October 22, 2013
Piers Morgan (Jeff Schear/Getty Images)
Piers Morgan (Jeff Schear/Getty Images)

Piers Morgan disavows the notion that he must wait a certain amount of time after a mass shooting incident before debating gun-control issues on his eponymous CNN program. Yesterday was a more proper time to debate gun control, he’ll tell the waiting-period advocates.

That approach got Morgan in some trouble following the Navy Yard shooting of Sept. 16. On his show that evening, Morgan premised some his arguments on reports that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, had used an AR-15 in his murderous outing. Here’s what the host said in a clash with gun-rights advocate John Lott:

Now, let’s take what happened to them because the NRA has been furiously silent today. NRA doesn’t want to say anything about this. And here’s why. Because the Washington Navy Yard is heavily secured, it is crawling in arms security, people, arms, police. And yet it was still infiltrated by a man with a legally purchased AR-15, who just committed the same kind of atrocity as we saw at Sandy Hook, and Aurora. And yet, I’m sure, John Lott, you’re going to explain to me now why the solution is not to deal with that gun which keeps being used to do these atrocities, but is to arm even more people in that building. Is that right?

The next day, this premise collapsed, as CNN was early in reporting. No AR-15 had been involved. Morgan took heat from Second Amendment advocates who trashed him for reaching premature conclusions.

In a wide-ranging interview this morning about his gig and his new book, “Shooting Straight: Guns, Gays, God, and George Clooney,” Morgan explained what happened that night, along with many other things. For the AR-15 detail, Morgan says, he was “very reliant” on the CNN news team, which had “cleared” it for use. “Now, it turned out it was wrong and it was a mistake,” says Morgan. “I don’t want to be in a position in the gun debate of using inaccurate information as part of my argument,” he continued, noting that when he screws up, “I’ve always held up my hands and say I’m wrong”; in this case, he says, he set the record straight on Twitter. That said, Morgan notes that many other outlets ran with the AR-15 story and that this “wasn’t a question of me just plucking an inaccurate fact out of the air.”

Asked about how gun lovers howled about his mistake, Morgan replied, in part, “They’re perfectly entitled to do so.”

Screaming and shouting about gun regulations, of course, is a consistent theme on Morgan’s nightly program, and it fills the more compelling parts of “Shooting Straight.” A rolling debate between Morgan and his executive producer, Jonathan Wald, centers on how uncivil the host can afford to be when he invites gun-rights advocates onto his set. Wald comes off as the persistent voice of sanity in “Shooting Straight,” while Morgan shows a deficit of regret, for example, over the nasty personal clashes, such as one in which he called a guest an “unbelievably stupid man.

When asked whether Wald’s call for eschewing ad hominemism had won him over, Morgan issued a complicated reply suggesting: Depends. It’s important not to alienate the audience, he says, “by looking like you’re just rude.” At the same time, the host says, “I reserve the right to be intemperate.” Wald and others, he concedes, would prefer that he call the arguments of foes “idiotic” rather than calling those foes themselves “idiots.” “But I reserve the right to go full-scale, ‘You’re an idiot,’” says Morgan.

That reserved right may help account for why Morgan gets turned down a fair amount by Second Amendmentists invited to debate on his program. “I never say no to pro-gun people. It’s more of a question of them saying no to me,” says Morgan, who says he has a standing invitation to the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre and has gotten “repeated refusals” from the organization.

Morgan’s on-air activism on gun control follows the news: When a horrific and high-profile incident takes place, the CNN host takes up his familiar arguments against assault rifles. But why doesn’t this crusader break the unreliability of the news cycle with a nightly feature on gun violence? The host has thought of doing just that, by mentioning the names of a few victims each night. But he bagged the notion: “I don’t want to be a boring battering ram,” says Morgan. “The moment you become a bore, you’ve lost the argument.” More to come on Morgan’s book, Twitter, and related matters.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.