Piers Morgan should be sacked from ITV. Really, he should have been dumped from his co-presenter job on Good Morning Britain a long time ago. But events this week feel like the final straw. His regular attacks on Meghan Markle – a woman he barely knows but seems to be obsessed with – became increasingly vile ahead of Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah. Now he has accused Markle of lying about her experience of having suicidal thoughts while she was pregnant with her son, Archie, as she was overwhelmed by the press intrusion into her personal life.
“I don’t believe a word she says,” Morgan said in response to Markle’s comments. “I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report.” He then proceeded to condemn her for sparking an “onslaught” of criticism against the royal family.
To dismiss anyone’s struggles with mental health is appalling, but to do it on national TV – to a woman whom the world has seen suffer an unprecedented level of scrutiny, vitriol and racism – is downright dangerous. After Morgan’s claim that he did not believe Markle, a viral tweet read: “Meghan’s not going to see you tweeting you don’t believe she was suicidal – but your friends who have been suicidal will.” Almost a year to the day since the suicide of Love Island host Caroline Flack, it is indefensible that ITV – which runs a Get Britain Talking mental health campaign – was so slow to respond.
Today (Tuesday 9 March), ITV CEO Carolyn McCall was asked about Morgan’s behaviour during a media call for ITV’s 2020 earnings. She revealed that Kevin Lygo, ITV’s managing director of media and entertainment, is “dealing with that as we speak” but would not comment further on whether Morgan will be punished or supported for his outbursts. “The most important thing with mental health that ITV does and is totally committed to, is that we support, we get people to speak up, we listen, we say everyone has to listen and everyone has to believe because that’s how you get people to speak up,” she said. “So we are very committed to that.”
In this morning's episode of GMB, Morgan did not apologise, instead saying: “I still have serious concerns about the veracity of a lot of what she said. But let me just state for the record my position on mental illness and on suicide.
“Mental illness and suicide, these are clearly very serious things and should be taken extremely seriously and if somebody is feeling that way they should get the treatment and help that they need every time. If they belong to an institution like the Royal family and they go and seek that help, they should absolutely be given it. It’s not for me to question whether she felt suicidal, I wasn’t in her mind and that’s for her to say.”
He then doubled down on his previous criticism of Markle and said: “My real concern was a disbelief frankly and I’m prepared to be proven wrong on this and if I’m wrong, it is a scandal, that she went to a senior member of the royal household, told them she was suicidal and was told she could not have any help because it would be a bad look for the family.”
The journalist is not supposed to be the one making the headlines. But Morgan has always fancied himself a celebrity, despite spending a lot of time attacking pop culture. In an interview with this very publication more than 20 years ago, Morgan was hailed as a master of self-publicity. “I became the Friend of the Stars, a rampant egomaniac, pictured all the time with famous people – Madonna, Stallone, Bowie, Paul McCartney, hundreds of them,” he boasted of his early career in showbiz reporting.
That ego – along with the kind of deluded self-confidence that comes with being a privately educated, rich, straight white man – has helped Morgan pass through the ranks to one of the biggest spots on TV. From there, he has been given free rein to attack, insult and berate his guests, rarely allowing them any actual opportunity to talk. Because it’s not really Good Morning Britain, is it? It’s The Piers Morgan Show.
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During the pandemic, Morgan has gone to considerable effort to reinvent himself as a “man of the people”, one who calls out hypocrisy and self-seeking behaviour at a time when we should be “all in it together”. He told Laurence Fox to “shut up” after the actor and now-mayoral candidate boasted about having a “large group” of friends to lunch, in an apparent breach of lockdown rules. He called Rita Ora “selfish” for throwing a birthday party for her and her celebrity friends when she was supposed to be self-isolating after a trip to Egypt. When it comes to his campaign against Markle, though, he can’t help but let the mask slip. And boy, it’s ugly underneath.
Five years ago, he went for a drink with Markle the night before she met Harry. Apparently, she decided she didn't want to associate with Morgan anymore (I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t want to be best friends with a notoriously grasping, publicity-hungry journalist). Morgan’s reaction to this rejection was to spend the next five years attacking and shaming her in public. It is astonishing that he is permitted to spout such toxic bile about her from such a huge and authoritative platform given his clear personal bias. How does this not constitute public harassment?
Most women have encountered a man like Piers Morgan. Maybe you had a first date and didn’t feel a connection. But when you politely declined meeting up again, he got nasty. “You didn’t seem to feel that way when you let me buy you drinks.” “You led me on.” “Bitch.” It's difficult to put into words the panic women feel when they have to try and reject a man's advances. Sometimes the fear is so great that you spend the next few weeks walking home with your keys between your knuckles, in case they turn up at your home. You consider the possibility that they might try and shame you on social media, or contact your friends to tell them what an awful person you are. The latter happened to a close friend just last month. This entitlement, that men are somehow owed the continued attention of women because they were nice to them, is what viewers are witnessing every morning from 6.30am to 7am on national television.
BBC Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo pointed out that it “must be nice” for Morgan be able to storm out of a live TV broadcast because his mixed-race colleague, Alex Beresford, was calling him out – in a measured and intellectual way – on his attacks on Markle. All the while knowing his job was still going to be there when he deigned to come back.
What does Morgan actually offer viewers? He doesn’t inform. He doesn’t engage. He doesn’t encourage intelligent discussion. He’s there purely for the basest kind of entertainment – a shouty, spluttery man who has precisely zero interest in anyone but himself. Maybe he truly was annoyed at being called out by Beresford. But he is also astutely aware that such stunts get ratings. And while there is some truth in us – the public and the media – being guilty of paying him the attention he craves, it doesn’t absolve the people who are paying him to do it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can get confidential support and advice from Samaritans, 24-7, by calling 116 123 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.