Piers Morgan Promotions presents... News-o-Mania XXIV
TalkTV promoted Piers Morgan's encounter with Norman Finkelstein like a wrestling bout but allowed Douglas Murray to stick with shadow boxing.
Previously on this topic: Ohwellism
The pages of the British press are full of glib answers and opportunistic digs in response to abject horror.
I call for actors burning at the stakes, laughing at the flames.
— Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double (1938)
As appealing as it is to imagine Piers Morgan lashed tight to a stake and perched atop a vast pile of firewood awaiting ignition, I know in a sick kind of way that he’d enjoy it; going out in a blaze even if not one freighted with glory. Though Morgan pantomimes to be in the news business — a perpetrator of journalism — he’s a huckster; a carnival barker; always selling a new same old same old gimmick with the jaded confidence of a wrestling commentator.
That’s irritating but eminently ignorable — as his viewing figures attest — if he’s raging about a vegan pastry product or being provoked into an onscreen tantrum by mild criticism from a weatherman. It’s not as easy to dismiss when he turns his tactics onto an issue as serious as the grotesque October 7 massacre by Hamas and Israel’s civilisation-smashing, generation-obliterating retaliation in Gaza.
TalkTV which, if it had a signature scent, would stink of Brut and desperation, tends to promote Morgan’s show like a series of boxing bouts. On social media, his encounter with the Jewish-American academic Norman Finkelstein — calling it an ‘interview’ would suggest a decorum to which Morgan rarely rises — was billed as ‘Piers Morgan X Norman Finkelstein’ as though the presenter was a euro-dance producer who’d roped the writer in to perform a clumsy feature rap.
Elsewhere in the publicity for the programme, its angle was made abundantly clear in the billing of Finkelstein as a “controversial Jewish scholar” — which he undoubtedly is — while Douglas Murray, a right-wing columnist who recently published Holocaust revisionism in the Jewish Chronicle, was spared any kind of adjective. That theme of Murray being allowed to play on easy mode will come up again shortly.
While Finkelstein said he’d been warned before appearing on the show that Morgan would talk over him and not allow him to finish that’s not how it played out. Instead, the host spent most of the interview questioning the academic about a rash statement published on his blog on October 7 before the extent of the Hamas-perpetrated massacre and kidnappings became clear. Finkelstein said that removing the statement would be “intellectually dishonest” but that he “of course, regrets it”.
Watching the conversation between Finkelstein and Morgan is like witnessing a chess game between experienced players attempting not to lose any pieces. Both men can be angry and enervated debaters when the mood takes them but it’s obvious that the strategy chosen by both was one of striving to appear ‘reasonable’ while waiting to set a trap or step around one. Morgan telegraphed his game in the introduction when, after noting that people had been challenging him to debate Finkelstein, he offered up a glib slogan: “We believe in being uncensored here and hearing from all voices”.
Finkelstein matched that tone by appealing to Morgan’s ego, claiming oddly to both not “know [him] from Adam” and to be extremely familiar with the famous moment when Susan Boyle first appeared on Britain’s Got Talent:
… I remember the camera turning to you, focusing on you. I can see it in my mind’s eye, I saw your eyes narrow and suddenly the humanity in you came up: Here is this obscure woman whose talent had gone unrecognised.
If I can speak to that same programme, for me, the most poignant moment… was when Simon Cowell asked Susan Boyle, “Well, why haven’t you been discovered yet?” And she replied: “Because I haven’t been given a chance” And that’s how I feel about the people of Gaza. That’s how I feel about those young men in Gaza. You ask me why I won’t condemn them because those young men were born into a concentration camp, they were born into one of the most densely populated places on god’s earth.
Half of the population of Gaza is children, 70 per cent are refugees who were expelled from Israel in 1948 and their descendants. 70 per cent of Gaza’s youth have no jobs, no future, no nothing. They are Susan Boyle x 10,000, never given a chance.
Having asked Finkelstein what his parents — Holocaust survivors — would have thought of the events of October 7 and his comments, Morgan let him speak and did not interrupt. He didn’t need to critique, confront, or condemn Finkelstein in his usual cheap style because he had Murray standing by to do it for him.
After disingenuously telling Finkelstein that he “respected the tone [he] had taken for the interview” and receiving the professor’s praise for being “fair and decent”, Morgan demonstrated once again that he’s quite the opposite. He introed Murray who began by saying Finkelstein “[weaponises] his parents being in the Holocaust”, branded him a “sociopath and psychopath”, and accused him of “Holocaust denial in real time”.
In a section more staged than any wrestling promo, Morgan teed up a monologue from Murray by asking: “Would you ever debate with him?” He replied:
I said to you that I refuse. I refuse for one straightforward reason… I don’t think he is somebody you can debate with. Because I do not want to debate with a Holocaust denier in real time any more than I want to debate with a Holocaust denier who was denying the last Holocaust. This was the biggest murder of Jews since the Holocaust and shame on Norman Finkelstein for trying to pretend that didn’t happen or happened differently in real time.
Finkelstein received no right-to-reply then or since. Similarly, Morgan — uncensored, of course — didn’t ask Murray about his praise, support, and meetings with Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has played both sides on anti-semitism time and time again. Nor did he ask any questions about Murray’s Jewish Chronicle column in which he wrote:
As I said after watching at the Israeli embassy the other day the unedited footage of the massacre, this is one occasion when saying that some people are worse than the Nazis is not hyperbole.
Average members of the SS and other killing units of Hitler’s were rarely proud of their average days’ work. Very few felt that shooting Jews in the back of the head all day and kicking their bodies into pits was where their own lives had meant to end up.
Many spent their evenings getting blind drunk to try to forget. Nazi commanders had to worry about staff “morale”. When the war ended, the Nazis tried to pretend that Treblinka and other death camps never existed.
Compare this with the behaviour of Hamas on October 7. As those of us who have viewed the raw footage from the day have seen and heard for ourselves, these terrorists were not just pleased with what they were doing. They were elated. They spent the whole time screaming “Allahu Akbar” with delight. As they decapitated bodies and shot terrified civilians, they were grinning, congratulating each other and seeking acclaim from others.
That lack of scrutiny doesn’t surprise me as Murray offered the same argument on Morgan’s show on November 9:
People quite often abuse history… about the only thing anybody knows is the Nazis… the comparison between Hamas and the Nazis is insufficient… even the Nazis were actually ashamed of what they did. SS battalions who spent their days shooting Jews in the back of the head and pushing them into trenches had to get very, very drunk in the evening to forget what they had done. The Nazi high command had to get around the problem of soldier morale because the soldiers knew this wasn’t what their lives were meant to be like either. I tell you one very big difference. If you look at the footage… you will see something at least as barbaric as what the Nazis did. But here’s the difference: They did it with glee…
Murray — a director of the Free Speech ‘Union’ — has instructed his lawyers to send pre-action letters to people who’ve criticised his claim about the Nazis’ ‘lack of glee’ and suggested that he’s engaged in Holocaust revisionisms. I’ll just leave you to come to your own legally defensible conclusions about those quotes.
He’s since shared an article by the historian Andrew Roberts, headlined What Makes Hamas Worse Than The Nazis, which makes the same historically twisted claims.
The game Murray, Roberts, and friends are playing is nothing more than the sort of Top Trumps-brained comparisons beloved of ludicrous 00s American show Deadliest Warrior, which pitted the IRA against the Taliban, had Spartans fighting Ninjas, and the Waffen SS taking on the Taliban. It’s a grotesquely intellectually dishonest exercise but, beyond that, it disrespects the victims of the Holocaust, the survivors, and their descendants as well as those killed by Hamas and in Israel’s retaliation.
Murray — in common with so many other propagandists of the right — offers up glib lines tin-plated with cheap seriousness but they are sold as solid gold by channels like TalkTV. He is no less controversial than Norman Finkelstein but he’s not subject to any scrutiny. In war reporter drag, Murray is allowed to monologue freely because he is a frequent contributor to newspapers, magazines, and TV channels of the right.
Whether Morgan is throwing to Murray, questioning Finkelstein, or setting up a bout with Andrew Tate to debate Israel and Hamas, he’s a bloviating actor. This is a serious issue — beyond serious, actually — but players like Morgan and Murray only make a mockery of it. They slap on grave faces but take part in cheap spectacles designed to burnish their egos, get the attention they crave, and ‘defeat’ their rivals.
In his essay, The World of Wrestling, Roland Barthes wrote:
… the function of the wrestler is not to win; it is to go exactly through the motions that are expected of him. It is said that judo contains a hidden symbolic aspect; even if in the midst of efficiency, its gestures are measured, precise but restricted, drawn accurately but by a stroke without volume. Wrestling, on the contrary, offers excessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning… in wrestling, a man who is down is exaggeratedly so, and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerable spectacle of his powerlessness.
Finkelstein was meant to be an uncomplicated heel on Morgan’s show but when he didn’t respond with frustration or anger to the questions and provocations, it was down to the botox face Douglas Murray to hit him with a rhetorical steel chair when he was already on his way out of the ring.
If It were really wrestling, it would be entertaining, but when it’s the deaths of thousands of people being used as a plotline, it’s cheap cruelty more literal than even Artaud could ever have imagined.
Thanks for reading.
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