The strange twists of Donald Trump and Piers Morgan’s self-serving mutual adoration club

Trump is aged 75 and Morgan 57. To their detractors, both are behaving like attention-seeking teenage boys, writes Andrew Buncombe

<p>Trump and Morgan have known each other since 2008</p>

Trump and Morgan have known each other since 2008

When did it begin, this strange thing, this peculiar relationship between Donald Trump and Piers Morgan?

Was it once a friendship between a man and a boy, or a boy and a man-child?

At times, there was a true affection, it appeared, as Trump played the role of hard-knuckled tycoon in seasons of The Apprentice, and Morgan appeared as a convincingly fawning acolyte in a special episode featuring so-called celebrities.

Then, there was more play-acting aboard Air Force One; Trump this time imitating a US president, and Morgan pretending to be a journalist with tough questions.

Then they fell out, it appeared. Morgan, who had once been Trump’s loudest booster on social media and defended their friendship, criticised his inaction as the coronavirus pandemic surged, and the president appeared hapless and in denial.

“He has to put the country before himself,” Morgan told CNN back in April 2020. Trump responded in a manner, he perhaps correctly assessed, hurt Morgan the most, by unfollowing him on Twitter.

And now there is more drama.

This week, Morgan released a highly edited clip of an interview with Trump that appeared to suggest the former president stormed off the set after being asked about his false claims of rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election.

“Turn the camera off,” Trump snarls. “Very dishonest”.

Trump responded to the outburst, by saying Morgan had misled the public, that he had not stormed off, and released an audio that appeared to show them talking amicably about golf, after the exchange about the election.

‘I'm a more honest man than you’: Trump storms out of Piers Morgan interview

“That was a great interview,“ Morgan says. Trump replies: “Yeah.”

“Piers Morgan, like the rest of the fake news media, attempted to unlawfully and deceptively edit his long and tedious interview,” Trump said in a statement on Thursday.

Morgan then claimed Trump was “almost foaming at the mouth”. 

Asked to respond to Trump’s dismissal of his claims, Morgan said on Twitter: “His claim is fake news.”

Donald Trump is 75, and Piers Morgan is 57. To their detractors, it can appear both are about 13.

Yet, for the past decade or so, the pair of provocateurs and attention-seekers, have fed off each other, each appearing to boost the other’s ego.

The pair first met in 2008 or so. Having been sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror at the time the paper was accused of being one of those Fleet Street tabloids that hacked the phones of celebrities to obtain personal information – Morgan denied any wrongdoing, the Briton appeared for two seasons as a judge of America's Got Talent, and would sit alongside David Hasselhoff, he known for his role as life guard Mitch Buchannon on Baywatch, and Brandy Norwood, a singer and actor.

In 2008, he appeared as a contestant – and won – a celebrity season of the The Apprentice, which Trump had started in 2004 and would be both hugely successful, but also crucial to his subsequent entry into politics.

Donald Trump is interviewed by Piers Morgan

It is instructive now to take a look at some of those scenes with Morgan, alongside the lines of Gene Simmons, and Stephen Baldwin, trying with noticeable effort, to advance to the final stages.

Some of the contestants do not appear to care very much; Morgan seems to really want to win. “You did an amazing job,” Trump tells him.

Not everyone was convinced.

A review on the website of NBC’s Today Show, questioned whether Morgan actually met the definition of “celebrity”.

“For some contestants, “The Celebrity Apprentice” was just another way to extend their fleeting moments of fame,” it said.

“But on live TV, in front of a studio audience, Donald Trump might have done reality shows a disservice. When he named Piers Morgan the winner, Trump did little to change the notion that the genre is for the slightly better-than-mediocre stars — at best.”

Over the years the pair appeared to keep their association going, each to the benefit of the other.

In Britain, as a pugnacious host on the ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Morgan would defend his friendship with Trump, even as the US president embarked on a series of controversial endeavoars, including a travel ban that targeted eight mostly Muslim-majority nations.

“I have friends and family members who I totally disagree with about politics, it doesn’t mean I can’t be friendly with them or like them,” Morgan said, shortly after Trump took office in January 2017.

Trump repaid Morgan in turn, with a series of interviews.

“BREAKING NEWS,” Morgan tweeted in July 2018, adopting the president’s capped-up style. “I just finished a 30-minute interview with President Donald Trump aboard Air Force One. It’s his only UK TV interview & will air on ITV exclusively on ITV.”

The interview coincided with Trump’s state visit to Britain

The next day Morgan tweeted again: “WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Inside Air Force One. My world exclusive interview with President Trump on the planet's most elite plane.”

His piece in the Daily Mail started: ‘I’m sorry Mr Morgan, but you can’t sit in that chair. Only the President of the United States of America ever sits in that chair.’

“I was in the Situation Room of Air Force One, the airplane used to fly the most powerful human being on earth around the world.”

Richard Painter, who served as George W Bush’s ethics lawyer and who has been a longtime observer of both men, tells The Independent that both thrive on publicity, and love getting attention.

“Donald Trump is somebody who made a name for himself on TV – The Apprentice. He's a TV person. He’s addicted to TV, watching Fox News. Everything for him about television,” says Painter, who is currently campaigning as a Democrat for a seat in Congress.

“Piers Morgan’s the same. So they share that in common. They're showmen. Trump made his political career through publicity of TV and being outrageous, saying things that weren't true but being outrageous so he can viewers’ get attention.”

He adds: “That was always his theme. It was an attention getter. And of course, that's what's going on here.”

Painter is not the only person to have suggested the apparent kerfuffle is little more than manufactured drama.

One point is certainly worth making. The interview of Trump by Morgan is to be broadcast on 25 April on Rupert Murdoch’s new TalkTV channel, which is part of the Australian’s News UK. In the US, it will stream on Murdoch’s Fox Nation.

Indeed, Trump will be the first guest for Morgan, who famously stormed from the set of Good Morning Britain after being challenged over his constant criticism of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, whose show is titled Piers Morgan Uncensored.

“The new show, fronted by the former Good Morning Britain and CNN anchor, will be a fearless forum for lively, intelligent debate and agenda-setting interviews; celebrating free speech and the right for people to share their views. This is the first show of its kind broadcast across three separate continents,” the producers said ahead of the first episode.

On Thursday, as news of the “row” was still settling in, Morgan tweeted again. If the intention of the “edited” trailer and the “argument” was to attract attention, then it appeared to have worked.

“UPDATE,” he wrote.” “Due to the huge global interest in my explosive interview with President Trump (never known a reaction like it!), we will now be airing it over our first two days on @PiersUncensored next Monday & Tuesday.”

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