The feeling of being manipulated was intense from the start of Psychopath with Piers Morgan (ITV). Framed from its title onwards as a trip to the zoo to see a monster, it was not about to leave viewers any room to form an opinion of their own.
Morgan travelled to Texas State Prison to interview 25-year-old Paris Bennett, who in 2007, at the age of 13, murdered his four-year-old half-sister Ella by stabbing her multiple times with a kitchen knife, after persuading their babysitter to go home early.
Bennett has been diagnosed as a psychopath and has an IQ of 141, Morgan told us, enlisting Mark Safarik, a former senior FBI profiler, and Casey Jordan, a criminologist, lawyer, and presenter of Discovery’s Wives with Knives, to watch the interview and comment on Bennett’s responses. “For him, it’s a game,” Safarik said before they’d even begun, introducing the idea that anything Bennett said should be seen as the words of a narcissist attempting to fool his interlocutor.
“What do you hope to get out of this interview?” Morgan asked him from behind an unnecessary wall of toughened glass (“the prison considers him so dangerous…”). Bennett said that his goal was to show people that “the mistake I made 12 years ago is not something that defines my life”. Already this felt like a game, a rigged one, in which Morgan’s tough, probing interview had been rendered valueless by persistent narrative intervention.
Bennett said that he had been trying to hurt his mother in the “worst possible way”, that “one part” of him knew that what he was doing was wrong, a part that loved his sister and “would have turned the world upside down for her”, that he just didn’t struggle hard enough against the “twisted dark part” of himself, and that he remembered a feeling of “drowning in shame” when a police officer saw what he had done.
Were we listening to a twentysomething trying to make sense of himself and articulate an experience that had destroyed a life, or was everything he said a lie intended for effect? Often it sounded like the former, but the editing, music, voice-over and those experts ensured that it was interpreted as the latter. Bennett was trying to cover up his “lack of empathy, lack of feeling”, Jordan explained. This determination to view its subject through spectacles with “psychopath” scratched on both lenses turned a fascinating interview into disappointingly bad TV, clumsy and voyeuristic, done for effect.