READ about Piers Morgan's long career in journalism here.
In the tiger blood-fueled media blitz of the last week, which has seen Charlie Sheen show up everywhere from TMZ to Howard Stern, from sports radio to network news, in only one appearance did he directly admit to violence against a woman (video above). That interview re-airs tonight – Sheen's wide-ranging, one-hour sitdown with Piers Morgan (his first live TV interview from Monday night).
As Sheen has captured the interest of the media and the Twittersphere, several outlets have covered Sheen in a different way – suggesting the coverage is misguided, hurtful or in some cases, shouldn't be occurring at all. Let's address these concerns.
Writing in today’s New York Times, Anna Holmes questions why there has been so little focus on the question of Sheen’s alleged abuse of women. "Observers still seem more entertained than outraged, tuning in to see him appear on every talk show on the planet and coming up with creative Internet memes based on his most colorful statements. And while his self-abuses are endlessly discussed, his abuse of women is barely broached," she writes.
Holmes' argument is constructed using the "Piers Morgan Tonight" Sheen interview on Monday as the key plot point. Her piece, “The Disposable Woman”, takes Morgan to task for waiting until after the third commercial break to ask “have you ever hit a woman?” and then contends there was minimal follow-up. She goes on to blame the culture of reality television for perpetuating a negative image of women overall, and characterizes Morgan as “an enabler” of Sheen’s bad behavior.
Holmes mentions other interviews in passing, but fails to point out that Morgan’s interview with Sheen is the only one in which he admits striking a woman. NBC spent enough time with Sheen for two taped and one live interview this week, without a mention of Sheen’s alleged violent past. ABC’s taped interview by Andrea Canning included three questions, but moved on briskly after Sheen answered “I did not, come on, that’s stupid.” TMZ, Howard Stern, Dan Patrick – all outlets that didn't touch on the issue, and it is disingenuous to ignore them. Only during Morgan's interview did Sheen admit to, and detail, one past incident in which he "had her arms, and we both went to the ground." Holmes does not point out that Morgan asked about the alleged incidents of violence in Aspen and at the Plaza Hotel, nor does she remind readers that Morgan asks Sheen in the interview if this kind of behavior led to any response from the advertising community.
Holmes does a very good job of detailing the long list of alleged abuses against women by Sheen. However, Holmes fails to put Sheen’s current troubles in the proper context, by seemingly ignoring his troubled and lengthy relationship with illegal drugs. It is the drug question that has literally fueled this current Sheen news cycle.
Drugs, and Sheen’s history with them, make up a large part of Morgan’s hour-long interview. The entire discussion on CNN, and around the media, has drawn criticism for being 'exploitive' or 'dangerous' or ignorant of health concerns. But through all this, America is watching. Piers Morgan’s interview with Sheen ranked as the young show’s highest rated episode and ABC’s special edition of 20/20 featuring Andrea Canning’s interview drew more than 9 million viewers.
The idea that Charlie Sheen is somehow not news – someone that should be ignored instead of covered – is the sort of quaint, misguided "journalism" that exists in theory and not practice. If some people nod along to these anti-Sheen-coverage arguments while shielding their eyes when he starts describing "winning" in his next appearance, they will inevitably peek through their fingers and feed their curiosity.
The truth is, Charlie Sheen is interesting. He's relevant because he is the star of a top-rated prime time comedy. And because of this, he is news, like it or not. He may make us uncomfortable, or we may feel he's unstable, but when news outlets begin to make journalistic decisions based on diagnoses they are incapable of making, everyone suffers. Should we not interview Moammer Gadhafi because he too may be insane, or is a tyrannical leader who is accused of murdering his own people? What about the President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejed? As "Piers Morgan Tonight" Executive Producer told Yahoo this week, "If we ruled out people who are mentally unstable or somewhat psychologically challenged, there would be a lot fewer people on the air and in newspapers."
On a domestic level, there are all sorts of people who would make fascinating interview subjects and yet who, morally, are more complicated: Bernie Madoff, Michael Vick, Mel Gibson. Or how about Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who murdered many in his failed assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords?
But that is an extreme case. Charlie Sheen is morally complex – a controversial character who the world has become nearly obsessed with trying to figure out. You don't gain 1.5 million Twitter followers in 48 hours because people don't want to hear what you have to say. If you feel Charlie Sheen shouldn't be covered or interviewed, or if the coverage is unfair or corrupt, there's a very easy way to voice your opinion – with your television remote.
For those who want to see a fascinating interview, one that holds Sheen accountable more than any other regarding his history of domestic violence accusations, tune into CNN at 9pmET/PT tonight.