American conservatives have found themselves a new and unlikely bogeyman in the shape of (my fellow) Brit Piers Morgan, whose profile in the U.S. has risen in recent weeks as a result of his theatrical contributions to the debate over guns.
Morgan’s rudeness to pro-gun guests, dismissive attitude to the U.S. Constitution and the Bible, and generally anti-conservative tone have led his detractors to call him a liberal. The fact that he’s British has added an element of B-movie villainy, as if Morgan were a haughty redcoat general intent on personally confiscating Americans’ guns.
But while he may walk the liberal walk and talk the liberal talk, Morgan is no liberal; he has no discernible political philosophy. He’s an unprincipled, relentlessly self-promoting opportunist, a disgraced tabloid hack who doesn’t care whom he offends or how foolish he looks as long as he’s the center of attention. Morgan’s stance on a given subject is determined not by ideology, but by what will generate the most controversy, get him the most coverage, and strengthen his hand when negotiating his next book or TV deal. His efforts been given added urgency of late by the need to boost the paltry ratings of his CNN show.
Morgan came to prominence in Britain as editor of News of the World, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid which closed in 2011 following the phone-hacking scandal. The paper was not — to put it mildly — a bastion of liberal journalism. The “News or the Screws,” as it was nicknamed, specialized in celebrity gossip and sex scandals, and what little politics it contained was of the populist, hang-the-criminals, foreigner-baiting variety.
Morgan soon moved to the Daily Mirror, a tabloid that traditionally supported the left-wing Labour Party and the trade unions. If Morgan had hitherto been suppressing his liberal sympathies to further his career, this was surely the time to flaunt them. Instead, Morgan eschewed coverage of serious issues in favor of showbiz and trivia.
His early years at the paper coincided with the rise of the “New Labour” party under Tony Blair, and the man and the movement were made for each other: devoid of principles and concerned primarily with power and influence. Old-fashioned left-wing politics had become an embarrassment, and under Morgan the Mirror abandoned the working class as readers, just as Labour was abandoning them as voters. Labour’s embrace of wealth and celebrity chimed with the Mirror’s shallow tone under Morgan.
In 1996, Morgan was forced to apologize after producing a crudely anti-German front page ahead of a soccer match between England and Germany. Beneath the headline “Achtung! Surrender!”, England players were depicted in World War Two-era tin helmets, alongside a declaration by Morgan of “football war” on Germany. While Morgan claimed it was intended as harmless fun, it was the kind of mildly xenophobic stunt more usually associated with the Mirror’s rival tabloid, the right-of-center Sun – and the sort of thing guaranteed to make a sophisticated, citizen-of-the-world liberal’s stomach turn.
In 2000 Morgan was in trouble again after buying $100,000 worth of shares in a computer company just before it was tipped by the Mirror as a good investment, sending the share price soaring. Morgan was found to have breached the newspaper industry’s code of conduct, but kept his job.