The possibility of Piers Morgan appearing before Parliament and facing civil cases by hacking victims has the top suits at CNN running for cover
The official line coming out of CNN remains the same: Mr Morgan’s phone-hacking denials have been firm and consistent, and the CNN management accepts them. But behind the bland corporate spin, The Slog has learned that the man in charge of ethics at CNN is very unhappy indeed.
Tempers have been wearing thin in the top CNN echelons. Jon Klein, the man who championed Morgan’s hiring, is no longer there. Several of those who didn’t are less than happy to find that the British Larry King ‘replacement’ is not quite the harmlessly cheeky tabloid journalist they were sold six months ago. And a key senior player at CNN, Richard Davis, is understood to be increasingly nervous about the Piers Morgan situation. This is perhaps unsurprising, because Davies the news network’s executive vice president of News Standards and Practices.
‘Tabloid’ is what influential factions in the CNN management team are more than happy to be nowadays. But not if it involves them facing the same rub-off suffered by Rupert Murdoch. And at the same time, other factions are unhappy about being tabloid if it alienates too many solid viewers.
“The focus groups are equivocal about Morgan” says one US media insider, “and traditional CNN fans aren’t happy to be fed a diet of celebrity life episodes. Piers Morgan is not widely seen as a success in CNN. In some parts of the building, he’s seen as an accident waiting to happen”.
The views of the anti-Morgan camp have been hardened by news over the last two days that their new chat anchor may wind up in the same Committee room as the Murdochs – and face at least four civil cases. It’s also just beginning to dawn on some top movers in CNN that the UK Leveson inquiry will put Morgan on the front pages for all the wrong reasons.
“I spoke to [a CNN executive] at the weekend,” says another well-placed source, “and he kept saying that Morgan ‘seems to have one helluva lot of enemies’. But he was happy to be supportive as long as things don’t get any worse.”
More clouds seem, however, to be on the horizon: James Hewitt is to sue MGN and Morgan for a particularly murky episode in which it is alleged that Piers Morgan wound up in possession of stolen letters. And Paul McCartney is said to be mulling a visit to Plod on the subject of a telephone conversation with the former Mirror editor going back to the days of his courtship with Heather Mills.
At the end of the day, CNN remains a pretty strait-laced corporate entity. The prevailing view now among US media opinion leaders is that, as one person put it to the Slog yesterday, “Piers just isn’t successful enough to survive this kind of stuff. Frankly, he isn’t worth that much to CNN”.