Piers Morgan's London Journalistic Career
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
Let's look now at a much-talked-about transition for a cable talk show based on a household name. Over the last decade, CNN lost the lead in the cable news ratings as its primetime audience dropped off dramatically. So, after Larry King announced he was leaving his show last year, CNN executives made a surprising choice aimed at reviving those sagging ratings. It hired British journalist Piers Morgan to take King's place. He debuts tonight.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: CNN has been teasing viewers with appearances by Piers Morgan with other anchors, such as Anderson Cooper.
PIERS MORGAN: So, Anderson, obviously, you'll be the poster boy for CNN.
ANDERSON COOPER: Oh, is that right?
MORGAN: Well, so you told me.
FOLKENFLIK: We know him as a reality show judge on "America's Got Talent," but in London media circles Piers Morgan is at once famous and infamous: a talent himself who has repeatedly gotten into ethical hot water. Media executive Kelvin MacKenzie counts himself among his fans and says Morgan will do well on TV.
KELVIN MACKENZIE: He has an engaging personality, Piers. So, he's likely to get along with most folk. And it doesn't really matter whether you're the king or the dustman. You know, he's at ease with both. He's a good guy.
FOLKENFLIK: MacKenzie is Morgan's former boss and mentor.
MACKENZIE: Piers has a sort of a cheeky, chappier way of putting the sort of more difficult question.
FOLKENFLIK: In fact, I heard three different British editors call him a cheeky chappy. In this context, a bloke who can be reverent without being blatantly disrespectful. So, recall that moment when an unemployed 47-year-old Scottish amateur named Susan Boyle catapulted to fame on a British reality show.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DREAMED A DREAM")
SUSAN BOYLE: (Singing) I dreamed a dream in time gone by...
FOLKENFLIK: Piers Morgan helped give her career a push as a judge on that show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT")
MORGAN: No one is laughing now. That was stunning. I mean, incredible performance.
FOLKENFLIK: Piers Morgan is the kind of celebrity journalist who visibly revels in his status. It was true from the start - when Kelvin MacKenzie hired him as editor of a daily column about pop culture at The Sun, one of the U.K.'s saucier tabloids that made a fortune for Rupert Murdoch. The column featured big pictures of Morgan with celebrities, young and old.
MACKENZIE: What he began to do was take his ego and make it as big a deal that they'd met Piers Morgan as Piers Morgan had met Frank Sinatra, if you see what I mean. Now that you see how it's all worked out for Piers, you have to wonder whether this actually was Piers all the time.
FOLKENFLIK: His reporters hustled after stories about aristocrats, actors, politicians and entertainers while he partied at night. But as the British editor and media critic Roy Greenslade says...
ROY GREENSLADE: He then committed two grievous errors there as well.
FOLKENFLIK: It fit neatly into his nearly lonely campaign against the war, but the pictures were shown to have been fakes. Roy Greenslade.
GREENSLADE: If he had been prepared to apologize to his readers, apologize to the regiment that was named and so on, I think he would have kept his job and I think that that would have been understandable. We all understand human error.
FOLKENFLIK: Instead, Morgan didn't apologize to anyone and the Mirror fired him. Indeed, in a video recently posted on CNN's website, Morgan said inquiries involving British and U.S. troops proved that such behavior did take place.
MORGAN: I believe that we'd exposed a wider truth. I still don't really know what those pictures were, but at the time even the military thought they were genuine.
FOLKENFLIK: For a while after his firing Morgan fell from view - but not for long. He emerged as a TV star in the U.K. As an interviewer, he knew all the top celebrities and political figures and won acclaim from drawing a display of emotion from that most awkward and withdrawn of figures, then British prime minister Gordon Brown, talking about the loss of his infant daughter.
GORDON BROWN: And she was baptized and we were with her and I held her as she died. Sarah and I just, we find it very difficult because...
FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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