Dear Piers –
Congratulations. You’re a seasoned, skilled journalist who has earned a shot in a prime slot on CNN.You admirably chose to kick off “Piers Morgan Tonight” by sitting down with two of the best interviewers in the country on your first two shows – Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern, respectively. They were mostly solid, entertaining exchanges that got lots of attention. A success by most measures.
But behind our most successful athletes and businesspeople are coaches who can look upon these things objectively in the interest of fine-tuning. It is in that spirit that I am offering my thoughts on what was missing for me from your sit-down with Winfrey.
Just hours before watching your very first show, I had gone to the movies to see The King’s Speech. It is a gem. Colin Firth’s portrayal of a determined King George VI was inspiring and Oscar-worthy, but from a life lesson perspective, the speech professional standing so firmly in what he knew he was born to do, what he was gifted to do, kept hitting me throughout the film.
Geoffrey Rush played the self-assured Lionel Logue and showed a real live example of how a teacher or mentor or service professional can effect change by being confident, unwavering, and able to connect. Much of his success hinged on his insistence that he and his client meet and relate as equals, not duke to commoner or king to commoner, but equals.
Seeing you the very same day interviewing Oprah Winfrey with awe was a little bit unsettling. You approached her with reverence. That dynamic could have even worked to advantage and maybe did at a few points, but what would have made it better was if you had listened to what she was saying and walked through the doors she was opening for you in spite of it.
Winfrey doesn’t see herself as rich person first; that’s how people with tunnel vision around money see her. She sees herself as teacher and messenger first. She feels her fame comes with responsibility and she told you as much. She also feels strongly that this notoriety has come to her not just because she has worked hard but because she has done the spiritual and emotional work that allows her to ‘hold’ that responsibility. She is doing the bidding of the greater force that has bestowed her gifts upon her. That is her stated purpose.
So you asked about her brand and she gave this answer:
“Ultimately, everything that I say whether it’s in my magazine, whether it’s Gayle [King] on the radio, whether it’s The Oprah Winfrey Show and now everything about the channel OWN, it’s about opening your space, your heart space so that you can love more. You know, that’s what money is for. Money isn’t worth anything if it can’t buy the opportunity to love more.”
This is profound, Piers. It probably went over the heads of three-quarters of your audience. But it was a wide-open door, a statement begging for probing. What does she mean by love? I can assure you she wasn’t talking about the gooey Valentine’s Day variety. You asked her how many times she’s been properly in love and she even complimented the question because it was worded so well, but know that she had something way bigger in mind than that or your follow-up questions about Stedman.
Even when she explained she’s not the marrying kind, logically laying it out and telling a story of making Stedman dinner, you imposed your societal-norm notion that she really wants to be a wife. And that she would make a good mother.
Piers, she wanted to talk about love, the kind the most luminous guests on her show and in her magazine espouse and embrace. She was ripe to share the opening of her own heart space, how and when that began, if she can even trace it. I want to know what she thinks she can do to open her own heart space even more.
Let me see if I can boil this down. Martha Stewart has a brand. Oprah Winfrey stands in front of an enormous, evolving classroom and keeps teaching. Her detractors are reading this and thinking I’m crazy, but her work and her words support it.
Even when she was clear that she was not qualified to run for political office, saying, “I know where my lane is. I know how to stay in my lane” you persisted with “I want you in that lane” and “You’d be great in that lane.” Piers, the woman was exhibiting a level of self-awareness that most people don’t have or even understand. If more people would stay in their darned lanes, there would be more forward movement in this nation.
Further, when Winfrey explained that where she excels is not in figuring out how to fix the economy, but having compassion for the struggling folks who wonder how they’re going to pay the bills, your follow-up was, “Do you still write all of the checks?”
She was gracious in response, but that was not the logical leap she was hoping for. She eventually interjected what she wanted to be the takeaway.
“My life and my purpose is bigger than myself,” Winfrey said.
She wants other people to get that, to live that.
“At the core of me I am a teacher,” she said. “And I am happiest when I feel that people are getting something, learning something, enhancing themselves in a way they never thought of before.”
And you can bet when they do, it’s because they felt they were on equal footing. That, Piers, is your takeaway.