Posted Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at 12:03 PM
Every day I wake up, brush my teeth, and do my damndest to ignore Piers Morgan. The veteran tabloid editor and talent show host, given a 9 p.m. slot on CNN as part of some secretive money-burning scheme (I'm guessing), manages to combine the tedium of "balanced" TV talk with overwhelming self-regard.
The case against Morgan, made every night by viewers who watch The Rachel Maddow Show and Hannity instead, was probably best made by Zack Beauchamp. He focused on five rotten Morgan segments, pinpointing how each one was ruined by the host's inattention to topics and obsessive attention to himself and his image. The best example was his interview with an empty chair -- a common trick, when guests bail on him -- meant to shame Todd Akin.
The host notably does not lecture the chair about either its limited understanding of the human reproductive systems or the misogynist underpinnings of the idea of sorting rapes by their supposed “legitimacy.” Instead, the issue is Akin inconveniencing Morgan; the congressman cancelled at “the last possible minute,” making him a “gutless little twerp.” Even in his follow-up interview with Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Morgan shies away from the substantive issues raised, asking Schakowsky “[Akin] bailed on us. What do you think is going on here?”
This brings me to Morgan's latest viral hit interview: His "confrontation" with Alex Jones, the inherently amusing conspiracy theorist who gets Drudge links every other day, and who promoted the overhyped (any hype would be too much) White House petition calling for Morgan's deportation.
Jones is an original, a motormouth who spits out so many factoids and theories that the gullible (Charlie Sheen, for example) think he must know something. Morgan's approach to Jones: Let the guest steamroll him, for minutes at a time.
After Jones compares the "gun-grabbers" to murderous Communists -- something he does on his show all the time, without prodding -- Morgan smugly asks if he's "finished." That gives Jones another chance to talk. Interrupting Jones, finally, Morgan brings out the stumper: "How many gun murders were there in America last year?" Jones, brandishing a sheet of data, gets the number right exactly. "Okay, that wasn't the question -- how many gun murders were there in Britain?"
It goes on like this. Morgan keeps asking Jones to go along with his premise -- that gun crime is lower in countries with bans on most guns -- as if the guest had never thought of it. "How many gun murders were there in Britain last year?" asks Morgan. "How many chimpanzees can dance on the head of a pin?" asks Jones. Morgan implies that Jones is simply ignorant -- "Do you understand the difference between 11,000 and 35?" But the two men are talking past each other. Jones's job is to blow up and shame a buffoonish foreigner. Morgan's job is to make an example of the worst possible advocate for gun rights, and he doesn't even pull that off. And if he thinks this gimmicky crap is going to advance a gun control debate, then it's possible -- horrifying, but possible -- that we've been overrating his tact.*
*I originally wrote "intelligence" here, but that seemed cheap. It may have been one of the reason that Morgan's producer Jonathan Wald tweeted this reaction:
"Overwhelming self-regard". @daveweigel looks in mirror, describes @piersmorgan."
The reason this post led off with a little personal fulmination: I wanted to explain why I try not to cover these stories about White House petitions taking off. They're cheap news, proof only that a few thousand people have taken it upon themselves to joke about something. A really popular Facebook group or YouTube video is usually a better barometer of something's cultural cachet. But I guess the "Deport Piers Morgan" petition served its purpose -- not deporting the guy, getting more attention to the petition's originators.