“She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said No!” is Donald Trump’s latest tweet targeting a female journalist. He was referring to “low IQ Crazy Mika” – that’s MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinsky, co-presenter of the Morning Joe programme, who had run a report critical of the US President.
Trump clearly plans no let-up in the feuds and sinister vendettas that have characterised his relationship with the US press. “The fake news media has never been so wrong or so dirty,” the President tweeted last week, accusing news organisations of “purposely incorrect stories and phony sources to meet their agenda of hate”.
Luckily for Mr Trump a number of high-profile UK journalists are on his side. So is Rupert Murdoch, an American citizen who owns Sky and newspapers The Times, The Sun and Sunday Times). According to Trump, Murdoch, who also owns Fox News in the US, is a “superb businessman and a world class CEO”.
Raheem Kassam, formerly Nigel Farage’s top adviser, delivers the Trump message as editor of Breitbart London. Breitbart employs James Delingpole of The Spectator, whose sceptical views on climate change make sense to Trump.
Foremost among Trump groupies, however, is Piers Morgan. The two men form a mutual congratulation society, and this is not surprising. Their fortunes are linked. Morgan went to the US to revive his career after being sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror for publishing crudely faked photographs of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.
His major breakthrough came when he became the first winner of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. This was the show which rescued Donald Trump after he flirted with financial catastrophe in the 1990s.
After his Apprentice triumph, Morgan replaced Trump’s friend Larry King as presenter of CNN’s flagship current affairs show. “It was great to appear on Piers Morgan Tonight last night as his first live guest,” tweeted Trump in February 2011.
Three year’s later, when Morgan was dumped by CNN, Trump congratulated him again, this time “on his new position as Editor-at-Large for the United States” for MailOnline.
In our study of Trump’s social media output we discovered that Trump has mentioned or retweeted Morgan on Twitter almost 100 times, always approvingly. The issues are not always trivial. Trump used Morgan to alert his 20 million Twitter followers about the decisive FBI intervention in the presidential campaign at the end of October last year. He retweeted “@piersmorgan BOMBSHELL: FBI reopening its investigation into HillaryClinton’s email server after new discovery!”
In return Morgan always boosts Trump, especially when in trouble. When Trump’s plan “for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” was greeted with outrage in December 2015, Morgan tweeted: “Have any of the 200k plus British citizens who’ve signed the petition to ban Trump signed any petition to ban UK terror suspects returning from Iraq/Syria.”
A grateful Trump tweeted back: “Thank you Piers, they don’t know what they’re getting into.”
When Trump was under fire in 2012 for promoting the “birther” conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the US, Morgan helpfully told the Hollywood Reporter that Trump was the “personification of brash, successful America Incorporated”.
Under fire Trump retweeted the interview: “Thank you to @Piers Morgan for your nice statement about me”.
Morgan was a regular cheerleader for Trump during the presidential campaign. “Trump’s a fantastic debater. Don’t know why others even bother taking him on. Like goading a 3-ton bull.”
Back came Trump, regular as clockwork: “Thanks. @Piers Morgan, You’re great.” To be fair to Morgan, he was one of the very few journalists who completely grasped that mesmeric campaigning appeal of Donald Trump, especially when compared to his robotic opponent Hilary Clinton.
Nowadays Morgan goes on Fox News to stand up for the President. In February, with Trump’s presidency under sustained fire, Morgan – who is British – laid into CNN as “Un-American”.
Not being American himself, it’s hard to say exactly why Morgan felt qualified to make this statement, but there we are.
The relation repeats Morgan’s connection with Tony Blair, with whom (as he boasted in his diaries) he enjoyed “22 lunches, six dinners, six interviews, 24 further one-to-one chats over tea and biscuits, and numerous phone calls.”
From Blair to Trump is quite a journey. Trump follows just 45 Twitter accounts, and Morgan’s is one of them.
This means that when the US President switches on his Twitter feed he is sometimes subjected to Morgan’s rants against Arsene Wenger, the courteous and impeccably liberal manager of Arsenal (and outspoken early supporter of centrist French President Emmanuel Macron, the polar opposite of Trump).
Another Trump bastion in the British press is Katie Hopkins, like Morgan a MailOnline columnist. Hopkins has Trump’s The Apprentice to thank for her career too – she took part as a contestant in the British version in 2007 and has never looked back.
Hopkins is seen as a bigot by many British journalists, but not by Trump who tweeted this in December 2015: “Thank you to respected columnist Katie Hopkins of DailyMail.com for her powerful writing on the UK’s Muslim problems.”
He linked to an article headlined: “Don’t demonise Trump, he speaks for millions of Americans. And who can blame them for not wanting to end up like us.”
Trump urged British politicians to watch Hopkins on Fox News: “Many people in the UK agree with me.” For her part, Hopkins tweeted: “If Donald Trump wins the race to the White House I’m moving to America. Daring to bare what some people really think.”
Unfortunately for Britain, despite Trump’s victory, Katie Hopkins has yet to head across the pond.
Journalists like Morgan and (more especially) Hopkins have become part of an echo chamber which reaffirms Trump’s outlook. Immediately after the terror atrocity at Westminster Hopkins went on Fox News to report from London that “people are cowed, people are afraid. People are not united.”
In fact Londoners were neither cowed nor afraid, and we were indeed united in horror (under the leadership of Sadiq Khan, a Muslim mayor) at the attack.
We quietly got on with our lives. This Fox News/Hopkins portrait of a capital city paralysed by terror was nonsense, but fits in with the Trumpian worldview of a western world engulfed by a clash of civilisations.
Following the Manchester concert bombing, Hopkins tweeted “We need a final solution”. The public outrage at her use of terminology associated with the Holocaust forced Hopkins to show rare contrition. But following the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market, she directed her fire at the city’s mayor, even while he was coordinating the response of the emergency services and authorities: “No, @SadiqKhan. We do not want to hear a single word from you. Not one word. London Bridge has fallen down on your watch, son
Trump piled in with a parallel attack on Khan: “At least seven dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” After the mayor’s spokesman detailed how the statement had “deliberately” been taken out of context, Trump piled in harder: “Pathetic excuse by London mayor Sadiq Khan, who had to think fast on his ‘no reason to be alarmed’” statement. MSM [mainstream media] is working hard to sell it!”
Trump takes little notice of other voices in the British media, with the notable exception of the BBC, against which he has long held an especially bitter grudge. On Twitter he’s accused the BBC of “bias and stupidity”, “shoddy journalism” and producing “garbage”. When he gave his first press conference at the White House on in February, he dismissed BBC correspondent Jon Sopel with the phrase, “Here’s another beauty.”
As far as we can tell, Trump’s hostility to the national broadcaster has very little to do with the BBC’s allegedly liberal opinions. It is all about 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped by the fearless Anthony Baxter, exposing how Trump’s Scottish golf business bullied local residents.
For weeks Trump trolled the filmmaker, hurling tweet after tweet of abuse. The following is just a sample:
“Your documentary died many deaths. You have, in my opinion, zero talent.”
“Thanks for helping promote & make Trump International Golf Links Scotland so successful – you stupid fool!”
“Apprentice is a huge hit all over the world. Your cheap & boring documentary is a tremendous flop.”
“Your documentary works better than any sleeping pill – in fact that may be your only way to make money with this recycled garbage!”
“Heard your documentary cost you less than $3,000 to make – where did you get that kind of money?”
When Baxter produced a follow-up documentary, Trump followed-up with another assault via Twitter. It ended with the future President asserting: “Every time I speak of the haters and losers I do so with great love and affection. They cannot help the fact that they were born f***** up!”
Our study of Trump’s Tweets opened our eyes to a deranged universe of racists and conspiracy theorists. Trump entertains notions that the Clintons murdered their opponents, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that climate change is a fabrication got up by the Chinese to destroy the American manufacturing industry, and that the US is under existential threat from what he calls “radical Islam”.
Before he entered the White House, he even retweeted one account under the macabre Twitter handle “White Genocide”, whose author turned out on inspection to be a sophisticated apologist for Hitler.
This is dark stuff and Mr Trump’s British apologists need to take great care. Katie Hopkins looks a lost cause but Piers Morgan has (probably at personal cost) maintained an element of independence, for example by demanding stronger gun laws in the US.
He is the only Briton with daily access to the President through his Twitter account. Perhaps he can use this access to become a force for good.
Peter Oborne and Tom Roberts are co-authors of ‘How Trump Thinks: His Tweets and the Birth of a New Political Language’ which is available on Amazon.
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