After an absence from TV interviews of several hours, Charlie Sheen went on CNN last night to favor Piers Morgan with a last-minute, live hourlong interview. And if you were concerned that Morgan would do the same kind of softball interviews that his predecessor Larry King did, this one proved you wrong. Piers Morgan does an entirely different kind of softball interview.
Early on in the Sheen scandale, Morgan took to his Twitter account to stake out a contrarian position: that as far as CBS and Warner Brothers are concerned, Sheen should be able to do “what the hell he wants” in his personal life as long as he gets his job done. It may have helped him land the interview, but that’s Morgan’s prerogative. He has half a point, and it’s a good half-a-point: a lot of people have deputized themselves as moral scolds or amateur addiction counselors in response to Sheen.
The problem is, there’s more than a question of what Sheen is doing to himself: beside the simple illegality and public-image concerns of drug abuse, there are allegations of his choking and assaulting women, one of which led Sheen to plead to misdemeanor assault. And Morgan’s efforts to bring up this less-comfortable issue were brief and halfhearted at best. Morgan seems to have committed to Sheen’s own rock-star analogy, but this whole business is about more than a charming rascal being left alone to make his own choices, and Morgan’s interview should at least have pressed Sheen on some difficult answers. Instead, he seemed to alternately be buttering Sheen up—reminiscing, laughing at his jokes—and assisting in his damage control, repeatedly inviting him to throw out an apology or expression of regret.
Obviously, Morgan is not the only media figure happily offering Sheen a platform right now. The ABC and NBC morning shows offered a double shot of Sheen this morning, NBC airing a piece on Sheen’s live-in”Goddesses,” as if his public meltdown were some kind of frothy E! reality show, rather than the dark, A&E Intervention-style show it seems to be devolving into.
As for Morgan, he has every right to take Sheen’s side in this; if nothing else, it’s refreshing. But as an interviewer, his job is not to be in Sheen’s corner (nor, to be fair, to lecture him). Morgan saw Sheen off his show by jokingly calling him “the Che Guevara of Hollywood.” At this rate, Morgan is not even rising to the level of being the Larry King of CNN.