The Desolation of Smug: Alec Baldwin and Piers Morgan Say Goodbye
They both had struggling shows on prime-time cable news. They’re both rich white guys. They’re both preening assholes who’ve managed to piss off the LGBT community. And now, they’re both saying goodbye. It’s been a pretty eventful 48 hours for Alec Baldwin and Piers Morgan, with Baldwin seeing the publication of a breathtakingly narcissistic 5,200 word “Goodbye, Public Life” essay in New York magazine and Morgan admitting to the Times‘s David Carr that his three-year-old talker on CNN, Piers Morgan Live, is being canceled.
Of the two, Baldwin is the one who’s decided to go out in the bigger blaze of glory. In the age of 140-character attention spans, it’s almost impossible to truly commit career suicide anymore. The love of a good narrative that can release endorphins in the People magazine center of our brains means that no matter how egregious your sin, people will always be willing to root for your redemption if you approach it the right way. That’s why it’s still possible that Baldwin didn’t, in fact, burn whatever’s left of his professional reputation completely to the ground with his New York piece. But it sure as hell feels like he came close. The essay — in all its self-pitying, enemies-listing, cringe-inducing glory — is really an extraordinary piece of writing. It’s not every day you see a Hollywood actor, even one as volatile as Baldwin, completely detach from standard celebrity protocol and spit fire in so many different directions at once. It reads at times like the release of a rage that’s been building inside Baldwin for years.
The targets of Baldwin’s venom amount to a veritable two-inch-thick Nixonian file of media people whom he believes have wronged him over the past couple of years. Some won’t surprise anybody, but others really do catch you off guard simply because of the pettiness Baldwin shows in the shots he takes, condescendingly throwing in little jabs here and there just for the hell of it because, well, why not since this is supposedly his final public address. He rips into the paparazzi and Harvey Levin in particular, MSNBC president Phil Griffin, and someone who knows quite a bit about throwing a tantrum and asserting that he doesn’t want to be famous anymore, Shia LaBeouf. (At last, someone seems to be plagiarizing Shia for a change.) Beyond that, he rails right off the bat against what he calls the “Gay Department of Justice” — which includes Anderson Cooper, Andrew Sullivan and others who slammed him for allegedly shouting an anti-gay slur on a New York City street — and calls someone he spoke to at a gay rights organization in Hawaii an “F-to-M tranny”; he seems to use this term without any kind of malice, essentially proving his critics’ complaints that he oozes patronizing white guy entitlement and doesn’t even care to learn the correct terminology to use when dealing with the LGBT community or really anyone outside his privileged circle.
Piers Morgan knows a little something about offending those who are LGBT, given his recent interview with transgender activist Janet Mock in which he fixated on her life pre-transition. When she voiced her displeasure post-interview, he engaged in a Twitter battle with her, which is the kind of thing he seems to spend a lot of time doing to his many enemies. But that one appearance isn’t the reason Jeff Zucker has decided to get rid of Morgan, ending his show next month (nor was Ted Nugent responsible for getting his “ass thrown out.”) The real reason, of course, is that the numbers are lousy. Morgan never developed much of a following and recently his ratings have been at their lowest point since he took over for Larry King back in 2011. The writing has been on the wall for some time and Zucker knows he needs to pull the plug before any more damage is done to the anchor position in CNN’s prime-time lineup.
Morgan’s always been a pompous ass and a dreadful bore, despite his confrontational tabloid bona fides. He was put in place by previous CNN chief Jon Klein, who was promptly fired by the network after the move, and it’s easy to get the impression that Zucker always considered Morgan a problem that got dumped in his lap on day one. It now remains to be seen who will replace him but several names are already being tossed around including former ABC anchor Bill Weir and maybe even, as a long shot, the now unemployed Jay Leno. (If you feel like betting on an even longer shot, there’s this: Larry King has publicly said he’d consider coming back if asked.) For his part, Morgan is doing his best to make it sound like it was a mutual decision to bring the ax down on his show, and he’s blaming his lack of success on his being a Brit who supposedly spent an hour each night trying to tell Americans how to run their lives. You know, because we just don’t get it, so that’s why our savior now has to leave us to wallow haplessly in our own indolence and incompetence.
It’s a slightly more dignified version of the same bullshit arrogance Baldwin is displaying in his manifesto of disdain for the media and what America in general has become. In between the airing of grievances at, to continue the list, Rachel Maddow, Morning Joe, the Huffington Post, and even Rob Lowe, there’s a lot of holier-than-thou soapboxing about the myriad ways he’s tried to make the world a better place and grandiose self-pity about how hard it is being famous now that everybody has “a camera in their pockets.” It leaves you wondering how awesome it would be to be so wealthy that you can literally tell people who irritate you to fuck off in the middle of the street, then when everyone calls you an asshole for it, write a giant manifesto in a magazine announcing that you’re dropping out because your feelings are hurt.
Whether Baldwin will stand by his promise to finally keep his big mouth shut is anyone’s guess. But he’s already defied it in at least one respect: he sent a tweet to Piers Morgan yesterday afternoon — wishing him well, of course, and expressing hope that he’s back on the air soon. Morgan returned the adulation. Keith Olbermann also joined in the love-fest and praised Balwdin’s essay. Starting to see a pattern developing here?