Some Notes on Piers Morgan’s “Pedophile-Loving” Attack on Ewan McGregor

A headline from yesterday’s Daily Mail:

Memo to anyone who voted for Trump or Brexit – pedophile-loving hypocrite Ewan McGregor holds you in utter contempt. So why on earth would you want to see any of his movies ever again?

The plain reading of the above is that McGregor is attracted to paedophiles. Only some way into the article is it made clear that the inflammatory headline in fact purports to encapsulate Piers Morgan’s opinion that McGregor was morally wrong to have made a film with director Roman Polanski in 2009, and to have expressed sympathy when Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in the same year. Morgan may not have written the headline, but he has embraced it as accurate. He has also publicised the article as “Women’s rights hero Ewan McGregor is a child rapist loving hypocrite who hates free speech”; perhaps the Mail‘s legal team worried about the lack of hyphenation in such a title.

Morgan of course is here borrowing the rhetorical line that was recently deployed against Meryl Streep after she attacked Morgan’s friend Donald Trump during her Golden Globes speech – it was quickly pointed out by Trump’s supporters that Streep had applauded Polanski during the Academy Awards in 2003. More broadly, it has been suggested that “Hollywood” has no business decrying Trump’s ethics while industry figures remain willing to work with Polanski, a fugitive from justice in relation to the rape of a 13-year-old girl in the USA in 1977 (a rape that was both statutory and coercive).

It does not take much effort to see the bad faith and excess in Morgan’s pseudo-moralising pose, which he has conveniently adopted after McGregor snubbed him by cancelling a TV interview. According to Morgan:

Had we done the interview, I might have asked him how his heroic support for women justified him working for director Roman Polanski, a self-confessed and convicted child abuser, on the film, The Ghostwriter.

Polanksi pleaded guilty to the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, then fled America to escape a lengthy prison sentence.

…A new warrant was issued for Polanski’s arrest during the movie’s post-production stage. 

McGregor, who has four young daughters, was asked about it and said: ‘I felt sad for Roman because he’s an old man who I’m incredibly fond of. I like him as a man.’

On Twitter, Morgan has further suggested that his disgust with McGregor is “why I’ve never watched a single Star Wars movie” – a prescient decision given that the first Star Wars film came out more than 20 years before McGregor became associated with the franchise, and more than 30 years before McGregor worked with Polanski. I don’t believe that there was ever any likelihood of Morgan challenging McGregor on Polanski during their interview, or that it’s a subject of particular interest to Morgan.

McGregor’s comments about Polanski’s arrest appeared in a 2009 Mail on Sunday interview:

‘At first I thought it was a joke,’ he says. ‘Roman was in a studio in Paris and we were talking to each other and he was on good form. The next day I got a text from the producer saying he’d been arrested. I really did think he was kidding. I felt sad for Roman, because he’s an old man who I’m incredibly fond of. I also felt bad for his kids that their dad had been locked up for 23 hours a day. It’s an awful trauma for them.’

‘In terms of the actual case,’ McGregor says, ‘it doesn’t matter what I think, and I don’t believe I’m accountable for it. I don’t think that by working with him as a director I’m condoning what happened 30 years ago.’

The way that Morgan weaponizes the above to imply that McGregor is associated with paedophilia is not just another “showbiz spat” – it is a particularly distasteful tabloid monstering that, like all such attacks, hijacks the moral high-ground to whip up the worst instincts. Morgan’s general unpopularity and his obvious opportunism mean that this particular attempt at personal destruction is unlikely to be effective, but it is worth noting as a particularly naked and vicious example of the genre – and of the increasingly casual deployment of “paedophile”-related accusations in acrimonious exchanges.