So that’s it, is it? The biggest nervous breakdown of the year, tidied away into one dry little report. Scan Ofcom’s 97-page ruling on what Piers Morgan said about the Duchess of Sussex on his telly show just after her interview with Oprah and you will struggle to understand why it prompted such extreme blazing anger and what I can almost describe as civil unrest.
It details what now looks like a string of balanced, lively, mostly funny, provocative discussions, just hours after Meghan and Harry gave their explosive interview. Far from dominating the debate, Morgan is repeatedly called “a liar and a disgrace” by Good Morning Britain’s talking heads, nearly half of whom are ethnic minority. If he is guilty of anything, it isn’t spreading harmful opinions or a lack of balance, it is presiding over a roiling hot mess of a tabloid goat circus (“I think what you just said about the Queen was disgusting”, “You are disgusting”, etc) while telling ardent Meghan fans he didn’t “believe a word” she said. I think we all know what he was doing: bog-standard trolling.
What is amazing isn’t that Ofcom understood this, but that ITV didn’t. Going back over the events of that morning in March, the regulator had no difficulty in deciding Morgan was entitled to his “strong views”. So why didn’t ITV immediately come to the same conclusion? Why did it allow itself to be scared by Meghan? Six months on, it seems amazing anyone should have thought standing up to those two self-obsessed bog-hoarders was wrong.
More than 50,000 complaints poured in after Morgan said Meghan was lying, but this shouldn’t have concerned the channel’s bosses. Volume isn’t always an indication of someone being right. Tens of thousands of people complain, for example, about arguments on Love Island, but you’d be mad to stop the producers exploiting Teddy’s roving eye or Faye’s “trust issues”. But for some reason these complaints did worry them, and what followed was a succession of damaging, stupid and irresponsible decisions that plunged the country further into distress. People lost their jobs and were stripped of their livelihoods — not only Morgan but anyone who challenged the couple’s version of events was called a liar and “racist”. ITV fuelled this by caving in to the prevailing ideology and judging the whole thing along cultural lines rather than professionally, as Ofcom did. It decided it simply didn’t like the culture of Morgan attacking the Sussexes, so it gave him the option of resigning or apologising, which was no option at all. Whichever he took, it would have had what Ofcom called “a chilling restriction on freedom of expression”. This is a stinging rebuke. Why isn’t someone at ITV apologising or resigning?
It is surprising to me that there has been no recognition of the seriousness of these errors, no attempt by ITV to acknowledge its duty to the viewers, no apparent embarrassment over its dereliction of the principles of journalism. These standards exist for all of us, not to suit the bosses of ITV or Meghan or even Piers Morgan. It is deeply worrying when an organisation such as ITV cannot handle opinion, or even recognise shameless hokum.
We learnt, for example, that it quailed after the duchess herself complained to the chief executive. Meghan asked Carolyn McCall to rein in the presenter as they were both “women and mothers”. What does that even mean? If Meghan weren’t a woman and a mother, would she be fair game? Or if McCall didn’t agree with her, did that mean she wasn’t really a mother? It’s amazing that ITV still got rid of Morgan after this self-serving exchange.
Is it too much to hope that the ruling by Ofcom might be the moment we begin to row back against this defective ideology? It feels like for ever that we’ve had to put up with this constant spew of narcissism and craven individualism: just last Wednesday Prince Harry warned the assembled drunkards at the GQ Men of the Year awards that “lies and fear” in the “news media” had contributed to “vaccine hesitancy”. I’ll bet at least four fifths of the audience thought “vaccine hesitancy” was a Paris menswear label.
In a way this whole thing has worked out worse for the couple: had ITV said, “Sorry, this isn’t an issue”, as it should have done, they’d have at least been able to claim victimhood at the first opportunity. Now they have been shamed by a watchdog, and so has ITV. Morgan is out of a job, although looking at those early mornings and his gigantic dewlap, Meghan may have done him a favour.
Who is the winner, then? Not us. Not anyone.
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