CNN's Piers Morgan viciously lashed out at critics who accused him of sensationalizing an interview with transgender activist Janet Mock, making a number of personal attacks against transgender activists and dismissing his critics as hysterical, dishonest, and "stupid." His over-the-top reaction to criticism highlights that even LGBT-friendly journalists can do serious damage when they ignore the voices and concerns of LGBT people.
Following a February 4 interview with Mock about her new memoir Redefining Realness, Morgan was criticized for his overemphasis on Mock's body, physical appearance, and romantic relationships with men. Throughout the segment, on-screen text described Mock as being "a boy until age 18."
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Mock accused Morgan of "trying to do info-tainment" and criticized him for sensationalizing transgender people while avoiding a substantive discussion about her book - a sentiment that was echoed by many critics. Mock didn't accuse Morgan of being transphobic - rather, she challenged him for asking the same kinds of questions that are repeatedly used to objectify transgender people's bodies.
Morgan spent the next day lashing out at Mock and her supporters on Twitter, describing himself as an ardent supporter of transgender equality. That night, Morgan invited Mock back on his show for an interview during which he repeatedly played the victim, talked over Mock, and refused to apologize for his comments:
Following the interview, Morgan hosted a panel discussion between three cisgender people, two of whom ridiculed Mock for criticizing Morgan's actions.
The entire incident demonstrates that even well-intentioned journalists can do serious harm when they react defensively rather than listen to criticism from marginalized groups. Morgan's behavior illustrates exactly how journalists - and especially self-identified LGBT allies - should not behave when being criticized for problematic coverage of LGBT issues:
1. Making Personal Attacks Against Your Critics
Morgan's first reaction to criticisms of his interview was to accuse Mock of being disingenuous in order sell more copies of her book:
That same attack was echoed during the panel discussion following Mock's follow-up interview, during which conservative commentator Ben Ferguson accused Mock and her "PR team" of creating a "fake controversy" to gain attention.
Morgan went on to call Mock cowardly, "churlish," and shameful and called Mock's supporters "stupid," "bigoted," and "ignorant." Needless to say, attacking transgender activists in order to discredit their criticisms shuts down the possibility of a productive dialogue, and it adds to the already tremendous amount of verbal abuse the transgender community experiences on a daily basis.
2. Touting Your Pro-LGBT Record To Dismiss Criticism
Morgan also dismissed criticisms of his coverage by touting his support for "100% equality for [the] LGBT community":
Morgan's alleged support for LGBT equality doesn't make him immune to criticism, and it doesn't make his initial interview with Mock any less problematic. As Mock stated in her follow-up interview, "we can... have great intentions and be good people but also be ignorant and have a lack of understanding about these issues."
3. Trivializing The Concerns Of LGBT People
Morgan's response was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to mock transgender activists. His critics, of course, were not being "cisphobic" by criticizing Morgan for his problematic coverage, in the same way that gay people aren't "heterophobic" when they object to anti-gay rhetoric. Baselessly accusing transgender advocates of "cisphobia" trivializes the real problem of transphobia that results in widespread discrimination, violence, and abuse against transgender people.
4. Telling Transgender People To "Pipe Down"
The act of silencing women by calling them "hysterical" long predates the fight for LGBT equality. But it's especially damaging when used to marginalize transgender people - a community that has long been pathologized and treated as mentally ill and unstable. In his effort to silence his critics, Morgan played into some of the very same tropes that have been used to justify discriminating against trans women for decades.
5. Threatening Retaliation Against Transgender People
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of Morgan's response was his threat to "deal with" Mock on national television following his initial interview:
It goes without saying that threatening to punish Mock for voicing her concerns is extremely disturbing. Transgender women of color are disproportionately targeted for transphobic violence, and many anti-trans hate crimes are carried out under the guise of seeking revenge for the trans victim's "deception." Threatening to "deal with" Mock in front of a national audience echoes the kind of violence regularly carried out against transgender people.
The trouble with Morgan's reaction to Mock's criticism is part of a larger problem when journalists talk about transgender issues - an unwillingness to listen. During her follow-up interview, Mock explained the importance of listening to trans people and allowing trans women speak for themselves, telling Morgan "we need to follow trans women and let them say who they are."
Instead of following Mock's guidance, Piers Morgan repeatedly interrupted her, portrayed himself as a victim, and lectured her on how to conduct interviews in the future. His behavior stands in stark contrast to other journalists who have acknowledged and apologized for mistakes in their reporting on transgender people. If nothing else, Morgan's behavior provides a helpful guide as to what kind of behavior journalists, and especially LGBT-friendly journalists, should avoid when their reporting on LGBT issues falls short.