In an interview with Politico, former CNN host Piers Morgan talks about CNN… and his former colleague, Anderson Cooper.
“I’ve never looked back, because I never feel negative,” Morgan said in his first interview since leaving the network in September. “The problem is when you go into a deep decline and start believing what other people are saying about you, like, ‘I’m a terrible dimwit British failure who’s been sent home packing in the goat class, and we’re never going to see him again.”
“If you actually believe this bulls—-,” he says, “you’re never going to get out of bed.”
But CNN’s decision to cancel his 9 p.m. interview program is a topic he returns to frequently.
The way Morgan tells it, CNN President Jeff Zucker believed it was impossible to sustain a nightly interview show because there simply weren’t enough guests. Instead, Morgan says, Zucker offered him an opportunity to do a show that would air 20 times a year, but Morgan declined because Zucker wouldn’t let him co-produce it and hire his own staff. (High-level sources at CNN tell a different story: Morgan was pretty much done in March, when the show was terminated due to poor ratings, but he stayed through September because he was on contract.)
During the interview at his home here, Morgan says the offer was “completely, 100 percent on the table. Unequivocally. You can have that on the record.” Later, he adds that after his show was cancelled he had “five months of full pay without having to work, which is a nice position to find yourself in and a great way to clear your head.”
Whatever the case, Morgan has no hard feelings toward Zucker. He sympathizes with his former boss’s Sisyphean effort to boost ratings at a network that, since its inception, has been subject to the whims of the news cycle, and he understands that ending his show was a necessary step in that effort.
Still, Morgan faults Zucker and CNN for being overly preoccupied with ratings.
“I’ve always felt that CNN should be more resilient to media criticism about monthly or quarterly ratings,” Morgan says. “Ted Turner once described CNN to me as The New York Times of television. We don’t care about chasing ratings or chasing readers. We care about having a brand that is so trusted that whenever anything important happens in the world, people turn us on.”
“If I was running CNN, if I was Jeff Zucker, I would come out and do an interview with someone like you, and I would say, ‘I’m not going to discuss ratings again,’” Morgan continues. “Our business proposition is not predicated on ratings, our global brand is not dependent on how we rate at 9 p.m. in America.”
Zucker won’t actually say that, of course, because “everyone would probably perceive it as him looking weak.”
Despite all his talk, Morgan has his own preoccupations with ratings. Though he now claims he “never worried too much” about the fluctuations, he was always happy to tout high ratings whenever the news cycle or the guest booking worked in his favor.
Morgan blames Anderson Cooper, his former colleague, for being a bad lead-in.
“Could I have done with a better lead-in? Yes,” Morgan says. “Anderson is a great field reporter, but does he drive big ratings at CNN, outside of a big news cycle? I don’t see any evidence of it. And yet the whole bank was being bet on him at 8 and 10 o’clock.
“I never bought into that as my best way of getting ratings” he continues. “You look over at Megyn Kelly on Fox News and she’s inheriting 450,000 or 500,000 from Bill O’Reilly in the [25-to-54-year-old] demo, and some days I’d be getting 60,000. That’s not to denigrate Anderson so much, because I think he’s pretty good at what he does. But was he the golden boy everybody thought he was? I didn’t see much evidence of that in ratings.”
(Morgan says he and Cooper “were never the easiest of bedfellows.” Cooper was “just a totally different character than me,” he says, “and we never really clicked.”)
There’s another page, but it doesn’t contain anything interesting about his time at CNN.