The Insider by Piers Morgan

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The Insider by Piers Morgan

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Category: Biography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A gossipy trot through the eleven years that Morgan edited first The News of the World and then The Mirror. There's nothing there that you couldn't have got by assiduously reading the tabloids and you won't feel good after reading it. It's mildly interesting but ultimately disheartening.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 496 Date: September 2005
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 0091908493

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I didn't buy this book and if it had been up to me it wouldn't have come into the house. I don't read tabloid newspapers and Piers Morgan has been editor of two of them. I don't like gossip (unless it's particularly juicy) and I'm not keen on giving money to people who make a good living out of selling it. Still, the book was there and I thought I might as well have a look just to see how dreadful it was.

Er, I couldn't put it down and read it cover to cover in less than forty eight hours despite being rather busy at the time!

At the age of 28 Piers Morgan was appointed editor of The News of the World. He'd been working on The Sun where he dropped his double-barrelled surname and caught the eye of Rupert Murdoch. Morgan was probably as surprised as anyone to get the job but it was the beginning of the eleven years which he spent editing first The News of the World and then The Mirror.

In a rather unlikely way the story begins with the end - in 2004 - when Morgan lost his job as editor of The Daily Mirror over the publishing of fake photographs of British troops abusing Iraqi civilians in Basra. There had recently been similar problems with American troops and the scoop was sensational - if it had been true. So, how had Morgan got to the point where he'd edited two national papers before he was forty?

The book is written in the form of a diary which begins in the final days of 1993. I enjoy this format because it gives you insight into what the author was thinking at the time rather than how he sees things with the benefit of hindsight. Unfortunately this is where my doubts about this book as an accurate recollection of events, rather than entertainment, surface. You see, Piers Morgan didn't keep a diary. What he kept were boxes into which he piled anything which he thought might be interesting. When one box was full, another was started. So, the facts of what happened are probably reasonably correct, but the thoughts, the conclusions have almost certainly been coloured by subsequent events.

The events, though, are pretty exciting ones. There's the election of the first Labour government for decades, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, 9/11, Bush's war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. Interspersed are all those minor events which we soon forget about, such as the naked man who landed on the roof of Buckingham Palace, Hugh Grant caught with the prostitute Divine Brown and the trials and tribulations of Paula Yates. What did come through to me was what unremittingly hard work the job of editing a national paper really is. On top of the long hours there's the responsibility to the owner of the paper, the readers and, not least, to the people whom you're writing about. Add to this the social obligations, which seemed to consist of eating in superior restaurants and getting drunk on a very regular basis and it's a job that's going to take its toll on the blood pressure and the liver.

I've always thought that some people became celebrities not because they are better than the rest of us, but because they are generally prepared to behave more outrageously, so the stories about the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Jordan and Paul Gascoigne came as no shock to me. It's disheartening, though, to see it spelled out in print and to realise that they make a good living despite, or sometimes because of their lifestyle. What did disappoint me was to realise that in Alastair Campbell the Prime Minister was, for many years, represented by a foul-mouthed yob. I thought less of him and much less of Blair after reading this book.

I had more liking for Piers Morgan than I started with. Most books of this type are written along the lines of "I was right and they were all wrong. I never was." Morgan says early in the book that he will admit his mistakes as well as singing his own praises. He's willing to spell out where his judgement was wrong and even where his behaviour was just plain crass. There is a little insight into his private life, but only to the extent that I gathered it wasn't a great success. His brother is a Major in the army and fought in Iraq which provides a stark contrast to Morgan's own views about the illegality of the war.

My husband found this book laugh-out-loud funny when he read it. I can't say that I found it that humorous although it did frequently appeal to my sense of the ridiculous. Morgan appears to be indiscreet, but I sense that the revelations have been carefully balanced and there's little that couldn't have been gleaned from assiduous reading of tabloid newspapers over the years. What I did find enlightening was the detail about how tabloid journalism works. Honour doesn't seem to come very high on the list of priorities.

There is one person in the book who frightened me and that's Rupert Murdoch, simply because of the power which he has in this country despite being neither a UK national nor any form of elected representative. He has extensive media interests and can effectively control much of the information which is fed to readers. I don't think it's any stretch of the imagination to say that he is capable of choosing which party is elected to govern and ensuring that it comes about.

One point about the book did annoy me and that's the Cast of Characters. This is supplied in addition to the usual index and is an alphabetical list of characters by first name. To maintain the relaxed diary format people are frequently referred to by their first name and unless you can work out who it is you have to refer to the Cast of Characters. Even then it can be confusing: "Bill" can be Anslow, Bateson, Clinton, Deedes or Shankly. Frankly, I think it's lazy writing and more of an attempt could have been made to make the main text clearer.

I read the paperback version of the book and found it physically difficult to read. The font is what I would call "under forties". It's fine if your eye-sight is perfect, but not easy otherwise. Neither my husband nor I could read the page numbers or chapter headings and these are not problems which we normally have. There are several pictures in the book - of people or of front pages - but reproduction was rather blurred.

I'd recommend the book if you want some fast-food reading - it's quick and tasty to get through but you probably won't feel great after it. Go for it if you want to know that people in the public eye are often worse than those who are not, but leave it alone if you're looking for anything deeper.

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Kay said:

Sounds good to me, will keep a look out for this one as a read for when I am am bored at work.