This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Last night was Sunday evening, typically a time for people to relax and watch TV ahead of the 60-hour work week. Before we became a miserable vassal state for global finance and private contractors, this period used to involve high-budget drama and nature documentaries. Now, we get this: A disgraced newspaper editor who was fired for publishing fake photographs interviewing a fascistic American leader who has called all Mexicans rapists, all Muslims dangerous, and half of the world a shithole. 10 PM, ITV—now that's entertainment.
Some commentators—themselves dreaming of such powers of self-promotion—applauded Piers Morgan for securing the first international interview with President Trump.
If Morgan had used his decade of servile Trump rimming to land an exclusive interview, only to take the President to task with a tough, forensic line of questioning learned over decades in the tabloid media, it's true that this would have been a coup. But that's not what happened. Instead, we got exactly what we all expected: Two men, legs spread wide so you know they are men, in what looks like a dimly-lit Holiday Inn foyer, gently caressing each other's egos with an almost tantric rhythm.
The president would say something and Morgan would fawn after him. The president would give economic figures about the stock market doing well and unemployment being low, including for women and "blacks," and Morgan would go gooey-eyed. "A lot of people don’t want to give you any credit—but a lot of that is indisputable. The economy is in good shape," he cooed at Trump, who returned the favor by giving him a nanosecond of eye contact.
It is indisputable, I suppose, except for the fact that, under Obama, the African American unemployment rate fell by 8.6 percent, and under Trump it has fallen by 1 percent; or that most poor white Americans who helped get Trump elected are still getting poorer; or that, even by Trump’s favored measure of stock indices, the US has lagged behind France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Japan, China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, and Chile during his first year in office. But yes, it's indisputable. And why should we dispute it when you’re being this fantastic, Mr. President?
Like an underling with a gun to his head, Morgan went on to tell the president how brilliant he's been on trade and managing social media, and then how fantastic he would be as an Arsenal soccer club manager—that the club would surely win all their games with him in French soccer coach Arsene Wenger's place. Trump seemed entirely unimpressed by both this strange compliment and a personalized Arsenal shirt brought along as a gift, but Morgan groveled on regardless.
Perhaps most shocking was when our host turned to the subject of women. The president has been accused by scores of women of sexual harassment and assault; he was accused this month of sleeping with a porn star just after his wife had given birth, and then paying for her silence; and was caught on tape bragging about how easy it was for him to assault women and get away with it. So how did Morgan summarize this history? By blaming women for blaming the president, offering not so much softball questions as massage-chair questions:
"The #MeToo and the Time’s Up campaigns have really resonated with millions of women. And they partly hold you to blame for a lot of attitude toward women. Do you have a message for them? What message could you give these women who are marching that you’re for them and not the problem?"
Yes, what message, Mr. President, will make these women understand how fantastic you are?
If that wasn't enough, Morgan continued:
"A lot of the women I spoke to about this, they said it would be great to hear the president—given some of the more disrespectful things that have been out there, and the way you’ve spoken about women... would you acknowledge that you had said things that perhaps you wouldn’t say now?"
Crucially, Morgan ignored all the things the president is accused of doing to women, and instead focused on his comments—the old locker-room banter excuse, except this time being pitched by the journalist rather than Trump himself.
Finally, he reminded the president that he has "a lot of strong women around you... Melania, and your team here, the press team." Never mind that less than 27 percent of the Trump administration are women—at least your wife is a woman!
In keeping with the bizarre fake news, as the president avoided the questions, repeated campaign lines, and told blatant lies, Morgan would then, in a disembodied voice-over, say the exact opposite had happened. "What a revealing response," he'd claim as they threw to an advertising break, "the president is really opening up to me," when he had said nothing of note whatsoever. It was a glimpse into living under an authoritarian regime with a state media, the sort of thing you'd expect in Saudi Arabia or North Korea.
The saddest moments came when Morgan was defending topics we know he felt passionate about, like gun crime, global warming, and the retweeting of British hate groups. Through mealy-mouthed "the people just want to get to know you better" buttering up, he managed to bring these topics up with the president, and then just let him off the hook.
It’s so sad because we know Morgan can be a merciless interviewer. Whenever someone goes on Good Morning Britain—Morgan's usual gig—to defend trans rights, discuss structural racism, or debate whether the national anthem should be sung in schools, he shouts them down, taunts them, and challenges their slightest utterance before they’ve finished speaking. Yet, somehow, when the most powerful man in the world said, "There is warming and there is cooling... they used to call it global warming, that wasn't working to well" in response to a question about whether he believes in climate change, Morgan was left speechless, no facts at his disposal.
Of course, we should not still be surprised by Trump, and we are not. But perhaps we should be surprised by ITV. Despite the fact it is cheaper, less adventurous, and skewed-older than Netflix and HBO, one of the saving graces of British television is a sense that stuff like this can’t happen. No matter how famous the guest, no matter how big the interview, there are rules against just letting a racist authoritarian foreign leader speak unchallenged for 45 minutes on primetime TV.
But that was before and this is now, post-Brexit, post-Morgan, in our stagnant leech nation floating away into melted ice caps, doing anything for someone to listen to us. Anything. Even this.