Things get prickly for Piers on gun control
Masochistic or not, Piers Morgan under fire is always entertaining
Some weeks before the massacre at Newtown those of us masochists who follow Piers Morgan on Twitter began to notice the adoption of a 'cause' by the great CNN inquisitor. With plummeting ratings and seemingly a commitment only to furthering the career of cricketer Kevin Pietersen and terminating that of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, a quixotic campaign against gun ownership had become Morgan's dog in a hunt that was about to take centre stage.
As one of Morgan's 3m followers, it depresses me to say that I first got wind of the Newtown massacre through one of Piers's tweets linking to a BBC report just hours after the shootings. Over the next few days as the full horror of events at Sandy Hook became clear, Piers's tweets became ever more sickly as any pretence of being a journalist was surrendered on an altar of hysteria, no doubt intended to forward his hand in what was to become a debate at the forefront of US consciousness.
Rightly, Morgan chose to run with gun control as a central theme of his faltering show, and one could understand his use of Twitter to force his profile into the public sphere of that debate. Only this week he had on shy and retiring 63 year-old rocker Ted Nugent, that rare bird: a rock star of the Right and a famously vocal supporter of gun ownership who unlike so many of his rock'n'roll compadres, and beneath the Gonzo caricature, actually seems on top his brief.
It was all good knockabout fun, but on gun control, Piers, sat just four feet across the desk from the Nuge, retained a patina of respectful inquisitor rather than ranting campaigner.
How different when he confronted - this time in another studio - US gun-ownership advocate, Larry Pratt. Halfway into the 'interview', as Pratt was forwarding a similar argument to that of Nugent, and one based on data from specific States, and the relationship between lax gun laws and crime levels - they were largely lower - Piers suddenly went into meltdown.
Pratt's argument for more gun ownership remained reasoned enough and as Morgan lost any pretence of impartiality and became angrier and descended into rant mode, Pratt barely suppressed a smirk at Morgan's loss of cool.
"Why are you laughing?" bleated the reddening Morgan. "Stop laughing!" he cried, his chubby puce cheeks becoming increasingly inflamed. Pratt asserted he was just trying to answer his question. Unable to come up with any decent questions to counter Pratt's arguments, Piers finally resorted to insulting his guest.
"You are an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you," spat Morgan at the restrained and urbane Mr Pratt, who nobly refused to take the bait and calmly accused his inquisitor of wanting to be a victim and letting the facts "just bounce off him". As Piers drew the interview to a close he descended into further name calling, as Pratt signed off with a rather good line:
"Disarmament is dangerous, just ask your role model, Neville Chamberlain".
It struck me, to my horror, that Piers Morgan might actually think he is the natural successor to Christopher Hitchens, with this sort of stuff, a 'Brit' who's found his true place in the media firmament in the US. Of course he's nothing of the sort. Whereas Hitch rarely ever lost an argument, in resorting to crude, ad hominem attacks and babyish petulance, Piers gave a masterclass in exactly how to do the opposite.
It got worse. On the morning of Decemeber 19th a gun advocate called Tim Jones tweeted at Morgan: "I think you are somewhat gleeful that a tragedy happened to help you push your cause", to which Morgan fired back, "Of course I am, you moron."
Big mistake. Huge mistake.
While Piers may regard himself as a titan of Twitter, even though he tends to tweet like an irksome 12 year-old public schoolboy, he often cannot help himself. And in this context, using sarcasm on twitter was flirting with disaster. And so it proved, as the right wing blog Breitbart, now alert to Morgan's appalling interview with Larry Pratt, scented blood and flat-out accused Morgan of actually being gleeful at the tragedy.
It was a low blow, and it hurt poor Piers who resorted to retweeting various knife-twisting tweets to illustrate "the kind of spell-bindlingly stupid attack [he was] getting now from gun rights activists".
By way of example, "So, will CNN let @piersmorgan's comments slide? Do they want to be affiliated with the liberal who ADMITTED glee over Sandy Hook?" was the sort of thing Piers was now having to defend himself against.
Eminently preventable if he had kept his cool with Larry Pratt in the first instance, one might suggest.
Of course, rather gallingly, a lot of the abuse - and there has been a lot of it flying Morgan's way from Americans not entirely receptive to the boy wonder's charms - takes the form of anti-British, or worse, anti-English sentiment. When it suits him, Morgan clings to his somewhat tenuous Irish ancestry, but no such caveat in these instances.
To the right he is an arrogant Limey who should mind his own business and f*** off back to England, while to those on the left warming to his anti-gun lobby schtick - which evolves by the hour it seems - he is in danger of becoming a loveable Irishman. It remains to be seen what effect all this has on his ratings.
Either way, masochistic or not, Morgan under fire is always entertaining.
Jonathan Bracey-Gibbon is a freelance journalist who over the past 15 years has written for The Times, the Financial Times, The Sunday Times and Sunday Express
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