo plane, firing an endless chain of cluster bombs out the tail. Trailing off in bunches and bursts, there is no precise target for the high explosives, dropped as they are with a lazy, nihilistic disregard for how anyone would feel about being bombed. Coming to rest under trees, or half-buried, all that’s needed is for some unlucky forager or child or dog to accidentally step on the ordnance, and Piers Morgan’s work is done.
The world has developed conventions outlawing the use of cluster bombs; unfortunately, we are no closer to a worldwide effort to similarly proscribe Piers Morgan. Each day, civilians happen upon one of his tweets, or an article about the latest asinine bullshit he spouted on TV, or God forbid, video of the latest gambit for attention. Nothing can be done for them; the focus needs to be on reducing future harm.
I encountered this myself this week on Twitter, a website for which Morgan, an avid user, appears to have three uses. The first is to find and retweet any scrap of praise, from anyone, for Piers Morgan. This would be a merely pathetic and sad quality if encountered in most people, revealing as it so clearly does the total lack of any self-esteem existing independent of the approval of others. While barking like a seal for such recognition seems rough, in this case, it is some indication of karmic justice, and of the personal Hell which Morgan must live each day.
The second use is, of course, self-promotion. With Donald Trump in the UK this week for a humiliating, bumbling state visit - think, “Moe, Larry, and Curly move the Queen of England’s piano” - it was Piers’s time to shine. Having already established his total lack of self-respect, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Morgan was sufficiently sycophantic to Trump as to secure an exclusive interview with the statesman, even gifting him a fedora to wear on camera in the style of Churchill. While Trump looked more like Boris from the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons than Churchill, it’s the thought that counts with gifts, which I assume are commonly given by objective journalists to the fascist political leaders they seek to interview.
It was Morgan’s endless, dramatic self-promotion of the interview - complete with hazy, frosted portraits of him and Don, standing next to each other like he was being picked up for prom - that reminded me of his third use of Twitter: attacking those he felt he could easily push around. Nauseated by the spectacle, I fired off a crass joke tweet about Piers playing voicemails hacked from 9/11 victims’ phones to Trump for a good laugh (more on that in a minute). To my (modest) surprise, Piers noticed this nasty bit of news, and reacted as any wealthy, famous, thick-skinned veteran broadcaster would: he officially notified Twitter and implied I would be sued if I didn’t delete my message.
Piers Morgan will always be the scraping, spineless sort, who thinks being a hatchet-man, lacking any dignity or decency, is the same thing as being a tough guy. His smug, superior tone here is vintage Morgan: from snitching me out to the official Twitter account for, well, Twitter, to the mock-chummy, first-name salutation, to the vague menace of future legal complications, this is what this guy has done for his entire public life. This is the same media personality who brags of sending paparazzi after comedians who make fun of him, who signed off on ambushing a minor royal with long-lens photography as she left an eating disorder clinic, who boasted of knowing how to hack into voicemail messages, and whose admittedly dwindling career has been defined by casual cruelty, lying, and cowardice.
In other words, he’s a big piece of shit. And yet, on Planet Morgan, if anyone hates him, they’re only jealous of his status - even if that status is on-par with the Mouth of Sauron, a hissing sycophant to the most evil, destructive scumbags on the planet. But with his pretensions to John Bull, Little Englander authenticity, and bottomless self-regard as a gothic villain, even the most savage comparison to one of Tolkein’s cast of characters might be too flattering to Morgan. So what makes Piers Morgan tick, with all the trappings of ego stripped away?
For a start, take a long, hard look at Piers Morgan, who certainly does not look like a tough guy, or an enviable one, or indeed, one you’d pay to see on screen.
His face looks like that of a circus clown without makeup, with the rosy red cheeks of a fat boy pressing against a bakery window. His fleshy neck bulges under his chin like a pouch, yet also hangs, like a turkey’s wattle. When he bobs his head, making some point emphatically, Morgan’s gelatinous, gravity-defying neck-pouch wiggles in the sideways movement of a jellyfish. His beady eyes thin to slits when expressing some stupid opinion against objections, like some cave-dwelling cryptid sensitive to light. His voice, redolent of “Downton Abbey’s” cook, Mrs. Patmore, gets louder the more he repeats a particular point, the way you might yell at a dog who’s refusing to sit or roll over. Refused on some point or other, Morgan simply becomes more convulsive and obnoxious, marking the rare feat of repeatedly making pro-gun commentators look like the saner party in a conversation. Admired in full, he has a big, ungainly body built for belly flopping into a pool, or perhaps being fanned with palm leaves by an unlucky servant caste.
As a broadcaster, he is somehow even less charming than his appearance would suggest; indeed, Piers Morgan’s biggest break, replacing Larry King on CNN, was an unmitigated disaster. If remembered at all, Morgan is best-known in the US for inviting Alex Jones, far-right racist and conspiracy theorist, onto primetime cable and into mainstream life. Slinking back off to Britain, and consigned to what surely must be a hellish existence of breakfast show news segments, it is Morgan’s tenuous relationship to Trump, that unlikely American president, that is his last card to play.
And play it, he does. Not unlike Trump, a great measure of Morgan’s self-esteem seems to come from associating himself with far more prominent figures - a kind of fame-by-osmosis which he inhales instead of oxygen. And if Trump is as energetic a wannabe as America can produce, that doesn’t stop Morgan from playing the wannabe’s wannabe - always eager to mention his victory winning Trump’s favor as his “Apprentice,” the kind of honor most decent people would open their throats with a razor to avoid receiving.
Think Grima Wormtongue, from “Lord of the Rings,” slithering and sputtering poison into his liege’s ear, or Baron Harkonnen’s doctor, in “Dune,” admiring his master’s chancres. Morgan’s servility before Trump is so undignified that it requires something out of science-fiction to be adequately conveyed; the real world is bereft of suitable comparisons. Morgan, emitting idiot rays from his stupid ham head, longs to target anyone who’d speak ill of his sugar daddy du jour: Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, British tabloid goon Kelvin MacKenzie, Margaret Thatcher, Jack the Ripper. Such are the dubious mentors of the man, evil in his own, small-time way, but with lacking the grandeur hoarded by his superiors.
Which is the long route to saying why, in response to Piers’s breezy, knowing threat of legal action against me, I told him to go fuck himself. I don’t say that to sound somehow heroic or brave or anything - it’s quite the opposite, a very safe thing to do. See, there remains the matter of the time a lifetime of dirty dealings seemed to almost catch up to Morgan. And when you remind him of it, he turns tail and runs for the hills, dispensing his street-smart tough guy act instantaneously.
The revelation that sleaze-mongering tabloid editors had made a habit of hacking into the voicemail inboxes of everyone from 9/11 victims to celebrities to missing teenage girls had, by 2015, turned a spotlight onto Piers Morgan, who was in the thick of such dirt-gathering as a London editor. The police grilled him. Phone-hacking victim Hugh Grant named Morgan as his attacker after winning a six-figure settlement. BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman recalled a mocking Morgan taunting celebrities about the content of private conversations, as well as claiming familiarity with how to hack phones. And finally, the parent company of Morgan’s former paper, the Daily Mirror, admitted stories published during his tenure may have been gleaned from such crimes.
Like Trump, Roy Cohn, and Pol Pot, Morgan tried turning the ultimate lack of any criminal proceedings against him into victory. But it is worth taking some time to reflect upon the published conclusions of the official British inquiry which investigated media phone-hacking, and to which Morgan testified he had done nothing wrong:
“Overall, Mr Morgan’s attempt to push back from his own bullish statement to the Press Gazette was utterly unpersuasive...I have concluded that Mr Morgan was aware of the use of the technique of phone hacking in the industry, and that articles were likely to have been published on the basis of material obtained by that technique...For him, the issue must have been of current interest and worth talking about in that context. It is not plausible that he was making an elaborate joke about things which simply had not occurred: Mr Paxman himself felt that Mr Morgan’s tone was bullying, which, in any event, somewhat dispels the joke hypothesis.”
One of the few things I know for sure now, after years of ignorance, is that the only way to handle a bully is to pay them no respect, to ignore their attempts to scare or control, and, if they make the mistake of picking a fight, to wallop them. It’s why I made fun of Morgan at all; it’s why, after his reply, I asked what the fuck he was talking about, and what on Earth he would sue me for; and why - and I suspect this is what led him to go radio silent before blocking me - he didn’t want to talk about phone hacking, and the time he was left sweating under the lights for a life of crime.
There are a lot of Piers Morgans in the world today, and what they all share in common is talking an enormous game to conceal how empty, pitiful, and meaningless their lives are. In Morgan’s case, as a pioneer of the fake news and sleazy power worship that feels all-enveloping today, the worst harm this can cause is further toxifying and polluting our media culture, and with it, the minds of millions. With Murdoch, or Trump, or Nigel Farage, the results are even darker. If it seems like they’re not getting theirs, just remember this: it must be absolute Hell to live their lives.