on with kara swisher

Piers Morgan on Free Speech, Elon Musk, and the Meaning of Meat

Kara Swisher talks to the tabloid veteran about his tumultuous career.

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage
Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage

Tech journalist Kara Swisher is no stranger to controversy, but she’s nowhere near the same league of notorious British tabloid veteran Piers Morgan. In the latest episode of On With Kara Swisher, she talks to Morgan about his tumultuous career and grills him on whether it’s all a big act. They get into a number of other contentious issues including how to handle late-stage Donald Trump and Morgan’s many, uh, strong views about the royals. In the segment excerpted below, the two discuss the merits of Elon Musk’s self-proclaimed free-speech crusade at Twitter, Morgan’s love of shit-stirring, and what can or cannot be defined as “meat.”

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Kara Swisher: Twitter is not a public square. It’s a private company. It can do whatever it damn well pleases. And for some reason, people have decided everybody owns this platform when, in fact, it’s owned only by rich people. Whoever they happen to be at the moment.

Piers Morgan: I agree. That’s entirely true. It is a private company, and Elon Musk now can do what the hell he likes with it. But I do admire at least his aspiration to make it more of a balanced, uh, town hall, if you like, or town square where at least the people who are constantly being silenced are not all from the same political persuasion, which is what has been happening. We used to write about this, about the double standards, and I always made the point that it would come back and haunt you. If you try and tamper with free speech and democracy in this way, it will always come back and bite you.

I don’t think Elon Musk has been off to a perfect start. He’s certainly throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. He’s trying to work it out. I do support him in the general aspiration to bring people back to the platform and give them a chance to show they understand that there are limits. And he’s shown that, with Kanye West, if you cross the line again, he will remove you. So he’s working that out for himself. I think he happens to be a genius who, whether it’s SpaceX or Tesla, has actually always been a force for good. So he may be public enemy No. 1 now to the woke brigade, but I think he’s right to take them off.

Kara Swisher: Oh Piers, come on. He’s behaving — like the Paul Pelosi thing. I get he gets the right to say it, but why do that? Why, if you’re talking about misinformation, do you then post something that is untrue? He needlessly dunks on people. The thing he did around Yoel Roth — he backed him and, suddenly, the guy left and he is calling him a pedophile.
That’s irresponsible, weird, and performative. It’s literally the greatest hits of the right wing, which is Fauci, woke-mind virus, trans — it goes through.

Piers Morgan: Yeah. But a lot of it I would agree with him about. And the rest of it, I would say he’s entitled to have his opinions.

Kara Swisher: Certainly.

Piers Morgan: And if he believes that Fauci should be prosecuted, he’s entitled to that view.

Kara Swisher: You may not like it, but he has to reap the consequences of what he says, too, no matter what. If you say something controversial. One of the things that you’ve made your career at, and I have to an extent, is saying things that cause people to pay attention to them. And you can call them controversial. Do you think that’s one of your staying powers? What do you imagine your biggest staying power is? And I’m not doing this, like, “What kind of tree would you be?”

Piers Morgan: No, no. I get it. Listen, I love opinions. I like expressing opinions. I like stirring up debate. I like arguing with people. I like it if people challenge me and take me on. You know, I used to get thrown outta my local bullish pub on a Friday night for getting drunk and boisterous and arguing too much. Nothing’s really changed other than I’ve never been suspended from Twitter, quite miraculously. So look, I do like a debate. I like an argument. I like to express my opinions. But last time I checked, that is actually allowed in a democracy.

Kara Swisher: Sure. But do you do it performatively? Sometimes, I’m like, Is he kidding? Is it fake?

Piers Morgan: Yeah, sometimes.

Kara Swisher: You just wanna cause trouble.

Piers Morgan: No, I mean, look, I would say I always express honestly held opinions. But for example, it’s the biggest story in the world, whether a company called Greggs in the U.K. releases a vegan sausage roll, which I made into a huge furore, which led to, I think, Greggs’s claim that they sold a billion pounds worth of sausage rolls off the back of my furore.

Is that a valuable use of my time? Probably not. Was it quite fun? Yes. Was underpinning it a belief by me that the vegan and vegetarian companies — as they’re banned from doing in France, by the way — should not be allowed to use meat language to promote their products? Yes. So there was a point there, which I do believe in, but it was quite good fun having a running battle with vegans on Twitter.

Kara Swisher: Well, isn’t that free speech to call it “meat”? They can call it meat if they want, as far as I’m concerned.

Piers Morgan: Well, actually, it’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Because to me, it’s duplicitous, and in France they banned it.

Kara Swisher: Well, it’s a new meaning of meat.

Piers Morgan: Well, it’s not though, is it? Hang on. When you redefine things, you’ve got to be extremely careful. Meat is meat. Vegan sausage rolls are not sausage rolls.

Kara Swisher: Are they?

Piers Morgan: No.

Kara Swisher: Why not?

Piers Morgan: Because they’re gruel. They’re not meat.

Kara Swisher: Uh, all right. But I’m curious how you got on this. I mean, when is it performance, which I think this absolutely is, versus not? And when is performance important from your perspective?

Piers Morgan: I think that a lot of it is what I would call theatrical. When I’m expressing my strongly held opinions, there’s always a bit of theater to it. You know, I think that it goes with the territory of social media. It goes with a territory of, I think, being on television. It’s all performative to a degree.

Podcasts could be performative. But underpinning it, the question really is “Do I say things I don’t believe?” No. Do I say some things knowing it’s trivial and just designed to wind people up? Yeah. Sometimes for fun. I wasn’t aware that that was against the rules either. So I don’t really mind if people think I’m being performative.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On With Kara Swisher is produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Cristian Castro Rossel, and Rafaela Siewert with mixing by Fernando Arruda, engineering by Christopher Shurtleff, and theme music by Trackademics. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday. Follow the show on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Piers Morgan on Free Speech, Elon Musk, and ‘Meat’