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No, Piers Morgan is not impartial on Israel-Palestine

The British talk show host deserves credit for featuring pro-Palestinian voices, but interview successes are owed mostly to the talent of his guests refuting his Israeli talking points
Sky News talk show host Piers Morgan, centre, interviews Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, right, and Jeremy Boreing, co-founder of the conservative American news website, The Daily Wire, on the Israel-Palestine war on 17 October 2023 (Screengrab)
Sky News talk show host Piers Morgan, centre, interviews Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, right, and Jeremy Boreing, co-founder of the conservative American news website, The Daily Wire, on the Israel-Palestine war on 17 October 2023. The interview with Youssef became the most viewed video in the show's history (Screengrab)

Piers Morgan, the host of Piers Morgan Uncensored, has garnered praise for his reporting on the current Israel-Palestine crisis.

Much of the praise has come from Morgan himself, though.

During interviews, Morgan has stated that he doesn’t play favourites, that he is "a journalist…with no personal skin in the game", and that he has "always tried to be extremely fair-minded [on the issue]".

He has also claimed, during multiple interviews, that he has done more to give voice to pro-Palestinian voices than any other mainstream western media figure.

Morgan may be right about this final point. It is probably true that he has given more space for Palestine supporters than anyone else in mainstream western media. His shows featuring guests sympathetic to the Palestinians have generated tens of millions of views on YouTube.

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Through 7 November, Morgan has featured a number of pro-Palestinian guests: Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef (two appearances); religious philosopher Mohammed Hijab; rapper Lowkey; political commentator Hasan Piker; Young Turks creator Cenk Uygur; Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot; Egyptian journalist Rahma Zein; Palestinian-American activist Nerdeen Kiswani (two appearances); and Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti (two appearances); British progressive James Schneider; and journalist Glenn Greenwald.

Morgan also interviewed political commentator Wajahat Ali, who at times defended Palestinians but has also faced criticism over the last decade for undermining them.

Morgan also twice hosted journalist Grace Blakely, a commentator who is sympathetic to Palestinians, but both appearances were brief and part of panels.

Morgan has not been nearly as balanced or fair as he implies, however.

During the same time frame, Morgan interviewed even more pro-Israel guests: political commentator Ben Shapiro; former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; American politician Chris Christie; Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely; an Israeli family that survived Hamas’s 7 October attack; actress Joan Collins; Professor Gad Saad; journalist Jeremy Boreing; former CIA director David Petraeus; former Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev; Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari; former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; psychologist Jordan Peterson; journalist Emily Austin; American presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy; British author Louise Mensch; the son of Iran's former shah, Reza Pahlavi; attorney Brooke Goldstein; Israeli President Isaac Herzog; and Mosab Hassan Yousef, a former Hamas member and former Muslim.

Morgan has also interviewed other pro-Israel guests - British columnist Esther Krakue (two appearances), British lawyer Paula Rhone-Adrien, and journalist Hilary Freeman - but only briefly and as part of panels.

Morgan’s guest choices are revealing, and not only because of the imbalance created by the inclusion of so many pro-Israel guests. The programme has given a platform to Israeli politicians, while ignoring political scientists and scholars of international law, most of whom are highly critical of Israel. Piers Morgan Uncensored has also featured unhinged Islamophobes, including an ex-Muslim, but did not feature Israeli dissidents including members of “Breaking the Silence”, a prominent organisation established by former soldiers.

Much more telling than the guest lineup, though, is how Morgan has conducted the interviews.

Ignoring the context

Interviews with pro-Palestine guests have mostly been carried out interrogation style, with Morgan asking negative-facing, critical questions designed to put guests on the defensive.

Morgan has started most of these interviews by asking pro-Palestinian guests if they condemn Hamas. This is an example of what media scholars call "frame setting", which establishes the tone of news content based on the journalist’s own position.

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The implications of Morgan’s oft-asked question about condemning Hamas are significant. If guests agree with Morgan that Hamas should be condemned, a Palestinian source of evil and conflict has been established from the interview’s outset, and Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza is given justification. If guests refuse to condemn Hamas, however, Morgan can demonise them for failing to denounce "terrorists".

Morgan has also been unlikely to agree with pro-Palestinian guests. In fact, he has commonly pushed back on their points and interrupted them. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, and Youssef’s second appearance on the show notwithstanding, there have been almost no "softball" style questions for pro-Palestinian guests.

Pro-Palestinian guests have been included in several panel discussions, but most of the them have been asymmetrical, featuring one voice against multiple pro-Israel voices

Importantly, with most pro-Palestinian guests, Morgan has been more-or-less unwilling to discuss the essential background and context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, insisting on 7 October as a sort of official starting point.

Pro-Palestinian guests have attempted to interject context that predates the attack. Morgan has tended to ignore or downplay this context in all interviews except the one conducted with Youssef last week.

Context includes the blockade on Gaza, which human rights groups and international law scholars describe as a form of "collective punishment", a serious crime under international law; and the occupation of the West Bank, which human rights groups, including leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, say constitutes "apartheid" and a "crime against humanity".

Also, largely ignored have been Israeli provocations occurring over the first nine months of 2023: Israeli settler terrorist attacks in the West Bank; repeated incitements at Muslim and Christian holy sites; the annexation of the West Bank in a map presented at the United Nations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and arbitrary arrests of Palestinians, who are often held (sometimes for many years) without charge under Israel’s so-called "administrative detention" orders.

Pro-Palestinian guests have been included in several panel discussions, but most of these discussions have been asymmetrical, featuring one such voice against multiple pro-Israel voices. For example, a discussion including Blakely also featured Rhone-Adrien, Freeman, and Morgan, who promoted the Israeli narrative.

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Both of the panels featuring Kiswani were illustrative of Morgan’s strategy. In the first appearance, Morgan and Austin effectively ganged up on Kiswani, who was put on the defensive at the outset by the routine question about condemning Hamas, which was followed by a discussion about the alleged Hamas intention to kill all Jews. Kiswani’s second appearance was effectively three against one, with Austin, Mensch, and Morgan repeatedly asking her questions about Palestinian violence.

The interview with Zein was also emblematic of Morgan's approach. In a barrage of critical questions, Morgan asked Zein if she regretted a verbal altercation she had with a CNN journalist, if she condemned Hamas, how Palestinians could get rid of Hamas, and what she thinks of Hamas’s alleged intention to "kill all Jews".

These initial four questions established the tone of the interview. When Zein mentioned Israeli genocide, Morgan deflected and then quickly turned the tables: "Do you not agree with me that what Hamas is waging against Israel is also genocide?"

Leaving aside that Hamas’s 2017 charter makes clear that its gripes are with Zionism, not Jews or Judaism - that it has not said it wants to kill Jews - and that international law scholars have blamed Israel, not Palestinian fighters, for genocide, the line of questioning is problematic because it puts a pro-Palestinian guest in a decidedly defensive posture.

Softball questions

With pro-Israel guests, Morgan’s interview behaviour has been strikingly different. He has offered up Israel-friendly introductions and conclusions; openly expressed pro-Israel positions; passionately agreed with opinions expressed by guests; asked mostly "softball" questions; shown a willingness to engage with context that justifies Israeli government actions; and (mostly) let guests speak without interruption.

Notably, Morgan hasn’t routinely asked his pro-Israel guests to condemn a pattern of Israeli war crimes and has done almost nothing to push back against false or disputed claims. He has also been unlikely to take pro-Israel interviewees to task for avoiding the very few critical questions he asked them.

Morgan's introductions and conclusions are important as they helped drive the overall direction of each interview. His introductions of pro-Israel guests have been highly respectful, establishing rapport and basic agreement.

For example, in his interview with Shapiro, Morgan offered an introduction deeply sympathetic to Israel’s army and uncritically repeated some of its unverified claims. He noted that "Israel had every right to respond with force", a point that Morgan knows Shapiro agrees with, and then proclaimed that he would "give the show to [Shapiro]". This set the stage for the interview, which witnessed a series of softball questions posed by Morgan followed by Shapiro’s uninterrupted, lengthy responses.

In his interview with Hotovely, Morgan provided an overtly sympathetic, humanising introduction. The ambassador complimented him on a "great opening". Morgan’s conclusions were equally sympathetic to Israel.

During his interview with Hotovely, Morgan offered a friendly, warm conclusion expressing support to Hotovely on "what happened to [her] people". Morgan ended the Shapiro interview with a montage he said was made in “support… for Israel.”

With pro-Palestinian guests, the same friendly, sympathetic introductions and conclusions have not been offered up. When Morgan introduced Hijab, for example, he referred to him as a "controversial pro-Palestine influencer". Interviews with pro-Palestinian guests have sometimes ended combatively, with Morgan and guests talking over one another.

Israeli talking points

Morgan has repeatedly made claims that can be traced back to Israeli government sources.

It is perplexing that a journalist, especially one who prides himself on professionalism, would rely so heavily on Israeli sources and uncritically repeat Israeli government talking points, particularly given their history of systematically misrepresenting facts and events.

Morgan’s interviews have rarely engaged with information provided by Palestinian sources

Morgan’s interviews have rarely engaged with information provided by Palestinian sources, and this has usually occurred when pro-Palestinian guests have brought them up.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem and other human rights groups have effectively been ignored by Piers Morgan Uncensored, likely because their investigations of key events - in 2009, 2012, 2014, 2021, and 2023 - have been much more critical of Israel.

Also ignored by Morgan have been serious scholarly sources. Despite discussions of genocide, the programme has not engaged with the work of Israeli genocide and Holocaust scholar Raz Segal, who has recently argued that Israel is carrying out a "textbook case of genocide".

Despite discussions of the 1948 Nakba, Morgan has not engaged with the work of Ilan Pappe, a leading Israeli historian and author of arguably the most authoritative text on the Nakba, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. 

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Morgan’s interview with Peterson was problematic on many fronts, but particularly for its casual adoption of Israeli talking points. For example, Peterson - a non-specialist lacking the credentials to talk authoritatively about Israel-Palestine - repeatedly praised the Abraham Accords using absurd arguments that aren’t taken seriously in any scholarly circle.

Morgan has also openly doubted assertions by the Palestinian government, including with regard to casualties and the bombing of al-Ahli hospital. While insisting that he is similarly critical of Israeli government claims, Morgan has casually and uncritically accepted official Israeli claims about the Al-Ahli hospital bombing, even refuting a recent New York Times investigation that "casts doubt" over the Israeli narrative.

Morgan has also accepted the Israeli government’s version of what happened on 7 October, including Israeli government-provided casualty figures, which he has frequently repeated.

The lack of engagement with Palestinian sources and serious human rights and scholarly work is problematic, in part because it allows for myths and superficial arguments to proceed unchecked.

However, in a response to Middle East Eye, Morgan has dismissed this view and said: "I’ll continue to provide a platform for all voices in the war, and to do so with an unwavering commitment to journalistic scrutiny, and fairness."

False propaganda

During interviews, Morgan has sometimes repeated false Israeli propaganda claims and, at other times, let them go unchecked.

For example, Morgan didn’t push back against numerous claims made by Shapiro related to allegations of Palestinian "human shielding" or the absurd notion that Israel’s illegal settlements are "disputed territories".

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Other claims made by pro-Israel guests also went unchecked by Morgan. It is the bare minimum that a well-trained professional journalist would be critical of government sources, verify information, consult a variety of sources, and push back when guests make unsubstantiated claims.

In this case, consulting with legitimate experts - including scholars and human rights groups - is essential.

Piers Morgan Uncensored has also been much more likely to use emotionality, colourful descriptors, and humanisation in pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian contexts.

If pro-Palestinian interviewees have successfully defended pro-Palestinian positions, they have done so against all odds.

Morgan deserves credit for having pro-Palestinian guests on his show. Still, interview successes are owed mostly to the talent and assertiveness of people like Youssef, Hijab, Lowkey and others than any attempt by Morgan to be fair to Palestinians.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Mohamad Elmasry is Professor of Media Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
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