Legendary TV interviewer Larry King may like Piers Morgan the man, but he has little appreciation for his CNN replacement’s self-centred interviewing style or his previous background as a “tabloid journalist.”
Morgan, a former senior tabloid editor in the U.K., found fame on this side of the pond thanks to U.S. reality shows such as America’s Got Talent (which he judged) and Celebrity Apprentice (which he won). In January 2011, Piers Morgan Tonight replaced Larry King Live, a CNN staple for more than 25 years until King’s retirement.
“Well, he’s very different from me,” the former TV host (and current helmsman of online talk show Larry King Now) told HuffPost Canada backstage at Free The Children’s recent We Day youth rally in Calgary, Alta. “I don’t get to watch him a lot because my kids are playing baseball at the time. It’s at 6 p.m. in L.A. when he’s on.” (The still-spry 78-year-old’s sons are 12 and 13.)
“He’s fine,” King added, “it’s just that I left myself out of interviews. I never used to use the word ‘I.’ I didn’t give an opinion. And he’s a different kind of interviewer. He inserts himself in. He does that very well. I just — that’s not my style. So it’s commenting on his style. Personally, I like him a lot.”
Not that they haven’t had issues in the past.
In a 2011 interview with BBC Radio 4, King described his successor as “acceptable,” adding "I think one of the problems they did was oversell it. He was going to be dangerous, he was going to be water cooler talk."
During King’s first visit back to CNN after Morgan had taken over his timeslot, the British host confronted him about the quote, saying: “I have spent the last few months saying following you is like following Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t have paid you higher praise. You come in my backyard and say I’m an oversold, undangerous...”
As recounted by Vanity Fair, King then interrupted Morgan: “If you read the full quote, I said, ‘He was fine.’ ” King then asked, “Were you being facetious when you talked about being dangerous? Was that an attempt at British humour? ... We didn’t get it. I’m from Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, if you say, ‘I’m dangerous,’ you’d better be dangerous.”
Morgan’s tenure has been bumpier than his predecessor’s. Although he had a strong debut in January 2011, by this past summer his ratings had brought CNN’s primetime numbers to their lowest level in 21 years, falling below even the unacceptably low levels of Larry King Live’s final year.
Earlier this week as hurricane Sandy made landfall, Morgan failed to fact-check his meteorologist’s assertion that there were three feet of water on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange — an online rumour later debunked. (The Baltimore Sun’s TV critic wrote: “A day's worth of some excellent storm coverage by CNN was all but shredded during the Piers Morgan show Monday night when… the hip-shooting host ran wild with the report that turned out to be false.”)
None of that, of course, compares to the scandal over phone-hacking that allegedly went on under his editorial reign at the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World and Daily Mirror newspapers. The tabloid News of the World closed in disgrace in 2011, while the Mirror became embroiled in a civil suit over the matter just last week after being sued by a Coronation Street actress, David Beckham’s ex-nanny, a former football manager and a former football captain.
Although he wrote about phone-hacking in his 2005 memoir The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade, in videotaped testimony to the Leveson Inquiry last spring, Morgan said, "I have no reason... to believe it was going on." He also admitted hearing a taped voicemail message from Sir Paul McCartney to then-wife Heather Mills, but said that "I can't discuss where that tape was played or who made — it would compromise a source."
When asked if the hacking scandal should have cost Morgan his job at CNN, King was circumspect while still being forthright about his feelings on the issue.
“Nothing has been proven,” King said, noting that there is a civil suit but no criminal action. “I will say this — I’ve said it to Piers, I’d say it to anyone. The thought of anyone invading someone else’s privacy is abhorrent to me. I hate wiretapping. I hate paparazzi following me down the street. So if you come from that tabloid empire, that’s something I don’t like. Piers says he didn’t do anything; he saw information but ... never participated in getting it.
"I take him at his word.”