Commentary Magazine


Topic: Piers Morgan

Too British for the New York Times

Yesterday the New York Times’s David Carr scooped the story that Piers Morgan will be dropped from CNN’s 9 p.m. time slot. Morgan seemed–at least as far as his discussion with Carr went–to be taking the news in stride. “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he told Carr, adding that he’ll stay at CNN and has been in discussions with the network over a better use of his time.

No one seems to be surprised, least of all Morgan. But his departure is something that he, CNN, and Carr appear to be getting all wrong. So while CNN may think it’s learning important lessons from its Piers Morgan experiment, it may be learning the wrong ones. Both Carr and Morgan made much of the latter’s accent. He’s not from here, you know. But if anyone thinks Morgan’s ratings suffered because he’s British, they certainly haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Carr:

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Yesterday the New York Times’s David Carr scooped the story that Piers Morgan will be dropped from CNN’s 9 p.m. time slot. Morgan seemed–at least as far as his discussion with Carr went–to be taking the news in stride. “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he told Carr, adding that he’ll stay at CNN and has been in discussions with the network over a better use of his time.

No one seems to be surprised, least of all Morgan. But his departure is something that he, CNN, and Carr appear to be getting all wrong. So while CNN may think it’s learning important lessons from its Piers Morgan experiment, it may be learning the wrong ones. Both Carr and Morgan made much of the latter’s accent. He’s not from here, you know. But if anyone thinks Morgan’s ratings suffered because he’s British, they certainly haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Carr:

It’s been an unhappy collision between a British television personality who refuses to assimilate — the only football he cares about is round and his lectures on guns were rife with contempt — and a CNN audience that is intrinsically provincial. After all, the people who tune into a cable news network are, by their nature, deeply interested in America.

CNN’s president, Jeffrey Zucker, has other problems, but none bigger than Mr. Morgan and his plum 9 p.m. time slot. Mr. Morgan said last week that he and Mr. Zucker had been talking about the show’s failure to connect and had decided to pull the plug, probably in March.

Crossing an ocean for a replacement for Larry King, who had ratings problems of his own near the end, was probably not a great idea to begin with. For a cable news station like CNN, major stories are like oxygen. When something important or scary happens in America, many of us have an immediate reflex to turn on CNN. When I find Mr. Morgan telling me what it all means, I have a similar reflex to dismiss what he is saying. It is difficult for him to speak credibly on significant American events because, after all, he just got here.

It would be astronomically bad advice for CNN to absorb this nativist lesson. In reality, the problem with Piers Morgan was twofold: first, he opined on complicated issues without the slightest–and I mean the slightest–understanding of them, and second, he mostly called his guests names when they endeavored to explain those subjects to him.

There is probably no better or more concise example of the former than the following tweet, sent out by Morgan after one of the stars of Duck Dynasty said something he didn’t like:

Just as the 2nd Amendment shouldn’t protect assault rifle devotees, so the 1st Amendment shouldn’t protect vile bigots. #PhilRobertson

There isn’t anything in that sentence that makes a modicum of sense. Obviously, the First Amendment “protects” people who disagree on the issue of same-sex marriage with overheated talk-show hosts. The First Amendment protects even speech that is unpopular in Manhattan television studios (go figure!). Also, because Morgan was upset by a musing on the Christian understanding of sin, he was suggesting, as United Liberty’s Jason Pye pointed out, that perhaps the Bible isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Ponder that thought for a moment, and you start to understand why Morgan had trouble keeping his audience.

But the first part of Morgan’s statement is also typical of his style. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes an “assault rifle devotee,” and I suspect neither does Morgan. As National Review’s Charles Cooke (who also has a British accent, defying Carr’s stereotype) has pointed out:

We can argue all day about the silly “assault weapon” term, but “assault rifle” actually has a meaning. An “assault rifle” means that the rifle can be switched between safe (off, in layman’s terms), semi-automatic, and automatic fire. Weapons such as these are heavily regulated under federal law, have never been used by a civilian to murder anybody, and are strictly illegal in California. The definition of “assault rifle” is not controversial.

The terms one uses in such debates are important, especially where the law is concerned. Morgan never seemed interested in such details, because he never seemed interested in the subjects at all. He was given plenty of time to engage seriously in the issues at hand. He didn’t want to. He wanted to yell at people. That’s his right–and it’s CNN’s right to pay him to do so. The experiment failed because he refused to recognize the rights of others and the act got old, fast. Just as it would have without an accent.

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Political Debate As Theater

I’ve been critical of CNN’s Piers Morgan in the past, but his interview with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quite good and enlightening. I say that because both men laid out reasonable arguments to support their case. 

Mr. Morgan, in response to Gingrich’s concern that politicians should not be in the business of deciding how to “permit” Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pointed out that Gingrich himself believes the same thing. That is, Mr. Gingrich agrees we should ban automatic weapons–which means he agrees the government ought to be in the business of drawing lines and granting, or not granting, permission to use certain types of weapons.

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I’ve been critical of CNN’s Piers Morgan in the past, but his interview with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was quite good and enlightening. I say that because both men laid out reasonable arguments to support their case. 

Mr. Morgan, in response to Gingrich’s concern that politicians should not be in the business of deciding how to “permit” Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, pointed out that Gingrich himself believes the same thing. That is, Mr. Gingrich agrees we should ban automatic weapons–which means he agrees the government ought to be in the business of drawing lines and granting, or not granting, permission to use certain types of weapons.

On the flip side, Gingrich pressed Morgan on why he doesn’t advocate banning handguns, since the overwhelming number of gun-related homicides in America are caused not by “semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons” but handguns. And Gingrich, while conceding that he believes automatic weapons should be banned for civilian use, argued that we should be very cautious about extending to government the power to ban yet more weapons; that this step will embolden the government to further restrict the right of Americans to bear arms.

The weakest ground for Gingrich, then, was when the argument was narrowly focused on explaining why Americans should have a right to own a weapon that fires 100 rounds per minute if Americans are already banned (with some exceptions) from owning automatic weapons like machine guns. The weakest ground for Morgan was in not following the logic of his own assumptions, which would lead him to ban handguns if he could, and in not admitting how little the world would change if he got his ban on so-called assault weapons. 

As a general matter, the intensity of this debate is wildly disproportionate to the practical effects of its outcome. What we’re really talking about is precisely where to draw a line everyone concedes needs to be drawn. And whether or not we draw it where Piers Morgan wants it or Newt Gingrich wants it, it’s unlikely that very many, if any, lives will be saved. It strikes me that this is something too many people on both sides of this super-charged debate–starting with the president–won’t acknowledge.

I recognize that there’s a certain emotional satisfaction in pretending that one is either standing in solidarity with grieving parents or defending the sanctity of the Second Amendment. But that’s really not what’s happening here. It’s a public policy debate that will have very few ramifications in the real world. There’s an element to theater in this whole discussion that should end, but probably won’t.

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Alex Jones is a Gun Rights Straw Man

After conspiracy-mongering radio host Alex Jones started a petition to have Piers Morgan deported because of his support for gun control, the CNN personality invited Jones on to debate the issue. Jones acted as insanely as you’d expect, and Morgan is now declaring victory on the gun control argument:

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan told CNN on Tuesday. “It was startling, it was terrifying in parts, it was completely deluded. It was based on a premise of making Americans so fearful that they all rush out to buy even more guns … the kind of twisted way that he turned everything into this assault on the Second Amendment is exactly what the gun rights lobby people do.”

At least one person agreed that Jones was a terrible spokesman for gun rights: Glenn Beck. Speaking on his radio show Tuesday, he said that Morgan had chosen well if his intention was to discredit the pro-gun movement.

“Piers Morgan is trying to have gun control,” Beck said. “He is trying to make everybody who has guns and who believes the Second Amendment to be a deterrent to an out of control government look like a madman. So now he immediately books the madman and makes him look like a conservative.”

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After conspiracy-mongering radio host Alex Jones started a petition to have Piers Morgan deported because of his support for gun control, the CNN personality invited Jones on to debate the issue. Jones acted as insanely as you’d expect, and Morgan is now declaring victory on the gun control argument:

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan told CNN on Tuesday. “It was startling, it was terrifying in parts, it was completely deluded. It was based on a premise of making Americans so fearful that they all rush out to buy even more guns … the kind of twisted way that he turned everything into this assault on the Second Amendment is exactly what the gun rights lobby people do.”

At least one person agreed that Jones was a terrible spokesman for gun rights: Glenn Beck. Speaking on his radio show Tuesday, he said that Morgan had chosen well if his intention was to discredit the pro-gun movement.

“Piers Morgan is trying to have gun control,” Beck said. “He is trying to make everybody who has guns and who believes the Second Amendment to be a deterrent to an out of control government look like a madman. So now he immediately books the madman and makes him look like a conservative.”

Beck is right. That’s like bringing on an Adbusters editor to provide the counterargument to the GOP tax position, or Charlie Sheen to make the case for marijuana decriminalization. These people are not fair representatives for the debates. Jones is an anti-fluoridation activist who questions the “official account” of 9/11 and preaches about the coming One World Order. He is a cartoon of a fringe figure. The only thing Morgan proved by giving a platform to such a straw man was a lack of confidence in his own arguments.

“I can’t think of a better advertisement for gun control than Alex Jones’ interview last night,” Morgan said afterward. How about bringing on a serious gun rights advocate, debating him, and then winning?

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Piers Morgan, Progressive Hypocrite

If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

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If you want to watch a fantastic two minutes that embody the progressive mindset, you might consider watching (courtesy of Mediaite.com) this clip from CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”

In an interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Morgan said this: “There is still an element of the Bible that is flawed.” Mr. Morgan went on to say, “Both the Bible and the Constitution were well intentioned, but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it. My point to you about gay rights, for example, it’s time for an amendment to the Bible.” When Warren replied, “No,” Morgan continued: “You should compile a new Bible.”

Of course. It turns out the Bible is a “living book” in the same way the Constitution is a “living document.” And since someone has to amend both the Bible and the Constitution, perhaps we can enlist the enlightened Piers Morgan to do the job. I can hardly wait to read the finished products. They will be fashionable, post-modern, and undoubtedly an improvement over what Solomon, King David, Jesus, and James Madison came up with.

And if that wasn’t enough, Morgan, rather than Warren, decided to take on the role of preacher. “The debate should always be respectful,” according to Morgan. “By the way,” he added, “it applies to politics, too. The moment it becomes disrespectful and discourteous and then rude and then poisonous, you never achieve anything.”

By the way, this civility sermon comes a week after Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America, and called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man” and “dangerous.” Then, in order to underscore the importance of respect and courteousness in public discourse, Morgan accused his guest of being a liar. Morgan added, “You shame your country.” And then Piers told Pratt, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

All of which got me to thinking. If Morgan does amend the Bible, he might want to begin with a verse in the book of Matthew, where Jesus repeatedly upbraids the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. That way Morgan could inject poison into our political discourse one week and preach against it the next, and feel perfectly wonderful about himself.

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RE: The Ugly Politics of Piers Morgan

I certainly agree with Peter’s post that Piers Morgan is a first-class jerk. His vicious, insulting tirade against Larry Pratt should, at the least, have gotten him severely reprimanded by CNN. If you invite a guest into your house, you don’t treat him that way. But Peter makes an interesting point:

Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster.

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I certainly agree with Peter’s post that Piers Morgan is a first-class jerk. His vicious, insulting tirade against Larry Pratt should, at the least, have gotten him severely reprimanded by CNN. If you invite a guest into your house, you don’t treat him that way. But Peter makes an interesting point:

Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster.

This intellectual rigidity and moral preening, of course, is characteristic of a religion in decline. Think of the Catholic Church at the beginning of the 17th century as the Scientific Revolution was just getting underway. They burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 for asserting that the sun was a star and there might be many worlds in the universe, not just one. Galileo—too famous to be burned—was forced to abjure his belief in a heliocentric universe and was under house arrest for the last years of his life. The Soviet Union could never tolerate dissent for fear that the whole Communist political cosmology might come crashing down, which, of course, it did.

If liberals could win the argument with facts and logic, they would do so. But they can’t so they have to fall back on, in Ring Lardner’s immortal phrase, “Shut up, he explained.” Today the “thought” of liberals consists almost entirely of looking in the equivalent of Mao’s little red book to find out what they’re supposed to think and vilifying anyone who disagrees. The solution to gun violence? Gun control. Global warming? It’s “settled science” (a phrase as moronic as it is oxymoronic). Federal deficit? Tax the rich.

But just as the Catholic Church was soon forced to deal with reality (the Vatican Observatory can trace its origins back to 1774) and the Soviet Union ended up on the ash heap of history, the left will have to adapt or die. It is spitting into the wind and has been for decades. It’s just too bad the spit has to land on so many people trying to express a contrary opinion.

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The Ugly Politics of Piers Morgan

On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

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On Tuesday night, CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed Larry Pratt, the executive director of Gun Owners of America. Anyone who has watched Morgan knows he has an obsessive dislike for America’s gun culture. He’s a fierce advocate for gun control, so it didn’t take a genius to predict the interview would be confrontational. But it turned out to be much more, and much uglier, than that.

Mr. Morgan was furious, insulting, and childish during the interview. He called Pratt “an unbelievably stupid man,” “dangerous,” accused Pratt of being a liar, said, “You shame your country,” and for good measure added, “You don’t give a damn, do you, about the gun murder rate in America.”

On Morgan v. Pratt, I have three observations to make. The first is that you would think that if Mr. Pratt was as stupid as Morgan said, Morgan could easily best him in a debate. But he didn’t. And I say that as someone who has disagreements with Pratt on gun control.

Second, Morgan embodies an attitude that we’re seeing more and more on the left. It’s a nasty combination of supreme self-righteousness and reflexive demonization. Piers Morgan can’t accept that people of good will and decency might hold views that are very different than he does on gun control. And so it’s not enough to say Pratt is wrong; he has to be portrayed by Morgan as moronic and a moral monster. This act is lovely coming from those who from time to time, and when it’s convenient, lecture the rest of us on the importance of civility in public discourse.

Point three is that Morgan and his CNN colleagues Don Lemon and Soledad O’Brien have become vocal and emotional (but not particularly well-informed) advocates for gun control since the Newtown massacre. There is not the slightest pretense of objectivity. They and their network have a story to tell, a cause to advance, an ideology to champion. And they will use their posts as journalists, including (in the case of Lemon and O’Brien) as anchors, to make their case.

Now the liberalism of these three individuals–and CNN more broadly–is hardly a state secret. Their bias is evident to anyone who watches them. That’s true of someone like Anderson Cooper, whose show I generally like. But since the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, CNN’s cast of characters (Cooper excluded) has begun to resemble the prime-time line-up at MSNBC. And for all of MSNBC’s problems–and they are very nearly endless–at least there is no play acting. They are left and they are proud of it. Which is better in some respects than CNN, which is liberal but pretends not to be.

Piers Morgan made a fool of himself and embarrassed his network on Tuesday night. And while I don’t share Larry Pratt’s views on guns, he did the country a bit of a service in revealing the ugly politics of Piers Morgan.

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CNN’s Failing Biased Business Model

The news that CNN’s ratings are at a ten-year low should come as no surprise to viewers of the cable news channel. The consensus is the downward spiral of the network’s viewership is due to the fact that it is caught in the middle between two supposedly hyper-partisan competitors — Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left — with the result that their brand of nonpartisan news is being marginalized.

But this interpretation of events is not only incorrect, it misses the point about why audiences aren’t thrilled by CNN. When given a choice between channels that don’t pretend to be totally even-handed like Fox and MSNBC and one that is masquerading as above such things, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Contrary to the self-serving excuse that CNN’s professionalism doesn’t sell as well as the partisanship exhibited on Fox and MSNBC, the viewers aren’t being fooled. They know that most of the hosts on CNN tilt sharply to the left and are put off by the pretense of objectivity.

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The news that CNN’s ratings are at a ten-year low should come as no surprise to viewers of the cable news channel. The consensus is the downward spiral of the network’s viewership is due to the fact that it is caught in the middle between two supposedly hyper-partisan competitors — Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left — with the result that their brand of nonpartisan news is being marginalized.

But this interpretation of events is not only incorrect, it misses the point about why audiences aren’t thrilled by CNN. When given a choice between channels that don’t pretend to be totally even-handed like Fox and MSNBC and one that is masquerading as above such things, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Contrary to the self-serving excuse that CNN’s professionalism doesn’t sell as well as the partisanship exhibited on Fox and MSNBC, the viewers aren’t being fooled. They know that most of the hosts on CNN tilt sharply to the left and are put off by the pretense of objectivity.

Just as is the case with Fox, much of the straight news coverage on CNN is pretty fair. It should also be specified that their primary night coverage throughout the Republican nomination race led by Wolf Blitzer was actually superior to what was broadcast on Fox.

But does anyone really think that most of CNN’s on-air hosts are any less biased than those on Fox or lean to the left any less than their competitors on MSNBC? Two recent examples, Piers Morgan’s ambush of Jonah Goldberg and Soledad O’Brien’s illiterate riff on race theory during what turned into a debate with Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollak, illustrate the network’s liberal bias.

In both cases, the interviewers didn’t just challenge conservative guests, they debated them and did their best to shut out and denigrate views they disliked. Morgan didn’t even want to talk about Goldberg’s book, let alone allow the author to explain his thesis. O’Brien pretended to act as an authority on something she clearly didn’t understand in order to defend President Obama and one of his radical mentors. We expect that sort of thing from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews or from a Bill O’Reilly on the right at Fox, but it gives the lie to CNN’s much-hyped stance of nonpartisanship.

If CNN wants to broadcast liberal shows, that’s their right. But what viewers don’t like is the same thing they despise elsewhere in the mainstream media: partisans pretending to be objective. The genius of Fox was that it gave people fed up with liberal bias being passed off as even-handed coverage a place to go to get an alternative. MSNBC profits from being a channel where liberals can go to get left-wing punditry without the gloss of faux objectivity. As Dylan Byers writes at Politico, it isn’t just that its harder for viewers to feel an affinity for someone in the middle of the road; it’s that personalities who act as if they are something different from what they obviously are inspire animus, not viewer loyalty.

 

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