Piers Morgan, ever-desperate for ratings, had the notoriously belligerent Sean Penn on his show this week, and let him ramble on about politics – the actor was virtually incomprehensible – without discouraging him in the slightest.
When it was revealed last year that Piers Morgan, a once-powerful British tabloid editor best known in the United States for being a derisive reality-show judge, would fill Larry King's CNN slot with his own Piers Morgan Tonight interview show, one felt a glancing sadness.
Yes, King had become easily distracted after his 25-year tenure, and quite loose, but his shows were stylishly bizarre. All too often, obviously drunk stars would be patched in to offer opinions; interview subjects seemed pyjama-party casual, even unruly.
He had a well-known aversion to partisan television – "I never had an agenda," he remarked about his show's declining ratings compared with those of cable-television hosts with bellicose political stances.
Morgan, on the other hand, promised to have a very strong agenda of his own.
This agenda has revealed itself to be, merely, a liberal bias: Is this what made Simon Cowell cry? (Cowell crying about the death of his father during a U.K. interview with Morgan a few years ago is a great bragging point of CNN marketers.)
I watched Penn – insufferable as always, his arrogance seemingly baked on in a kiln – and then read the transcript online.
I'm still mystified.
I understand why stars like Penn and Charlie Sheen are allowed to make idiotic, seditious remarks about their country: They live in a country that allows them to, and they are celebrities, whom most people would watch playing Jenga.
But why would Morgan, drowning in unpopularity, not challenge the smug, nonsensical actor? Is it because of Penn's hard work in Haiti? Or is it because Penn, in a CBS interview taping last year, said he hoped critics of his activism would "die screaming of rectal cancer"?
Morgan is never afraid to attack conservatives such as Ann Coulter or Christine O'Donnell with genuinely alluring sangfroid – but place a gigantic, quivering Michael Moore in front of him, and he rears back, as if this meretricious malcontent is a made man, and as such, untouchable.
This week, the somewhat confusing Occupy Wall Street movement (which finally spawned a sister-revolution here in Toronto, marked by random and disharmonious complaining) was the object of Penn's admiration.
Penn "applauds" the "spirit" of Occupy Wall Street, he told Morgan almost kittenishly. Morgan urged him on, asking about the movement spreading. Does Penn feel that it will keep gaining momentum?
Here is his answer, in all of its resplendent gibberish: "Yes. Yes. No, there's no question about it. And yet the component that – that is, where do we go from there with – with successes in these things, again, I go back to the Arab Spring, you know, Egypt. And, for example, we have 85 million people, some sectarianism and so on, a lot of different powers going – going forward.
"It's going to take economic plans. It's going to take tourism, which is significant there. And then – and then you have a – and, you know, what happens in Libya, where the interim government is actually encouraging leadership, not trying to rob the Libyans of their revolution.
"So, in these situations, i.e., you know, I – I just find that it's – it's been a long time coming."
At this point, did Morgan ask Penn to elaborate, or explain himself?
No. He lamented about how "furious" the "activist" must be.
The transcript is on the website, see for yourself. You try to connect the dots between the pardoning of Nixon, to why America should have "waited on" hunting down Saddam Hussein, to his appalling characterization of the Tea Party as the "Get the 'N-Word' out of the White House party."
Does Penn's alleged love of the President entitle him to this kind of obscene speculation?
How could Morgan not say anything?
Because he's a frightened, injured little deer in the massive headlights of celebrity and chic party-speak.
And he's not working out.
Apparently, Morgan has a new talent-broker for the show, but he will need more than that to replace King adequately, who might have nodded off during Penn's talk, but never would have let the talk expand so heinously.
He wouldn't have, because King is of an old school that entertained, fearlessly, all opinions, in service of a genuine pop democracy wherein we fashion our ideas after a series of informed conclusions. And we would not be bullied by dubious philanthropists/movie stars because the man allegedly running the show is pawing the desk submissively for fear of speaking out of turn.
For fear of saying, "Sean Penn, explain yourself"?
That's something to cry about.