The Good Morning Britain host has been a force for good during the coronavirus crisis, says ANTHONY CLAVANE.
If Ian Hislop is short of an idea for Private Eye’s next ‘Apology’ column he should bury the hatchet with his arch-enemy Piers Morgan and feature the Good Morning Britain host.
The spoof piece might explain that, in recent years, all self-respecting progressives have given the impression that Morgan was a smug, name-dropping, egotistical, arrogant buffoon whose over-hyped TV rants pandered to the prejudices of the more bigoted sections of Middle England.
They now realise, however, in the light of his recent interviews, articles and Tweets, that nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, they are happy to accept that he is the People’s Piers, the newly-anointed voice of the nation, a champion of transparency, a brilliant reporter who robustly holds the powerful to account.
Hislop is unlikely to end his long-running feud with the former Daily Mirror editor any time soon. The Have I Got News For You star is one of the many enemies Morgan has made during his long journey from local newspaper trainee to one of the country’s most influential journalists.
This is a shame as the rivals now find themselves in the same camp, both seeing it as their duty to bring to the public’s attention the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Morgan’s live interrogations of ministers on GMB, the breakfast programme he co-hosts with Susanna Reid, have become must-see TV.
His spats with various interviewees have, since he joined the show five years ago, constantly boosted audience share rating – ‘cultivating the persona,’ noted Vice magazine, ‘that makes him a one-man clickbait machine’ – so, in one way, this is nothing new.
What is new, however, is his appeal to the kind of self-respecting progressive who, up until recently, signed petitions calling for him to be cancelled.
In the last few weeks he has become an unlikely poster-boy for the Guardian. ‘Say what you like about Piers Morgan,’ wrote the newspaper’s Russell Cunningham in a love letter to the 55-year-old Arsenal fan, ‘the man’s got balls’. An op-ed hailed him as the ‘voice of reason’. Columnist John Crace saluted him as ‘the everyman who isn’t afraid to use what power he has to call out bulls**t and incompetence for what it is.’
This is a newspaper whose readers Morgan clearly had in mind when he ridiculed, on a pinned Tweet, all ‘whiny PC-crazed snowflake imbeciles’.
The Independent called Morgan a hero. And Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio has praised his interrogation skills; maybe he will join Ted Hastings at AC-12 in the next series?
At the same time, calling out successive ministers’ bulls**t and incompetence – or, to put it another way, asking them difficult questions – has turned the Boris fandom against him.
Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski dismissed Morgan’s skilled interrogations as ‘pantomime bluster’. Populist website Politicalite denounced him as a ‘left-wing media luvvie who has repeatedly misjudged the mood of the nation’. And right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes first accused him of hypocrisy for attending an Arsenal game in early March – despite attacking the government for allowing the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead – and then gleefully reported that GMB’s viewing figures had apparently collapsed from 1.23 million to 704,300.
Even Lord Sugar has waded in, chiding him for ‘terrible reporting’.
There may be some truth in some of the criticism. As befits a controversialist with 7.4 million followers, he thrives on Twitter storms and is always delighted to be part of the story.
He is quite clearly an attention-seeker and often fails to allow interviewees enough time to answer his questions. Going to the Arsenal match was obviously a mistake.
And he certainly carries a lot of baggage. The critic AA Gill once joked he had ‘learned human as a second language’. Since taking charge of the News of the World at just 28 – becoming the youngest national newspaper editor in 50 years – he has annoyed, offended and appalled many people.
Since the 2016 EU referendum, even though he voted to Remain, he has often had Europhiles – indeed anyone who has dared to criticise Brexit – in his sights.
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At a notorious British Press Awards ceremony, Jeremy Clarkson punched him three times in response to the Mirror publishing a picture of the then Top Gear presenter with a woman who wasn’t his wife. He was relentlessly mocked by Hislop on an episode of Have I Got News For You – and then vowed to avenge this humiliation by exposing the Private Eye editor’s personal life.
The lowest point was his 2004 sacking at the Mirror for publishing allegedly hoax pictures of British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.
But Sugar couldn’t be more wrong about Morgan’s reporting skills. The GMB presenter’s journalism has, during the pandemic, been exemplary, his morning grillings an antidote to the bland, tedious, 5pm press briefings.
He was right to dress down ministers for being slow to move at the start of the crisis. He was right to tell Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis it was ‘an absolute disgrace’ that few care home workers had been tested.
He and Reid have been right to tear into a succession of hapless ministers – Helen Whately, Matt Hancock, Simon Clarke and Edward Argar – for their selective use of scientific data and other failings on ventilators and PPE.
He was right to blast culture secretary Oliver Dowden for ‘grotesquely underestimating’ the number of coronavirus deaths.
He was right to puncture the Boris love-in on Monday morning this week, criticising the Johnson’s first live television appearance after recovering from the virus and questioning the fandom’s suggestion that the PM is our saviour.
He has finally seen the light on the idiocies of Trump, who unfollowed him on Twitter after Morgan told off the president for turning the daily White House press briefing ‘into a rambling two-hour self-promoting rally. He’s devoted large chunks of them to trashing the media, attacking political opponents, telling us how great he is, and re-writing history as he tries to defend all the mistakes he’s made since the virus first erupted’.
After years of cosying up to The Donald – in 2018 his sycophantic interview with Trump was widely criticised – the scales have finally fallen from his eyes. ‘By far the most reckless and dangerous thing president Trump has done,’ he wrote in reference to his former mate’s bizarre claims that injecting yourself with disinfectant might beat coronavirus, ‘is use the most powerful podium on earth to air his bats**t crazy theories about how to beat the virus.’
Morgan’s rehabilitation is complete. When Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie denounced him, earlier this week, as ‘a principal cause of deepening distrust of the broadcast media amongst the population at large’ it confirmed that he had taken over from the Today programme as the government’s Public Enemy No 1. This is a label which he will, no doubt, accept as a badge of honour.
As a self-identifying PC-crazed snowflake I’ve got to admit that Morgan – like the popular video-sharing app TikTok, the Sunday Times investigation team and toilet paper makers – is having a good crisis.
Like him or loathe him, he is absolutely right about the virus.