Sunday’s announcement that Piers Morgan had lost his show at CNN was hardly unexpected.
The ratings for the coveted 9 p.m. time slot were abysmal, dropping last week to just 270,000 viewers — about one-eighth of what Fox News’s Megyn Kelly got in the same time slot.
Some, such as Variety magazine, have speculated that the low ratings are due to Morgan’s single-minded push for gun control. That might have something to do with it, but much more is going on.
In all the thousands of television and radio interviews that I have done over the years, my appearances on Morgan’s show have generated more immediate e-mails than any other show that I have ever been on.
The response made one thing immediately obvious: Only the most diehard gun-control advocates watched his show. But even some of them were unwilling to listen to his abuse.
Americans like a lively debate, but Morgan failed one basic rule: to debate the issue itself rather than make everything personal.
For instance, he yelled at Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America: “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?”
He has referred to me as 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.”
Among my various appearances, Morgan invited me on his very first shows after the Aurora, Colo., movie-theater shooting, the Newtown massacre, and the Navy Yard shooting. But with emotions running high after these tragedies, his strategy was clearly to inflame emotions still further, not attempt to solve the problems.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple described Piers’s interviewing style this way:
Morgan interrupted Lott enough times to short-circuit the Erik Wemple Blog Interrupto-Meter.
He interrupted Lott when Lott was trying to make a point about mass shooting tallies;
He interrupted Lott when Lott was trying to make a point about weapons types;
He interrupted Lott when Lott was trying to make a point about evidence for the effectiveness of weapons bans;
He interrupted Lott several times when Lott was trying to make a point about mass shootings overseas.
And then he interrupted Lott when Lott complained that he was being interrupted. “I’m going to keep talking, so I suggest you keep quiet,” Morgan said, determined, apparently, to win this face-off not on the merits but via verbal thuggery.
Many others reacted negatively to Morgan’s heavy-handedness. While hundreds of the e-mails that I received from his viewers would engage in long diatribes filled with swear words, threats, and claims that I was guilty of murder, there were also a lot of sensible e-mails, such as this one:
Dear Dr Lott,
I am rather liberal, and, with no real knowledge or facts, am a proponent of gun laws.
I was very interested in hearing what you had to say this evening on Piers Morgan. Unfortunately, that did not happen because of Mr. Morgan’s near childish behavior and disrespect he showed you this evening. You should be extremely proud of the composure you demonstrated on his show. In my opinion, you were by far the better man this evening.
As noble as he thought he was, Piers did a disservice to his cause. I will buy your book and read it, and if I find your conclusions credible by my own standards, I will write Mr. Morgan and let him know.
I may end up disagreeing with you, but tonight, you have certainly won my respect.
During one show I joked that Piers had an unusual interviewing style, where he would ask the questions and then answer them himself. When several of the camera crew started laughing out loud while we were still on the air, Piers shot them an incredibly angry look and they stopped laughing.
So why keep appearing on his show? I kept at it in part because of e-mails 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.
— John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).