Trump, Piers Morgan and the power of self-publicity

24 April 2022

12:04 AM

24 April 2022

12:04 AM

If ‘real recognise real’ – by far my favourite piece of modern American vernacular – then Donald Trump’s latest tiff with Piers Morgan seems final.

‘I don’t think you’re real’, the former President spits angrily in the excitingly edited promo for their upcoming interview, shortly before seeming to storm off set – a choice of words suggestive of a fundamental re-evaluation.

Did Trump until this surreal moment of tabloid TV consider Morgan – a person with whom he has spent many hours over more than a decade – a man of great honour and integrity? Did he feel he had been tricked into doing the interview on a false premise? Or was he saying simply – and far more cuttingly – that he no longer recognised something of himself in his former friend and protégé (remember, he named Morgan the winner of his first Celebrity Apprentice)?

If it’s the last answer – which I suspect it is – then I will certainly be tuning in with millions of others on Monday when the interview is finally aired to discover what can possibly have happened.

Trump and Morgan are very clearly peas in a pod: by some distance the greatest self publicists of the modern age. They are also both men for whom the social media age seems tailor-made.

When the world laughed at the mere idea of Trump’s candidacy for the Presidency in 2015, Morgan didn’t. In fact, he was one of the few journalists who saw it coming. Was this because he thought the billionaire had the right policies, domestic and foreign? Of course not. It was because he recognised instinctively Trump’s genius for the razzle dazzle, and for sucking all air out of any debate on absolutely any issue until everyone concerned is speaking about one thing only: Donald Trump.

The ability to do this is a superpower, one for which Morgan saw, before anyone else – with the notable exception of Ann Coulter (another genius of self-publicity) – modern political discourse is no match.

I’ve long admired, because the alternative is futile, Morgan’s own ability to make any and every story he covers as a journalist about himself. No matter how massive or elevated the topic, he is able unfailingly to reduce it until it fits into the proverbial pub in which he grew up, and then furiously to make someone answer for it personally to him.

Gun control in America, the UK government’s handling of the pandemic, the decision to invade Iraq, the environment, the ending of Kevin Pietersen’s career as a cricketer, wokeness, the Duchess of Sussex… there is nothing he will not bring down to a shouty bar room-style slanging match, and almost always there is only one winner – which is why his career goes from strength to strength despite being regularly fired, and why he ends up interviewing presidents (in fact, I’ve only once seen him comprehensively beaten once).

Morgan is never fearful of assuming the moral high ground and from there making his interviewee seem dishonest and mendacious. It’s a tactic he is particularly fond of employing when interviewing politicians – one thinks of his televised ding dongs with the hapless Health Secretary Matt Hancock, in which Morgan appeared to eschew all semblance of journalistic impartiality to go repeatedly for the jugular – and one he seems now to have attempted to use against Trump.

‘I think I’m much more honest than you, actually’, Trump says defensively at one point in the promo. ‘Really?’ comes Morgan’s apparently astonished reply. Glorious stuff.

Trump has since put out a statement saying he didn’t walk out of the interview, that he enjoyed taping it and that he doesn’t ‘believe Piers is a complete slimeball.’

The fact that Morgan turned to Trump as the kick-off interviewee to bring in ratings, commensurate with his reported £50 million fee over three years as a Talk TV presenter and columnist at his new employer News Corp, is itself indicative of the former President’s continuing cultural status.

Despite being silenced by Twitter and Facebook and relentlessly mocked there is still no one with the ability consistently to put bums on seats like Donald J Trump.

That Trump agreed to the interview despite being mysteriously presented shortly before it went ahead with a brochure containing, without context, all of the mean things Morgan had ever written about him (and none of the good things), is also suggestive of his understanding that the masses watch Morgan – and that combined their star power would project him into billions of living rooms just as people are starting to think meaningfully about the 2024 race for the Whitehouse.

Real don’t recognise real? Please.

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