TV FEBRUARY 6, 2014
The silver lining in this week’s fallout between Piers Morgan and Janet Mock—the trans activist who appeared as a guest on “Piers Morgan Live” and then accused Morgan of sensationalizing her story—was that it helped shed light on a truly sinister cultural force: Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed. If that sounds like an overstatement, I submit that it is not. Many media personalities are terrible on Twitter. Meredith Vieira is bad in a cute way, tweeting so ineptly that she at times appears to be drunk. Wolf Blitzer is bad in a Wolf Blitzery way, each tweet as lifeless and utilitarian as a chunk of computer code. (February 3rd: “The #SitRoom is about to begin. 5-6:30PM ET.” February 4th: “Get ready for #SitRoom which is about to begin. 5-6:30PM ET.”) But Piers Morgan’s tweets are a different story.
This recent skirmish began with an interview in which Morgan was far more interested in Mock's love life than in any broader questions about the trans experience. Then the “Piers Morgan Live” Twitter account unwisely tweeted: “How would you feel if you found out the woman you are dating was formerly a man?” Mock, who has never self-identified as male, tweeted back quite reasonably: “I was not ‘formerly a man.’ Please stop sensationalizing my life and misgendering trans women.” Morgan proceeded to retweet this, adding simply: “Stop being churlish.” Things escalated from there:
As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you're being. I'm on your side, you dimwits. @janetmock— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 5, 2014
To all the ignorant, bigoted transgender community members continuing to abuse me re @janetmock - I'm bored of you now, go away. Thanks.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 6, 2014
You my friend @tonidorsay are part of the problem. Now settle down, and quit the ludicrous hysterical rhetoric. I'm on your side.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 6, 2014
The episode was typical of the generally bizarre interplay between on-air Piers and Twitter Piers. Here is how it goes: Morgan conducts some explosive interview on his show, then takes to Twitter not just to defend himself but to denounce all who dare find him objectionable as losers and nitwits. It’s particularly confusing since objectionability—that is, unabashed ruffling of feathers—is supposed to be Morgan’s stock-in-trade. And yet instead of brazenly offensive, his tweets are defensive: insulting his attackers, relentlessly retweeting compliments from other Twitter users, and making an elaborate show of batting away legitimate criticisms of his tactics with petty ad hominem jabs: “Nonsense.” “Disgusting." “Crap.” (Also, I once wrote a takedown of Morgan's gun-control activism that prompted a tweet response from Morgan himself that was almost too good to be true.)
Of course, it's not terribly surprising that a victim complex undergirds Morgan's bully act. It's worth nothing, though, that his Twitter feed manages to undermine everything that is marginally good about “Piers Morgan Live.” On CNN, he is thunderously self-absorbed, deaf to other viewpoints, and sensationalistic in his treatment of sensitive issues. But his talented producers help rein him in; he is tempered by the constraints of the format, such as split-screen interviews that give his own antics and the incredulous faces of his guests equal weight; his confrontations can occasionally yield a productive tension that brings important ideas to the fore. Under such conditions, Morgan can even seem compellingly passionate and intense. His Twitter, meanwhile, distills the central strain of awfulness that exists in his show, and magnifies it. It turns out that there’s something worse than “Piers Morgan Live”: letting Morgan curate himself.