Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Insider - Piers Morgan


Another book that for some inexplicable reason is always turning up in charity shops is The Insider - The Private Diaries Of A Scandalous Decade by Piers Morgan. Were thousands of copies given away at some point and did people take them because they were free, only to later realise they'd been lumbered with a book they were never going to read? After finding they can't sell it on ebay or at a car boot sale is the only option to donate it to a charity shop? It's feasible. Unlike the Robbie Williams biography, however, there's no attempt to hide it amongst other items being donated. People just don't seem to care about this particular book. It's almost as if they're just glad to get rid of it.

Everyone knows who Piers Morgan is, either from his past roles as Editor of tabloid newspapers, from his work as a judge on Britain's Got Talent, or as a chat show host. In America he's actually probably better known than Robbie Williams, firstly from being a judge on America's Got Talent and then from replacing Larry King on CNN.
He's ubiquitous. Like this book.

So. It's perhaps quite telling that in these diaries of a man whose living was once based upon words, the best words are not actually from him but from one of the many celebrities he was 'reporting' on. In this case from Stephen Fry who in a programme on Radio 4 suggests a new definition for 'countryside': the killing of Piers Morgan.
Ever wishing to show that he too has a sense of humour, Morgan relays how he confronts Fry at a party and angrily tells him he is going to exact terrible revenge.
"I really am awfully sorry," Fry replies "It was only a little joke." Whereupon Morgan informs us of Fry's babbling and squirming before being put out of his misery by Morgan telling him to "Relax, mate, it was funny."
Ha ha ha! Gotcha!

This tiny extract in many ways sums up what Piers Morgan was all about and how he was viewed by others. Those in the media spotlight - celebrities, politicians, etc - all knew that he could do them harm. Unfunny he may have been - unsophisticated, even - but he had power.

As Editor of the show biz page at The Sun, Morgan gained the attention of some very influential people, not least of whom was Rupert Murdoch. In his own words, Morgan was a 'carefree, aggressive, inhuman Thatcher-loving young shark, trashing people's lives'. His column at The Sun dealt in pop and tv gossip, rumour, trivia and scandal. Something in all this apparently and for some reason caught the eye of Murdoch who out of the blue awarded Morgan the editorship of the News Of The World and it is at this point that his diaries begin.

After a faulty start involving the story of a naked man with green testicles flying onto the roof of Buckingham Palace, Morgan hit his stride with a series of political scandals involving a variety of politicians and their extramarital pursuits. The ruling Conservative government at that time all appeared to be at it; even, it eventually turned out, John Major and Edwina Currie. Still, 'At Least It Wasn't Anne Widdecombe' as Morgan's chosen headline put it.

Reducing the world to trivia and scandal was what Morgan excelled at. News was entertainment and vice versa. Somewhere in amongst the plethora of gossip and sensationalism must have been some grain of truth but to discern where it was proved always to be a difficulty if not an impossibility.
And if a sizeable portion of the Conservative government appeared to be 'at it' when it came to the bedroom then absolutely everybody in the public eye was 'at it' when it came to media manipulation. There were pay offs and deals, nods and winks, tip offs and red herrings. Claims, counter claims, allegations, suggestions, innuendo and injunctions. There were those who were masters of the art such as Lady Di, those who wanted to be masters but failed such as Blair, and those who were simply victims such as Paula Yates.

Cast into the position of ringleader of this sorry circus and wielding the power that came with it, Morgan's ego and ambition knew no bounds and reached newer heights when offered the editorship of the Daily Mirror. Allegations of insider trading and crass headlines such as 'Achtung Surrender' (regarding the England/Germany match in the semi final of the Euro 96 football championship) failed to defeat him as almost single-handedly he merrily took on the Royal family, the Bush administration and the Blair government. Morgan suddenly became very serious. Vehemently against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he took every opportunity he could to criticise the war but his was a lone voice and sales of the Mirror plummeted. The final straw for his bosses came when he gave the go-ahead to publish photos depicting British soldiers urinating on Iraqi prisoners. The photos were found to be fake and Morgan was subsequently sacked.

Should some sympathy be extended to Morgan because come the end, was he not on the side of the angels with his anti-war stance? Was his conversion to treating the news seriously for real? The answer to both of these questions is probably 'Yes', though in truth it all came too late and it all came with a price.

Morgan's diaries are actually quite fascinating and often genuinely amusing. Whether any of it can be believed, however, is a completely different story.

Morgan's epitaph?
John Serpico

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