Politics & Policy

Piers Morgan’s Decline and Fall

Who is honestly surprised that he failed?

At long last the whispers and the wishes have given way to terse confirmation, and the poor man will be put out of his misery. Piers Morgan’s disastrous evening show is being axed.

“It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” Morgan conceded yesterday. “That’s run its course.” And how. Whatever problems CNN was experiencing when Larry King took his final curtain call, his successor’s run served only to exacerbate them. The first show was watched by 2 million people; the most recent by just 270,000 — only 50,000 of them in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic. Perhaps the news is changing. Perhaps the public is telling the network something. Perhaps Morgan is just staying true to form . . . 

Attempting to overcomplicate the decision, the New York Times’ David Carr submitted that there are fatal “tells in [Morgan’s] speech . . . that suggest that he is not from around here.” Suffice it to say that if Morgan takes any succor at all from this peculiar misreading of his fortunes, he will have rather spectacularly missed the mark. What distinguished him from successful and beloved British imports such as Alistair Cooke, Christopher Hitchens, and Craig Ferguson was not the voice but the attitude. Most Brits move to America because they adore the place — becoming “American on purpose,” as Ferguson gracefully puts it. Morgan, conversely, came for work and work alone — believing, as Simon Cowell told him, that his fortune lay in America — and he demonstrated a reflexive disdain for his audience that he never quite managed to overcome.

Nowhere was this more pronounced than on the question of gun control, which he allowed to become first an eccentric obsession, then a fetish, and, finally, a veritable mania that threatened to destroy his focus. Certainly, one does not expect newcomers to any land to mask their political opinions. But it is generally preferable for the recently arrived to at least like the people that they have joined, and, too, for them to attempt to comprehend where their opponents are coming from. Morgan engaged regularly with supporters of the Second Amendment, but he somehow managed to avoid learning a single thing about them and their beliefs. Here, perhaps, the British accent did not help. Tying one’s specific political complaints to a look-at-all-these-rubes shtick is one thing coming from the likes of a Bill Maher or a John Fugelsang, but quite another coming from an immigrant who replaced Larry King on a network that has been traditionally known for down-the-middle news. Who is honestly surprised that the play failed?

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.”

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

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