The year is off to a terrifically surreal start in the news stakes. Not that anybody is surprised. In a world increasingly defined by parallel realities, each with their own news channels, sneering, morally superior lexicons and even their own immaculate facts, it’s become increasingly difficult to discern the true from the false.
Judging by the headlines so far, it looks like we might have to strap ourselves in, folks: 2018 is going to be a bumpy ride.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson threw his hat in the ring early, announcing an ambitious plan to build a bridge between his brain and his mouth. Next up was disgraced Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey who, after being professionally derailed by claims of abuse and harassment, is now facing fresh accusations that he is racist. Then, just when we thought January was about to close on an optimistic note, with news that North and South Korea had agreed to start sending out joint Olympic-themed Christmas cards again, 2018 suffered a major setback when the insufferable Piers Morgan began trailing an interview with none other than President Donald J Trump.
The first announcement came last week, when Morgan started tweeting things we already know about Trump like they were breaking news. Obvious details were pitched as world exclusive revelations, such as the fact he would have been “tougher” on the EU than Theresa ‘T-100’ May or – wait for it – that “the Donald” is not, as many previously thought, a staunch third-wave feminist. What soon became clear, was that Morgan was acting more as a PR spokesperson, preparing the ground for Darth Trump’s imminent arrival in the UK. But rather than pressing him on the many contentious issues that have so far defined his presidency – whether it be his alarming political incoherence, barely concealed misogyny or the many racist remarks he’s made since taking office – Morgan would, instead, punctuate his blatant sycophantism with a misleading voiceover that cynically attempted to imbue Trump with a logical interior that does not exist.
Morgan even went as far claiming Trump had apologised for things he had not apologised for (like retweeting far-right propaganda from Britain First) or attributing motivation to the president’s decision-making process that extended beyond his own short-term emotional needs (like his apparent desire to visit the UK being rooted in maternal closeness and not a deep love of money and golf). For all concerned, it seemed like everything went according to plan: ITV made a fortune, Trump’s genius came off looking no more unstable than usual and Piers was able to cite the inevitable ratings coup as evidence that he is not one of the Four Horsemen of the British media apocalypse.
But, in truth, this was never going to be a Frost/Nixon (or even Newman/Peterson) affair. This was always going to be the journalistic equivalent of a Lethal Weapon sequel, with old friends appearing to trade witty barbs while harbouring deep feelings of love and affection for one another – and themselves. The premise was always absurd. Donald Trump being questioned by Piers Morgan is a bit like Harvey Weinstein being cross examined by Louis CK; it’s arguable that the one doing the probing lacks the necessary insight to adequately perform the role of intrepid interrogator. Despite the obvious disparities between them, in terms of the power they possess, as well as the arguable harm each has caused wielding that power, these two seemingly different men are clearly cut from the same low-grade moral cloth. Here we have two men so slippery they have to wear lifting gloves just to shake hands. Two men who have taken famously laissez-faire attitudes towards the codes of conduct that apply to them, whether it be Morgan’s involvement in unethical journalistic practices (like having his personal enemies followed while turning a blind eye to widespread phone hacking) or Trump’s interest in women who exist outside his various marriages – mirrored by his political team’s alleged extra-political affair with the Russian state.
Both are also terrible judges of character, what with Trump’s admiration of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Piers’ admiration of Trump. Then we have the painful lack of self-awareness exhibited by both men, whose keen eyes always seem trained on the absurdity of everyone else’s behaviour and less attuned to the defects that so characterise their own.
But perhaps their biggest contribution to Western culture has been their uncanny ability to make once seemingly incapable and contemptible people appear reasonable and thoughtful by comparison.
The only ostensibly skilful feat Morgan has ever pulled off was making fellow smug poster-boy Jeremy Clarkson suddenly seem bearable when, so irritated by Morgan, the former Top Gear host punched him in the face – three times.
Meanwhile, Trump’s first 12 months in the Oval Office have even the most radical lefties secretly pining for the simpler days of Dick Cheney while nostalgically binge-watching old interviews of President George W Bush, who now appears to have been in a perpetual state of deep, philosophical reflection about the over-lapping adversities of the world. If these two men have achieved one thing, in careers marred by allegations of impropriety and baseless self-exaltation, it’s that they have unwittingly forced us to confront the difficult fact the world which existed before they came to such indisputable prominence may not have been quite as bereft of common sense, hope and truth as we thought. A world many of us now mourn. A reality for which, perhaps, we should have been more grateful, before letting it slip through our collective grasp.