We’re barely three months into 2021, but it’s already been a banner year for the right wing whining about “cancel culture.” But as the accusations of “woke mobs” running rampant grow increasingly flimsy, it becomes clearer with each day that conservative complaints have nothing to do with free speech, and everything to do with protecting the right’s entitlement to its own racism, without consequences.
The latest example came with the departure of Piers Morgan from Good Morning Britain. For the uninitiated, Morgan was the editor of several of Britain’s most disreputable newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, which was caught hacking the voicemails of celebrities under his leadership (while Morgan has always denied knowledge of the practice of hacking, a judicial public inquiry found otherwise).
This scandal is just one of many that should have ended Morgan’s career in media, but he’s continued as a TV host and broadcaster. Following the airing of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, Morgan stated he didn’t believe Markle’s accounts of experiencing racism and suicidal thoughts within the royal family. Like so many in the British tabloid press, Morgan has made Markle a favourite target, making frequent public criticisms with a heavy undercurrent of racism.
Morgan went off at length, trashing Markle. But on March 9, when co-host Alex Beresford pivoted from decrying the press’s treatment of Markle to Morgan’s own beratement of her, Morgan could only take 23 seconds of criticism before he threw a tantrum and stormed off the set. He returned after a commercial break to finish the discussion but announced later that day that he was leaving the show.
It wasn’t long before The Daily Mail, the leader of the British tabloid trash pack, decried the incident with the headline “Cancel culture claims morning TV star in week he scored record ratings after social media campaign whips up 41,000 complaints.” Morgan currently writes a regular column for the Mail, a right-wing newspaper known for its sensationalism, inaccuracy and for taking questionable stances like supporting fascism in Europe and the UK in the 1930s, publishing a cartoon comparing refugees to rats in 2015 and, in 1993, reporting on the discovery of a “gay gene” that gave “hope” to prospective parents to abort potentially gay children.
Morgan’s implosion follows a week of right-wing carping about Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ voluntary withdrawal from circulation of six of the children’s author’s books, citing concerns about racist imagery. The likes of Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz have taken to the airwaves, while Canadian ultra-conservative news website The Post Millennial (PM) has published a dozen stories about the Seuss “censorship,” disingenuously pushing the narrative that the decision was due to pressure from the “radical left,” not a standard corporate decision. While virtually every PM article on this topic uses the phrase “cancel” or “censor” with regards to Seuss’ books, the outlet also uses these same articles to attack journalist Jake Tapper, MP Charlie Angus, eBay, Universal Orlando and Toronto Star team editor and columnist Evy Kwong.
PM’s treatment of Kwong is particularly egregious. While she works for Canada’s largest newspaper, PM’s headline refers to her as a “Toronto Star TikTok influencer.”
These instances of public shaming are all perfectly fine with the conservative rage-o-sphere. But people being asked to acknowledge racism and take action against it? That’s a bridge too far. It’s time for the people pushing these narratives to take a hard look in the mirror and ask why they can’t stomach examining their own racism for even a short 23 seconds.
Thomas Pashko is the managing editor of The Uniter. He loves film history, Super Mario and his baba (but not in that order).
Published in Volume 75, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 11, 2021)