Why I’ve changed my mind about Piers Morgan
He used to be a sleazy hack, but the former Mirror editor’s honest interviewing style is a breath of fresh air.
As a general rule, I tend to trust nearly everything that Jeremy Clarkson says – or does. He may be an embarrassing buffoon, but at least he is self-consciously unfashionable. He wears his trousers too high. He has a silly haircut. Yet anyone who can cross the English Channel by car is surely a hero (1). And, above all, Jeremy Clarkson does not care what people think of him.
Clarkson writes everything that readers of his columns in the Sun and The Sunday Times want to hear, but you get the feeling he does so knowing that people who regurgitate clichés about ‘political correctness going mad’ or Britain being ‘swamped’ by immigrants are essentially morons. I suspect Clarkson knows that folks who regard Bill Bryson and Dan Brown as today’s exemplars of English literature and pinnacles of political and cultural insight are, frankly, half-wits.
Thus, when Jeremy Clarkson punched former Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, at the Press Awards in 2004, I immediately assumed Clarkson was onto something (2). Whomever Clarkson assaults clearly must be wrong. About everything. In the wurrrrld (3).
I’d always presumed Piers Morgan to be the epitome of a sleazy, Grub Street hack, an ostensibly ‘campaigning’ journalist who represented all that was wrong about British tabloid journalism: taking on ‘moral’ crusades on the surface, but only doing so because his rivals at the Sun or the Daily Mail had taken a contrary viewpoint.
In other words, Morgan’s alleged sincerity was, in my view, a cloak for his cheap point-scoring. It thus came as no surprise that the Mirror’s pictures of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by Brits turned out to be fake; the Mirror was only anti-war because its chief tabloid rivals were pro-war. The Mirror was against the invasion of Iraq not because it cared about ‘our troops’ or the civilians of Basra. It was against the war because the Sun was in favour of it.
Since he left the Mirror, Piers Morgan has subsequently reinvented himself as a television personality, most notably as a judge on America/Britain’s Got Talent, where he has joined Simon Cowell as a judgmental bully who enjoys destroying people’s dreams and humiliating them on national television. So what explains his popularity? Reluctantly, I have to say is that it is because Piers Morgan is honest.
Tabloid journalism may attract cynics and muck-rakers, and/or turn them into such hard-boiled creatures, but at least they have an innate, brutal honesty about them. On BBC1 on Monday night Piers Morgan interviewed Jason Donovan, former Neighbours actor and pop star, and recovering cocaine addict. It was part of Morgan’s The Dark Side of Fame series, in which he interrogates celebrities about how becoming famous screwed them up in various ways. I have enjoyed this series because Morgan, being a skin-thick egomaniac, does not indulge in sycophancy.
Imagine if Jason Donovan had been interviewed by David Frost or Michael Parkinson – the two most subservient, passive and obsequious television interviewers in British television history. It would have been all about Donovan’s fairytale relationship with Kylie Minogue, his success on stage with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Raincoat, or about Donovan’s re-invention as a regular talking head on British television. Donovan’s nightmare drug-fuelled years in the 1990s would have been a mere footnote.
Contrarily, Piers Morgan got straight to the point. ‘You were a crap singer’, he told the Australian – directly to his face. This elicited a nervous response, but a revelatory one, for Donovan admitted his success circa 1989 was probably based less on his vocal skills and more on his looks. Donovan chuckled at his late-1980s to early-1990s popularity, because, he conceded, he had, in part, been a creation of Stock-Aitken-Waterman.
Donovan forced a smile in retort to Morgan’s very direct questions, but you got the feeling he was impressed by the former Mirror editor’s utterly non-euphemistic approach. Celebrities must get very bored of sycophantic interviewers either needlessly praising them or using guests as an excuse to talk about themselves (yes, I am referring to Jonathan Ross). I got the impression Donovan found Morgan’s approach mercifully different.
It was, admittedly, a tense encounter, with much forced laughter. But this made it, ironically, more honest. We were shown how Donovan was genuinely devastated by being dumped by Kylie Minogue over the telephone, why he got into cocaine in the first place, and why he took The Face magazine to court in 1992 for insinuating that he was gay.
I had always thought that this court action was a massive mistake, in that it suggested that Donovan was a homophobe. But, watching the programme on Monday, it made sense to me: Donovan just didn’t like being labelled something that he was not. In retrospect, his actions appear so obviously correct.
I was bullied at school when I was 15 for being gay. I don’t resent now being called a homosexual. What I really resent is that these accusers were saying something that was simply untrue. Untruth has always annoyed me more than slander. And my experience has made me more pro-gay, rather than the contrary, because I know what it’s like to be the subject of the ignorant views of the masses, whose opinions are invariably informed by conformist innuendo and paranoia.
Similarly, I don’t think Jason Donovan was a homophobe. I just think that he got annoyed with people writing total bollocks about him. The gay Human Rights activist Peter Tatchell is one of my heroes, but I think he was wrong to attack Donovan at that time.
The reincarnation of Piers Morgan (or ‘Piers Moron’, as Private Eye magazine calls him) is a strange, and unexpected, breath of fresh air. His Dark Side of Fame series has proved neither to be some kind of ‘shock-jock’, red-top tabloid kind of sensationalist exposition – nor a toadyish, one-to-one which the mainstream channels in the UK excel at. Morgan just asks straightforward questions. And he gets straightforward answers.
Still, you’ve got to admire Jeremy Clarkson for hitting Piers Morgan.
But at the same time, these terrible twins have more in common than they realise. They are both interested in the honest, horrid truth. And they are both loathed and loved in equal measures.
Patrick West is spiked‘s TV columnist.
(1) BBC: Challenge to cross The Channel in Car Boats! – Top Gear, YouTube
(2) Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear & punching Piers Morgan, YouTube
(3) Harry and Paul – Clarkson Island, YouTube
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