The Good Morning Britain host has been nominated as 2020’s Columnist of the Year. Why?
It’s difficult to ignore Piers Morgan, however hard we may try. He’s got a platform on live TV, he’s all over Twitter and he has his own newspaper column. And now that same column – which, in the last two months alone, has taken aim at Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, J-Lo, Shakira, “deluded liberals” and “Hollywood’s virtue-signalling hypocrites” – has been nominated as Columnist of the Year at the National Press Awards.
Which is good for Morgan, I guess, but very bad for society as a whole.
The year is 2020, and the theme of our new decade (at least ostensibly) is this: be kinder. And, for a brief heartbeat of a moment, it seemed as if Morgan was on board. Indeed, in the wake of Caroline Flack’s suicide, he tweeted about the “mindless, ill-informed, hypocritical abuse that’s made Twitter a disgusting cesspit for any public figure”.
Then, just moments later, he returned to his campaign against Jameela Jamil, dubbing the actor and activist a “shameless hypocrite” (he later informed Twitter that The Good Place star “won’t be remembered at all” when she dies). He kept his profile pic as his head photoshopped atop a penguin’s body – which, as many noted, he had done to “directly mock trans people, a community where nearly 50% of individuals have attempted suicide”. He continued to berate Meghan and Harry. And, as if that weren’t enough, Morgan began “trolling” mental health spokesperson Matt Haig, too.
“For ages I’ve been one of the people Piers Morgan has been aggro with and I have been aggro with him and it was all a bit juvenile,” Haig tweeted after the online spat.
“Yesterday I held out an olive branch and said I don’t want to play and let’s be a bit kinder to each other and he blocked me.
“What a strange person.”
Of course, saying something that goes against the grain of public opinion isn’t inherently a bad thing. And, as an opinionated writer myself, I fully believe that we should read articles we disagree with.
“By sticking to our tribe, it makes it much more difficult for us to have our minds changed, or to change the minds of others,” former New York Times editor Trish Hall tells Stylist. “If we’re going to become more cohesive and more able to move the world forward, then we need to understand other points of view.”
But, while the internet should be a place for people to share ideas and communicate with one another, trolls like Morgan have created a climate that causes more pain. One that makes it unsafe to lead with vulnerability or stand out. One that pushes us to hate one another, to lash out at one another, to scream our opinions in capital letters across the internet. And his ‘opinions’ – so carefully chosen to divide us into two camps, to inspire and profit from outrage – are dangerous, too.
Less than a day after the Manchester Arena terror attack, Morgan began to “perpetuate a cycle of hate” on national television.
“At some point there has to be a more concerted effort by the Muslim community to root out these people whose brains have been completely warped into thinking that this is the way they should be behaving,” he announced on Good Morning Britain.
In that same year, Morgan tweeted that male mental health sufferers needed to “man up” and help those who “REALLY need help” in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week. Despite the fact that men aren’t speaking out, and suicide is officially the single biggest killer of men aged between 20 and 49 years old.
As the rate of transphobic hate crimes continues to rise in England and Wales, meanwhile, so does Morgan continue to share anti-LGBT+ comments on GMB. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by activists, either: after his on-air tantrum over gender identity (which led to the aforementioned penguin avatar), some 33,000 people signed a petition calling for the GMB presenter to be fired for his persistent “dehumanising” treatment of trans people.
He’s accused Meghan and Harry of “playing this despicable race card”, despite the fact that a number of activists have pointed out that there’s a clear undercurrent of racism to the anti-Meghan rhetoric. And, on top of all that, Morgan has done his best to cast doubt on the testimonies of rape survivors, too. Indeed, shortly after Lady Gaga said that she was raped at the age of 19 by a man 20 years her senior, Morgan tweeted a CNN piece headlined “Lady Gaga: ‘I have PTSD’” with his response: “No, soldiers returning from battlefields do. Enough of this vain-glorious nonsense.”
He followed this with another tweet to his 5.3 million followers – “I come from a big military family. It angers me when celebrities start claiming ‘PTSD’ about everything to promote themselves” – before casting doubt on the experiences of sexual assault described by both Lady Gaga and Madonna.
The two performers “have both made ALLEGATIONS of rape many years after the event,” he wrote. “No police complaint, no charges, no court case.”
It doesn’t end there. I could list Morgan’s unhelpful comments on white privilege, on racism, on sexism. I could highlight all of the awful things he’s said to women (as Chrissy Teigen once famously tweeted, an overwhelming number of his columns take aim at women and people of colour). And I could combat all that by saying that Morgan is an undeniably intelligent man, one who has been described as a “feminist at heart” by Dawn Alford, who worked as an investigative reporter for him at The News of the World and The Mirror.
Does this mean that Morgan, when he’s writing and tweeting, is doing so in character? He’s certainly suggested as much. In an interview with The Radio Times, he said: “My persona in public is a slight pantomime villain. I constantly fuel this because it’s fun, it’s entertaining, it’s provocative, it gets everybody going, it encourages debate. All the things I like.”
But… surely this is worse, in many ways? Because, as Teigen once told Morgan during a Twitter spat: “I think you aren’t this bad and have simply sold your soul for clicks. Which is even sadder than actually believing your garbage.”
Morgan’s column, positioned as it is in The Mail on Sunday, enables him to speak to people in their homes over breakfast. Those who hate him and his opinions flick to that page because they want to know what outrageous thing he’s said. And those who do agree with him, meanwhile, latch onto his examples of “woke” liberals, “rabid feminists” and “emasculated” men as proof of all that is wrong with the 21st century.
Nobody wins. Whether we agree with him wholeheartedly and share his columns to prove it, or hate every word he says and retweet screenshots of his headlines in outrage, nobody wins – except Morgan himself, of course.
So it’s time to do what we should have done a long time ago. Don’t lash out, or hurl insults at him, or bully him. And, for Christ’s sake, don’t bloody nominate him as columnist of the year (why are we rewarding his bullying antics?). Instead, ignore his column, ignore his tweets, ignore his ridiculous comments on GMB.
It’s hard, I know (I find it almost impossible not to rise to the bait), but by refusing to engage with him, we make this business of trolling far less lucrative. Because, just as a fire goes out when we stop feeding it oxygen, so trolls run out of steam when we stop giving them attention.