Morgan had his pet causes. What he didn’t have — and “Shooting Straight” makes the point clear — was a sweeping worldview that could animate “Piers Morgan Live.” His MSNBC competitor in the 9 p.m. slot, Rachel Maddow, has just such a worldview, one that delivers predictable and edgy harangues against right-wing America in just about each episode. And the former 9 p.m. tenant at Fox News, Sean Hannity, has a worldview and absolutely nothing else. (Hannity moved to 10 p.m. last fall). On nights when there wasn’t big news happening, those ideological folks will always have a core, faithful set of viewers that any CNN competitor will have to win over one by one…
As for general unpleasantness, there’s an anecdote from “Shooting Straight” when Morgan encounters Cameron Diaz at a party. After Diaz tells Morgan she’ll come on his show once she has “something serious and intelligent to talk about,” Morgan replies “The ‘Something About Mary’ sequel? At which point I felt a sharply pointed shoe connect with my ankle.” And there’s the time he called Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man” on air. Essential Morgan biographical moments.
There are a couple of problems with being a jerk. Given the absence of a coherent worldview on Morgan’s show, the allure defaults to the host and his personality. If that personality isn’t compelling, people probably won’t tune in. And bookings get harder to pull off, too. How many displays of rudeness could Morgan propagate till celebrities and politicians start saying no, thanks?
Limbaugh told his listeners on Monday that the network is chalking up the show’s demise to two things: “A, imported Brit. B, he wouldn’t let go of the Second Amendment and Americans love their guns and they don’t like Piers, and Piers is gone.”
But that’s “bogus,” said Limbaugh, who also knocked Morgan as a “a not particularly nice-sounding Brit.”
“The New York Times has a story today and they’re blaming his accent as the reason he failed to connect with Americans, his British accent. That’s bogus,” Limbaugh said, according to a transcript. “The American people are suckers for British accents. The American people think a British accent sounds brilliant and intelligent and worldly and sophisticated. He couldn’t even pull that off.”
Sunday night, after David Carr broke the news that Piers Morgan would be ending his CNN show, I searched Twitter to find how his fans were taking it. This was a mistake. Really, who was a Piers Morgan fan? Have you ever met one?…
Morgan was the beneficiary of a curious American habit. We assign 20 extra IQ points to anyone who speaks with a British accent, redistributing them from the people who speak with Southern accents. This was what led people, like Alec Baldwin, to assume that Martin Bashir “might help get MSNBC to a higher place,” and why every B-movie producer has assumed he could elevate the material by casting Malcolm McDowell or Ben Kingsley. That way lies madness—that way lies Thunderbirds and Piers Morgan Live…
The Clinton interview was instructive, because the host’s approach varies (present tense, as CNN plans to keep him on in some capacity) depending on how much power his subject wields. If Morgan likes the subject, or is honored to have him on, he asks friendly questions and maybe gets a fresh on-air response to the controversy of the day. This was generally Morgan’s approach with Sen. John McCain, who made it on the show, on average, every few months. “We’ve got footage of you when you went to the Ukraine,” said Morgan in his latest McCain sit-down. “What kind of country is it?” This was a follow-up question about breaking news.
When Morgan grabs another sort of guest—a weaker, freakier guest—he’s a wholly different interviewer. He pounces. He interrupts. He calls the subject “gutless” or “an idiot” if they can’t take his grilling. One of the (many!) problems here, as Zack Beauchamp wrote, is that Morgan’s righteous anger rises not when he’s failing to get a good answer, but when he’s being disrespected.
Americans like a lively debate, but Morgan failed one basic rule: to debate the issue itself rather than make everything personal…
He has referred to me as everything from a “liar” and a “clown” and attacked the shape of my “weird pointy bushy eyebrows” that are deformed because of surgery that I had as a kid to remove a tumor. He has encouraged guests such as Alan Dershowitz to make such bizarrely false claims as the idea that my “conclusions are paid for and financed by the National Rifle Association” or that my work “is junk science at its worst. Paid for and financed by the National Rifle Association.”…
So why keep appearing on his show? I kept at it in part because of emails such as the one above. Morgan’s yelling was doing far more damage to himself than he did to his guests. And while Piers might have been doing 80 to 90 percent of the talking, such a diehard gun-control audience would possibly hear a couple of facts during my appearance that they had never heard before.
Support for gun control has been plummeting, reaching its lowest level since such poll questions began. Part of it is that Americans are realizing gun control doesn’t work and may actually make things worse. But Piers Morgan did his part too: Americans know that the better argument doesn’t require his behavior.
Indeed, insofar as Morgan has made an impression on the country at all, his brief foray into American television appears to have served primarily to extend the territory in which he has thus far rendered himself unpopular. Back in the old country, Morgan’s name is synonymous with arrogance and with overreach, and he is known less for his interviewing skills and show-business acumen than for allegedly hacking the telephones of celebrities; for retaliating against even minor criticism by siccing paparazzi on the speaker; for having published “calculated and malicious” fake photographs of British soldiers abusing prisoners; and for considering nothing whatsoever to be more sacred than his insatiable ambition. The definition of “countryside,” Stephen Fry once quipped on the BBC, is “to kill Piers Morgan.” The audience roared. Americans are merely coming late to a story at which the Brits have been rolling their eyes for years.
Being a left-of-center television host is both extraordinarily difficult and extraordinarily easy. It is difficult in that the sheer number of people lining up to fill the void makes sharp elbows, a grasp of media politics, and a reasonably large ego necessary for one to secure the job in the first instance; it is easy in that, in order to succeed, one really just has to be moderately winsome, to sense which questions to ask, and to intuit when to shut up. Given that Morgan is an obviously repugnant personality, that he willfully fails to grapple with the topics at hand, and that he is physically incapable of allowing a guest to upstage him, he was always going to have his work cut out.
In some sense, he always did. Confused as to why people weren’t laughing at his ill-timed joke on the television series, Have I Got News for You, Morgan complained in 1996 that “last week Eddie Izzard said it and everyone roared with laughter as if it was hilarious.” “Yes,” the satirist Ian Hislop retorted, but “people like him.”
Via the Washington Free Beacon.