Farewell Larry, as CNN Dumbs Down

At one level you can but admire the chutzpah of CNN President Jonathan Klein who is replacing the venerable Larry King with an English presenter, who King says he” wouldn’t recognise if he walked down the street”. Fortunately for Klein the English man in question is not Tony Hayward of BP, but one Piers Pugh Morgan, a former editor of the tabloid Daily Mirror and a judge on America’s Got Talent.

Piers Morgan lives and breathes ‘celebrity’, he made his name as a pursuer of celebrity trivia for the News of the World newspaper, a gutter hugging popular tabloid. He went on to become the youngest Editor of the left leaning Daily Mirror, a newspaper that had long before lost its claim to be a champion of the ordinary man and woman in the street. To be fair to Piers, he couldn’t take the Mirror much further down-market, and always there to prevent any hint of old Mirror revival was the in your face rival that is Rupert Murdoch’s Sun. And so it continued – until Piers Morgan gloriously broke with the British Government over the war in Iraq and the Mirror was suddenly back with us again, urgent, clear and angry. And then Piers went and spoilt it all by publishing fake photographs of British soldiers torturing Iraqis by putting hoods over them and urinating on them.

This was not a simple mistake, a question of publishing photographs in good faith not knowing that they had been concocted. Morgan was repeatedly warned not to run them because his staff and lawyers knew that they were fakes. Morgan published and was rightly damned – not because for some reason he had pressed the auto-destruct button, but because the pictures were dynamite in the Middle East, confirmation that the Brits were just as bad as the Americans at Abu Ghraib. Having spoken out against the war, Morgan’s actions now put some of those same soldiers in harms way. He was sacked. I don’t recall him ever apologising, although he will correct me if I am wrong.

But since many Americans sincerely believe in giving people a second chance – which presumably also explains Klein’s decision to hand the show that precedes Larry King to the disgraced Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer – Piers Morgan will have his second shot.

Now personally I have nothing against Piers Morgan, who I have known on and off over the years. He is not one of nature’s ‘firers’, and his staff usually tended to like him. Of course he is bumptious and will only talk to you if he thinks there is something in it for him, but that hardly makes him unique. I once sat opposite him at a Labour Party fund raiser, as he stretched over to Tony Blair and said “Oi Tony, you want to raise some money? Here’s a Tenner!”, before throwing a crumpled note in the then Leader of the Opposition’s direction. That incident says a lot about Morgan’s cheek – but also just as he sidles up to power and celebrity and loves name dropping, how also he can turn.

So he will be pretty fearless in posing the questions, even if he won’t sport braces. But is he a later day David Frost? Pull the other one!

What Piers Morgan truly represents is the triumph of ‘B’ list celebrity trivia and gossip, and alarmingly yet further evidence of the dumbing down of TV and CNN in particular. Sure, he can fire questions from the hip, but this man has not drunk from any deep wells.

 His is a school of journalism that Ted Turner created CNN to escape from.

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