I have a confession: I like CNN’s Piers Morgan. Not personally, but professionally. I like his interviews and regularly enjoy watching his show. He asks pointed, personal questions that are occasionally uncomfortable. He asks many of his guests if they’ve ever been “properly in love.” He asks things I want to know. Which, by the way, is his job. And I don’t think he was even slightly insensitive in his interview with Janet Mock that aired on his program last night. Although there have been loud rumblings about the network hunting for his replacement, I may be in a minority because I’d like him to stay put.
I once met him at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner and he was kind and friendly when I walked up to him with my annoying reporter’s notebook while his colleague Sanjay Gupta was kind of a dick. Morgan’s predecessor, Larry King, was also at that dinner. He wore a black cape and a dark scowl and actually acted worse than Gupta upon approach. It’s telling to see how people act when no one’s looking and and they have no real reason to give you the time of day.
“Going to bed. What an incredibly annoying day,” Morgan announced to Twitter Wednesday morning at 1:51 a.m.
The reason for his bad day centered around Janet Mock, a transgender woman he’d had as a guest on his program to discuss her new book Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More. That’s right, he was helping her sell her book. But that wasn’t enough for Mock. She really wants to sell her book. So a week after the interview was taped, she incited people in the transgender community, who accused Morgan of being “transphobic” and mistreating her by explaining that she was male before age 18. The fact is, Mock was born a boy with the name “Charles” and had a sex change at 18. Her beef is that she “identified” as a woman her whole life. And yet, she still had a penis.
During the interview, Piers told her that her dress was something Beyoncé would wear. Mock replied, “Well, I live for Beyoncé. So that’s a very good compliment. Thank you.” Piers complimented Mock repeatedly throughout the segment, calling her “brave” and “gutsy” and a “remarkable lady.” Instead of being treated like a zoo animal who is fed his part, Morgan asked questions he thought viewers would wonder about. For example, asking his audience how they might feel if they learned a woman they were dating was once a dude? Hardly an outlandish question to ask in reference to a transgender woman who is selling a book about her life experiences. But that was not in Mock’s talking points. She wanted Piers to normalize her experience and speak to her as if she wasn’t selling her book based on the fact that she is a transgender. Would the book even exist had she not been born with a penis? OF COURSE NOT. If we wanted a sanitized, publicist’s version of an interview, fine. But that wasn’t the case, nor should it have been.
Tonight, Piers had Mock back on his program in a live interview. He asked why he has had to endure 24 hours of abuse from the transgender community.
Piers: “I feel pretty peeved about it.”
Mock: “Well, I’m sorry you feel offended. I think people in the trans community feel equally as offended. …So much of our lives are open to dissection. We’re constantly questioned ever since we’re young that who we are is incorrect and wrong and should be kept secret.”
Piers: “I ask you again, Why have I been vilified for being transparently supportive of you I don’t get it.”
Mock: “Maybe you don’t get it because you are not a trans woman.”
Piers [STERNLY]: “Well, explain to me. I don’t get it. What did I do wrong?”
Mock replied that Piers incorrectly said she was “formerly a man,” explaining she was assigned her gender as a baby. He asked why she didn’t correct him. She said she was “scared” and wanted to be “kind and generous.”
Piers: “Explain to me. Let me learn something here. Why it is so offensive for somebody like you who grew up a boy into your teenage years…you were biologically a boy, that you then have gender reassignment surgery and you become a woman and you always felt you were a woman. … I did not dispute that … and I don’t dispute it now… I want to learn why is it so offensive to say that you grew up as a boy because you always felt you were female you had surgery to become a woman, to become a real woman as you say in the book. Why is it offensive?”
Mock discussed “gender expectations in our culture.” She said we are born and assigned a sex at birth, something humans have no control over: “It’s not about what surgeries I may or may not have had… It’s about who I am right now… That’s what I was on this show to do.”
Piers asked Mock if she disputes that she was born a boy. Mock replied, “I was born a baby who was assigned male at birth. I did not identify or live my life as a boy. As soon as I had enough agency in my life to grow up, I became who I am, and this did not start at 18 when I went to Thailand to have surgery. It started when I was 6-years-old and saw me for who I was.” Piers ultimately said he felt she threw him to the wolves: “By the way, I don’t mind. I can take it, I’m a big boy … however I do think it was a little unfair that you sparked off this firestorm of abuse to me when I’m a supporter of your community and always have been.”
Just a brief note on covering members of the transgender community. They used to hold lobbying days on Capitol Hill, in which they’d come and talk to lawmakers about issues of import. When I was a full-time congressional reporter, I always made it my business to shadow them because they were genuinely fascinating. They hadn’t led a life like mine and they had deeply heartening, moving stories to share. I fought heatedly with an editor about proper pronouns. Having zero journalistic experience with the issue, I felt strongly that calling a person who felt she was a she “she” was the proper thing to do. My editor strongly disagreed, citing chromosomal evidence. Some of the people I interviewed were men with mustaches and vaginas. Others were women with breasts, penises and deep voices. They candidly explained these things to me and more. They boldly told me some of the most personal, guarded details about themselves. As a reporter, that’s the height of being a journalist, to hear people’s deepest thoughts and secrets. To pretend these stories were mainstream is crazy. To accuse Piers of being offensive for not normalizing this woman’s life in the exact ways she wanted is ludicrous.
Just before 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Morgan received a tweet that seemed to encapsulate all the angst toward him in one grand insult: “While on the topic of genitals @piersmorgan please tell America the size of your penis & if your left nut hangs low.” Piers replied, “Sorry?”
As an astute White House correspondent put it to me somewhat tongue in cheek, “Men tend to ignore personal criticism. Women tend to avoid public fights. Transsexuals combine the opposite tendencies.”
By 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, Piers was fully fed up and wrote, “I’ve never been subjected to the kind of nonsense that @janetmock and her supporters are accusing me of now…wish I’d never booked her.” At 1:02 a.m. he responded to Mock, who wrote, “@janetmock ‘Was a boy until 18.’ @PiersMorganLive get it the f*k together.” Piers understandably lost it, and said, “Oh, stop it. You ‘get it the f**k together’..seriously.” And at 1:42 a.m.: “Being transgender doesn’t give you the right to slur, distort & ridicule someone who supports the issue 100%. Shame on you @janetmock.”
Except Piers hadn’t considered this: if you have BuzzFeed and Media Matters fueling your cause, you can be empowered to butcher a journalist who simply asked the basic questions most journalists would ask. If Mock didn’t want to be questioned about her own story, she shouldn’t have written the book or agreed to go on CNN.
Just after midnight Tuesday night, BuzzFeed‘s openly gay legal editor Chris Geidner came riding in on his white horse (no offense to black horses) and capitalized on Mock’s accusations against Piers, among them, that Piers had somehow exploited her. “So, despite Morgan’s Twitter rant, someone at CNN realized last night that their coverage wasn’t perfect,” Geidner wrote on Twitter with a link to his story. The headline: “Transgender Advocate Janet Mock: Piers Morgan ‘Sensationalized My Story.” The deck in itself is enraging: “Taking the trans story ‘outside the safe bubble.'” Since when does a news outlet condone an interview being “safe.” Like BuzzFeed‘s all-positive book review policy, must all interviews now go easy — or else? The subject matter is delicate and unusual to begin with. Asking questions that might make some uneasy is required and expected.
Geidner’s story gave Mock the safe space she was seeking to vilify Piers and make the claim that he focused on sensationalized aspects of her life rather than her advocacy work.
Among the things that incensed Mock: 1. The onscreen description of Mock that she was a boy before age 18 while she says she “identified” as a girl in high school. She told BuzzFeed, “What they’re saying is, ‘Only until I got the surgery, then I was a woman.’”
2. During her interview, Piers tweeted, “How would you feel if you found out the woman you are dating was formerly a man?” A look at the transcript shows that there was an approximately four minute commercial break in between Piers posing a question about how she told her boyfriend that she was born a boy. If she was so broken up about it, she could have said something, anything during the break. She didn’t. She answered his question, saying, “For me, I was just in love with another person, and I think that he was also falling in love with me. …I’ve been dating since I was 16 years old, and I have exclusively dated men and I told many men throughout my journey and a lot of that is covered within Redefining Realness.” As for her current boyfriend, Aaron, she said, “It was a pivotal moment. …I was the emotional one. Aaron was — he’s a very steady, stable, even- tempered, loving man and so he asked to give me a hug and that’s something that it’s talked to on the book and I don’t want to give away too much, but we are still together and I’m happy.”
3. Mock insists Piers turned her life into “info-tainment.” She told BuzzFeed that going on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry‘s show was a “sensitive and safe space.” Of course, no mention that Harris-Perry’s program isn’t always such a sensitive, safe space – Harris-Perry recently came under fire for going along with her comedian guests in mocking Mitt Romney‘s adopted black grandchild. She cried on air and apologized. Point being, her show isn’t a permanent safe haven.
Predictably, the perpetually offended “reporters” over at Media Matters sided with Mock and scolded Piers for not being more receptive to his critics who were charging him with being “transphobic” and lobbing verbal hand grenades at his nuts. The writer, Luke Brinker, called the CNN interview “problematic” and said Piers “fixated” on the fact that Mock was once male. If “fixated” means he asked her about it, then yes, Piers is a total psychopath who asked a transgender woman writing a memoir about the very reason her book exists. Media Matters bestowed Harris-Perry with a halo, insisting that she didn’t “objectify” Mock like Piers did and instead “allowed Mock to tell her own story” thereby demonstrating that transgender people can live “fully flourishing lives.”
As Piers explained in a series of tweets, where were these complaints last week when they taped the interview? At 9:52 p.m. he wrote: “For the record, my @janetmock interview was taped last week. She never complained during it, after it, or before it aired. I showed @janetmock full respect, as anyone who watched the interview knows. But sadly, she now wants to sell books pretending otherwise.” Later on, at 1:15 a.m. he explained, “In fact, @janetmock THANKED me for the interview. Now pretends she was mortally offended. Give me a break. Hate this kind of crap.” And at 1:16 a.m.: “As for all the enraged transgender supporters, look at how STUPID you’re being. I’m on your side, you dimwits. @janetmock”
Piers knows BuzzFeed threw him under the bus. At 1:40 a.m. he wrote, “And now she runs to @BuzzFeed to cry foul… I’ve been played in a disgustingly cynical manner.” Read a rush transcript of the CNN program here.
Remember, people, Mock has books to sell. A faux controversy about an evil national talk show host can’t hurt that goal.