The Media Column: The Piers Morgan that you won't read about in the newspapers
Tuesday 25 May 2004
Among the zillions of words written about Piers Morgan since his fall from grace at Trinity Mirror, few have been seriously critical.
Among the zillions of words written about Piers Morgan since his fall from grace at Trinity Mirror, few have been seriously critical. Most commentators and fellow-editors, while reproving him for publishing the now infamous faked photographs, acknowledged Morgan's flair, chutzpah and cheeky-chappy irreverence that kept politicians on the hop and got him and his paper noticed.
I, too, applaud the undoubted qualities of a Daily Mirror editor who, even if failing to halt the decline in circulation, made journalistic waves during his eight-and-a-half years in charge. But I do wonder if the old boys' - and girls' - network within what was Fleet Street has best served the public by neglecting to report other, less admirable aspects of the Morgan character. And bearing in mind his self-propelled ascent to national celebrity - too celebrated, surely, ever to be cast into the jungle with no-hopers desperate to revive flagging careers? - it is also remarkable that his complicated private life has not come under scrutiny in papers for whom such tittle-tattle is not only bread and butter, but meat and potatoes too.
I have no intention of dwelling here on private circumstances zealously guarded by Morgan. Nonetheless, I cannot but agree with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop ( below), who last week observed to me that in the past Morgan has often exploded into the public arena various celebrities' personal misfortunes of exactly the same kind as his own.
Morgan does not quarrel with his own notoriety - "I totally accept that I am a celebrity of sorts," he told me last year, "and I have no problem with that. I never make any complaint about what is written or said about me, but I will retaliate." So is it sympathy with one of their own that has caused national newspaper ranks to close with an almost audible crash, or could it be Morgan's capacity for unrelenting retaliation - on occasion he used the Mirror like a cut-throat razor - that has kept the tabloid dogs firmly on the leash?
Hislop was one of two high-profile recipients of Morgan's fury. The young Mirror editor, later a skilled and eloquent television performer, made the mistake of challenging the authority of Hislop and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You. Savaged, he retired very hurt indeed.
Morgan and Hislop each had a son at the same school but did not strike up a playground relationship, mainly because the editor of Private Eye is wary of being chums with newspaper editors. Then Private Eye did run what Hislop describes as "a glancing comment" on Morgan's private life, and although Morgan claims it was the "carving up" of Angus Deayton after the TV host's sacking that prompted him to attack and lampoon Hislop, the antipathy was surely more deeply rooted.
It was an extraordinary one-way vendetta, with the Mirror's readers, who must have been as baffled as they were bored, being promised a dossier that would reveal unsavoury truths about Hislop. Reporters and photographers were deployed on Hislop watch. His friends and relatives were approached, as Mirror journalists attempted to dig up non-existent dirt. Hislop's local vicar was telephoned twice on the same day.
It was an exercise that must have been as expensive as it was fruitless, but Morgan was unrepentant. "He [Hislop] edits the number-one, piss-taking magazine, and he's on the number-one, piss-taking television programme, so if he can't have the piss taken out of him, what is the world coming too?" Morgan said to me. He missed the point. Hislop and his friends may have been irritated - "Piers did a lot of good things with the Mirror, but I'll never forgive what he did to Ian," one of them told me last week - but nobody else cared.
The in-paper campaign against then Sun editor David Yelland was even more concentrated. According to Morgan, "When the shares thing happened [his purchase of Viglen stock on the day before it was heavily plugged in the Mirror City pages], Yelland went absolutely potty, splashing with stories about me... and calling me a poisonous, lying, cheating little spiv."
Yelland also discovered that Marina Hyde, a Sun journalist and a friend of Morgan's, had been exchanging e-mails with the Mirror editor. Hyde was sacked and at a News International internal inquiry Morgan gave evidence on her behalf, insisting the e-mails were private and in no way compromised Hyde professionally. Yelland came under even fiercer attack and when he offered a handshake at an industry event, Morgan called him the worst four-letter word.
Does all this make Morgan a bad man? Of course not and I wish him well in the future. But to a public reading about his extraordinary career to date, there remains a Piers Morgan that nobody knows.
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