Piers Morgan Debuts on the New York Cocktail Scene With Jabs at O’Reilly, Fox

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Last week, new CNN host Piers Morgan e-mailed his old boss Rupert Murdoch, who'd helped him get his start as an editor at the London Sun and then the News of the World. "You made me an editor at 28 and gave me my first real break," he recalled writing to Murdoch last night at a cocktail party in his honor held at the home of fellow expats Tina Brown and Harry Evans. "I'd love to have you on the show. I know about the competition with Fox and everything, but old times sake Rupert, won't you drop by?" He asked Murdoch to give him the chances, from 1 to 100, that the News Corp. boss would actually come onto his show after it debuts on January 17. "And he wrote Piers, thank you very much indeed for your kind invitation, but your chances are less than zero," Piers laughed. "I wish you good luck, but I do not wish you success."

In his toast to the star-studded crowd, which included Arianna Huffington, Anderson Cooper, Diane Von Furstenberg, Barry Diller, Deborah Norville, Diane Sawyer, CNN's A.J. Hammer and John Avlon, Monica Crowley, Ted Forstmann, and Charlie Rose, Morgan also recounted a less-than-genial interaction with Fox News star Bill O'Reilly. He ran into his rival not long ago in the VIP room at Madison Square Garden, during a Knicks game. "Obviously I marched up confidently, expecting him to shower me with praise about this glorious resurrection of CNN. And he looks at me rather uncomfortably, and says: 'Uh yeah, yeah. I know you,'" Piers recounted. "And that was that, so I shuffled off meekly." Only moments later, though, he experienced redemption. "Then gloriously I saw his — I think fourteen year-old — daughter whispering frantically into Bill's ear. And then next thing he has to walk even more sheepishly to me to say: 'Okay, um, my daughter is an America's Got Talent fan. Is there any way that I could get a picture of you with my daughter?'"

Piers gleefully obliged, only to be further amused when the steward of the VIP section swooped in. "He throws his arm up in front of the camera, and says, 'NO, NO, NO sir! ... We MUST safeguard the privacy of our celebrities." Piers, consolingly, offered to help O'Reilly with his "celebrity-related issues" by having him on his own show.

Elsewhere at the event, the resurrection of CNN was the topic on everyone's lips. I spoke briefly with new network head Ken Jautz and asked him about Tina Brown's introduction of him, in which she said he was "going to take that little muddle and shake it all up. (It needs it!)" Jautz was unperturbed. "I think everybody knows that we want to improve. And we want sometimes our programming to be more in tune, more dynamic, and that means you have to do things differently," he said. "And I think people expect that." (Meanwhile, Jautz shrugged off rumors of Kathleen Parker leaving Parker/Spitzer as "speculation.")

In Brown and Evans's flagstoned courtyard, I asked recent CNN escapee Christiane Amanpour about her newish gig as host of the ABC Sunday show This Week. Since the appointment of New York–based Nightline executive producer James Goldston to also helm the Sunday show, there have been rumors of a gravitational tug-of-war between Washington, where the show is traditionally based, and Manhattan, where Amanpour also lives. "Do you know that not everything happens in D.C.?" Amanpour asked me, jokingly, pointing out how this weekend's edition had revolved around Saturday's shootings in Tucson. "Look. You'll see now that we'll be doing programs focused on big stories of the week, or other big stories, and sometimes they'll be interviews that are not just in Washington D.C. Washington is the capital of this country, that's where politics happens, that's why the show is there at the moment."

So how much time does she spend in Washington, versus up here in New York? All she'd say was: "Enough."