Piers Morgan Isn’t Sleeping Well

Photo: Marco Grob. Grooming by Vaughn for Mizu New York.

Piers Morgan used to have anxiety dreams about Rupert Murdoch. Morgan was 28, in January 1994, when he was summoned from London to Miami for a meeting of unknown purpose with the fearsome tycoon who owned the British tabloid The Sun, for which Morgan edited an entertainment-gossip column. On that day, barefoot and with their pants rolled up, they strolled through the surf for three hours, as Morgan tried to impress Murdoch with his opinions on the British newspaper market. Only at a party that evening did Morgan learn why he was there, when Murdoch introduced him as “the new editor of the News of the World.” It was a life-changing elevation. NotW was the largest-­circulation newspaper in Britain, a weekly counterpart to the daily Sun, and Morgan was suddenly the youngest editor of a major British paper in decades.

Murdoch put tremendous pressure on his editors, and the rookie found himself having the same nightmares over and over. In one, he and Murdoch are walking along the beach in Miami and an enormous wave engulfs them. Just then, Morgan would wake up in a cold sweat. In the other, right as he’s about to go into a meeting with Murdoch, his teeth fall out. “I never understood what they meant at all,” Morgan says over a steak dinner at the Beverly Wilshire seventeen years later. “But last night I had a similar dream.”

Of course, Morgan is now the host of Piers Morgan Tonight, the nightly hourlong show that replaced Larry King Live on CNN in January, and in some ways is further from Murdoch’s reach than he’s ever been. Though a notorious tabloid editor in England for more than a decade—first at NotW, then at the Daily Mirror—until recently Morgan was a relative unknown on these shores. He was familiar chiefly to reality-TV aficionados, as the chain-mail-wearing, ­Omarosa-thrashing winner of Celebrity Apprentice and as a panelist on America’s Got Talent, where for all six seasons he has been the buzzer-happy hanging judge at ease crushing the dreams of angel-faced 6-year-olds. To those who knew him only as a pantomime villain, or not at all, it seemed inexplicable when he was handed Larry King’s nine-o’clock hour on CNN, one of the fattest plums in cable news. It was as if 60 Minutes had hired Gordon Ramsay as its newest correspondent.

Morgan might have an unconventional résumé for “The Worldwide Leader in News,” but then again, maybe it was inevitable, given the populist drift of media, that a Fleet Street commoner would eventually ascend to King’s cable-news throne. And the appointment has turned out to be a smart move by CNN. Piers Morgan Tonight is doing better than many had expected, and its host has proved a more rigorous interviewer than his predecessor. In August, Christine O’Donnell, the former Senate candidate, walked off his show after calling him “rude”; Morgan responded that she was “being so weird.” The episode was one of several recently that goosed ratings and broke through into the larger conversation, in part thanks to Morgan’s able ­social-media self-promotion. On Twitter, he has racked up 1.3 million followers through a retweet-bait cocktail of celebrity, flattery, news, insults, and braggadocio.

Still, CNN chose an unfortunate year to hire a famously aggressive British editor who, in his own writings, has fairly boasted of practicing the darker tabloid arts. In The Insider, the first of three memoirs the 46-year-old Morgan has already published, he recalled that while he was editor of the Daily Mirror, “someone had got hold” of Kate Winslet’s recently changed phone number. “I never like to ask how,” he wrote. In a 2006 Daily Mail column, he humblebragged that he felt guilty for the ill-fated Paul McCartney–Heather Mills marriage, because he had introduced the two at an event, and described having once been “played a tape of a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone.” He described to British GQ a particular method of hacking into a celebrity’s phone as “pretty well-known” and seemed to minimize its seriousness, saying, “Loads of newspaper journalists were doing it.” In another memoir, he described a 2002 scoop in which the Mirror “learn[ed] of” an affair-exposing voice-mail left by a well-known soccer manager for a TV personality.

All this was ancient history from across the ocean until, with the eruption of the phone-hacking story as global news this summer, it suddenly wasn’t. By July, with Murdoch shuttering the 168-year-old News of the World, top News Corp. executives resigning and being arrested, and Murdoch himself testifying in a parliamentary hearing on what he called “the most humble day of my life,” Morgan found himself having to deflect attention away from his tabloid past, while at the same time relentlessly promoting his new gig. Anyone would find it stressful, and in the past year, the old anxiety dreams have returned.

Morgan, posing with some of the figures he covered in his Sun gossip column.

In the 2011 edition, the one he had last night, he is on-air live at CNN and can’t read the teleprompter. He can pick up only every third word or so, and as the scrolling moves faster and faster, there are more and more words he misses. He awoke drenched in perspiration.

“I’m over it,” Morgan tells me. “A shrink would say, ‘I need you for 25 hours of sessions, and we’ll get over this.’ My personal built-in shrink said, ‘You need a bottle of 1989 St. Émilion Grand Cru Classé, and you’ll be fine.’ ”

As it happens, there’s a bottle of the stuff in front of him. He drinks from his glass, and smiles evenly.

Edited transcript of interview with Piers Morgan, Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Cut at the Beverly Wilshire, September 7, 2011:

New York Magazine: Given the fairly loosey-goosey culture of practices on Fleet Street, why would the Daily Mirror have been exempt from hacking?

Piers Morgan: I don’t think that question is good enough. You’re going to have to look me straight in the eye and say, “Piers, here’s the evidence, not just the word of bloggers.” And I will remonstrate with every serious journalist, on point of ethical journalism, it’s not good enough to smear people based on misrepresentation. People want to write about me being a phone hacker? Write about it all day. I’ve never hacked a phone in my life.

New York: How did the Mirror obtain Kate Winslet’s phone number and the ­McCartney-Mills voice-mail tape?

P.M.: I’m not going to respond to every single, individual story. I published about 100,000 stories in eleven years. If anybody has any evidence of illegality, present it.

New York: Evidence aside, isn’t it possible that you just didn’t know what reporters at your paper were doing?

P.M.: It is entirely possible that I wouldn’t know what any of my journalists were doing. It’s entirely possible it could have been happening at New York Magazine without your having any knowledge of what other people were doing. I can’t speak for anyone else. All I can speak for is, the Daily Mirror when I was there operated within the law, and we had a bank of lawyers whose job it was to maintain that position.

“I think journalists get into murky waters when they use the words ‘desirable journalistic practices.’ ”

“The terrible thing about the phone-hacking scandal is it’s overlaid a layer of criminality on something no one would have taken seriously before,” says Kelvin MacKenzie, the legendary Sun editor who gave Morgan his big break, speaking of Fleet Street in those days. “It was as though we were all at school still and getting paid for it.”

The past few months have been disorienting for any major player in the Fleet Street–celebrity co-dependency complex of the last several decades. It’s not that laws and morals didn’t exist in that world, just that they were self-serving and ultimately irrelevant. The game was the game. And as the green-eared editor of News of the World, Morgan distinguished himself by playing the full-contact Murdochian Fleet Street sport masterfully and with relish. He had hotel rooms secretly wired with recording devices and paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for exclusive interviews. His reporters included Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) and Clive Goodman, each of whom became a household name this summer as the hacking scandal metastasized. He blithely sent Wade, disguised as a janitor, to steal a Charles-and-Di book excerpt from rival Murdoch paper the Sunday Times; there, she hid in a bathroom for two hours until the presses started rolling, then grabbed a copy.

Under Morgan, NotW revealed the sexual indiscretions of countless government officials and broke the story of Princess Diana’s 300 harassing phone calls to a married art dealer. When Hugh Grant was caught with prostitute Divine Brown in Hollywood, Morgan sent in a team to track down Brown, then spirit her away in a limousine that, according to Morgan, drove aimlessly around the country, keeping her out of the clutches of rival tabloids while she granted an exclusive interview—for a payment of at least £120,000.

Morgan’s aggression occasionally got him in trouble, though trouble was partly the point. After NotW ran photographs of Diana’s sister-in-law Victoria Spencer at a clinic for eating disorders, the Press Complaints Commission protested, and Murdoch publicly reprimanded Morgan as having gone “over the top”—though in private, he had commended him on the scoop. By 1995, NotW’s circulation edged up to 4.6 million newspapers, and although Morgan was often criticized as a privacy-desecrating thruster, that same year, he and NotW won Scoops of the Year at the BBC’s What the Papers Say Awards. “I am developing a curious moral code as I go,” Morgan wrote in a diary at the time.

At 28, Morgan was editor of Murdoch's News of the World.

After just a year and a half at NotW, Morgan was hired away to edit the Daily Mirror, where the scoops and scandals continued. It was often hard to tell which was which. After the Mirror published a hooligan-baiting “Achtung! Surrender” cover in advance of a Britain-Germany soccer showdown, Morgan’s bosses forced him to issue an apology (though they presumably appreciated that it was a newsstand triumph). Naomi Campbell, the model, was awarded $1.7 million in damages and legal fees against the paper after it ran photographs of her leaving a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, but the episode just became more fodder for Morgan to drum up publicity (and the award was later reduced).

Even as the phone-hacking scandal began its slow-burn evolution in recent years, with an arrest here and a firing there, it seemed like a narrow case, a local infection and not a systemic cancer. But then came Milly Dowler—the 13-year-old murder victim whose voice-mail the post-Morgan News of the World allegedly not only hacked but also deleted messages from, giving her family false hope that she was alive. This was as close to an atrocity as modern journalism has produced. Suddenly, Morgan’s old friends and colleagues were losing their jobs and facing possible prison sentences. And suddenly, Morgan’s own past statements collectively amounted to enough smoke that his rivals (and there are many) could practically see the flames licking below.

For a week in July, Morgan, usually never shy about sharing his thoughts, remained publicly silent. Then Louise Mensch, a British M.P., claimed in a parliamentary committee hearing that Morgan had admitted to phone hacking in The Insider.Morgan confronted Mensch on Wolf Blitzer’s The Situation Room later that day, calling her allegation a “blatant lie” and challenging her to “show some balls” by repeating the claim outside of the protection of Parliament. She declined and, a week later, would issue an apology acknowledging that she had misread the reported section of Morgan’s book.

Morgan’s career has struck some as almost an affront to the notion of karma.

Four days later, in response to questions from the New York Times, Morgan wrote a full-throated denial that he ever had anything to do with phone hacking. Then Heather Mills told the BBC that someone claiming to be a journalist at the Mirror Group had told her in 2001 that the McCartney message had been obtained by hacking. In early August, Sir Paul himself publicly expressed dismay, and a contestant on America’s Got Talent whom Morgan had previously called “not funny” taunted him in front of 10 million viewers, asking, “What’s it like to bum out the dude that wrote ‘Let It Be’?” Morgan’s default mode is ball-busting, and he took the teasing in good humor, but even fellow judge Sharon Osbourne, who affectionately calls Morgan “a bombastic prick,” doesn’t joke with him about the hacking scandal. “It’s really not very cool,” she says, “and I wouldn’t go there. I know what he’d say to me: ‘Just shut the fuck up.’ ”

At this point, Morgan is clearly tired of having to field questions about phones. And on close inspection, none of his supposedly incriminating remarks pins him to any illegal act. But the Morgan hacking chatter grew so loud in Britain, with headlines like “Will His US Career Survive the Storm?” and “End of the Piers Show?,” that when a tweet circulated that CNN had suspended Morgan, it was widely retweeted. Jon Snow, a prominent television anchor with England’s Channel 4, was among the retweeters and had to apologize after Morgan confirmed that no such thing had occurred and after the original tweeter was shown to be fictitious. Morgan was soon tweeting that his accusers were “liars, druggies, ex-conmen and bankrupts.”

New York: You once called Sarah Palin “an idiotic bigot.”

P.M.: Well, there is an argument. As editor of the Daily Mirror, I’ve been pretty scathing about a lot of Republicans, and yet oddly, I would say the majority of our political bookings have been senior Republicans. I think they know I’ll give them a fair crack of the whip.

New York: Did you worry that calling Ann Coulter “a monstrosity” might make it hard to book her?

P.M.: She is a monstrosity. It didn’t deter her. She knows the game. She plays that game hard.

New York: And yet when you invited her back on, she canceled at the last minute.

P.M.: She did it because she’s cowardly.

New York: Was calling Heather Mills “talentless and legless” a cheap shot?

P.M.: That’s accurate. She is demonstrably talentless and has one leg.

New York: You never look back at something like that and think, That wasn’t very nice?

P.M.: No, because Heather Mills is an indescribably vile creature with no redeeming features whatsoever.

If the more dire prophecies about Morgan’s career and personal liberty had an unmistakably hopeful tone, it’s because in England Morgan is known largely for his feuds and all-around bumptiousness. “There’s high excitement over here,” says Francis Wheen, deputy editor of the satirical fortnightly Private Eye. “The amount of Schadenfreude that will flow over the country if he does get fingered! He has an amazing knack for getting away with it. He’s become even more insufferable since his U.S. success. He’s gone global in terms of his name-­dropping and swanking around. He was bad enough before!”

Morgan first became a familiar face in the U.K., when editing the Sun gossip column, by having his photograph taken with the stars he was writing about; when their picture appeared in the paper, so did his, and through their borrowed fame he acquired his own aura of celebrity. This grating shtick won him the attention not only of Rupert Murdoch but also of Private Eye, which took to calling him “Piers Moron.”

As Morgan’s career accelerated, so did his celebrity hounding. He proved to be world-class at both flattering and antagonizing. He launched countless quarrels with celebrities and other journalists, stoking them and feeding off the attention. At a New Kids on the Block concert outside London in 1991, Donnie Wahlberg wore a PIERS MORGAN SUCKS T-shirt. Sinéad O’Connor told him in a letter that he was a “crawling sliming little gutter maggot”—an epithet Morgan proudly shared with the world. After Morgan twice ran photographs of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson with a woman who wasn’t his wife, Clarkson physically assaulted Morgan at the 2004 British Press Awards. At the same time, Morgan made a point of cultivating the rich and famous, lunching with Princess Diana and hobnobbing with Victoria Beckham. And many of his more public clashes have ended in détente. Nine months after Wahlberg wore his anti-Morgan T-shirt, he was sheepishly posing with Morgan for a photograph. Years after Naomi Campbell filed suit against the Mirror, she sat for a kiss-and-make-up interview with the man who had once called her a “lying, drug-abusing prima donna.”

In May 2004, Morgan published Abu Ghraib–style photos purporting to show the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment abusing Iraqi captives. The photos later turned out to be a likely hoax. The scandal was a big deal, costing Morgan his job, and his detractors exulted in the comeuppance. But without the stimulation of a daily newspaper to edit, Morgan gamely reinvented himself as a multimedia personality. He wrote The Insider. He started doing lengthy Q&As with celebrities for GQ and hour-long sit-downs with famous people for ITV1. On Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, Morgan dominated the competition while creating some of the most uncomfortable television in recent broadcast history. In one particularly nasty incident, the fabled Omarosa (arch-villainess from the original The Apprentice) told him “Your children hate you” and called him “a faggot.” Afterward, Morgan said he wanted to pour sulfuric acid on Omarosa’s “horrible diseased torso.” “I had a lot of pressure on me not to choose Piers,” Trump says, “because people didn’t like him. He was a tough hombre. But I liked him. He was a smart, talented guy, and he was tremendous on the show.” (Trump still sends Morgan supportive notes like “Congratulations, champ” and “You okay?” and “Think big and kick ass.”)

Morgan’s lucrative bounce-back, after a fall many had felt well deserved, struck his ill-wishers as almost an affront to the notion of karma. His confidence-­betraying, score-settling memoir, combined with his flourishing new career on television, inspired reams of invective. The critic A. A. Gill opined that Morgan had “learnt human as a second language.” The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker wrote that Morgan “looks like a teddy bear with Bell’s palsy concentrating hard on accurately shitting in an egg cup.” Actor Stephen Fry took to joking that the contemporary definition of countryside is “the murder of Piers Morgan.”

But in addition to giving his detractors heartburn, Morgan’s post-tabloid experimentations revealed a latent gift for getting famous people to open up on-camera. When he interviewed Simon Cowell, who by then had plucked Morgan to be a judge on America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent, Cowell choked up speaking of his father’s death. “Normally I talk about it mechanically,” Cowell says. “But he took me there. It’s the only time I’ve lost it on TV. He’s got a way of getting it out of you. He’s got a lot of empathy, and he wasn’t doing it to be cynical. After the show you feel like he gave you a date-rape drug, like, Was that a nightmare, or did I really say that?

New York: CNN is a ways from Fleet Street. How did the conversations go with CNN when you were being vetted?

P.M.: I think that I’m much more journalistically ethical than my critics in Britain would have people believe. There’s a lot of smoke and a lot of mudslinging.

New York: You’re a little like Omarosa, aren’t you?

P.M.: No.

New York: In being a cartoon villain?

P.M.: No, because Omarosa, as you know, is a pathetically untalented grotesque waste of space. So your attempt to bracket me in the category of the most pointless wannabe reality wastrel in the history of television I find quite offensive.[Morgan checks his BlackBerry.] It’s quite funny, Tony Blair just e-mailed me.

New York: Can I see it?

P.M.: No. I’m trying to get him to do my Life Stories show in Britain. He’s nibbling a bit. I think he might do it. We’re negotiating. He’s definitely interested.

On a Tuesday afternoon on the CBS Studios lot in Hollywood, Morgan is sitting on a banquette in his trailer, waiting for the semifinals of America’s Got Talent to begin. Morgan and his new wife, Celia Walden, split their time between New York and California, depending on his schedule, although at the moment she’s grounded in L.A., awaiting the birth of their first child. (And his fourth: He has three in England from a previous marriage.) Two months into the AGT season, contestants have been winnowed from 100,000 auditions to ten. At this point, there’s no one on the show who isn’t talented. Presumably, then, Morgan won’t be buzzing anyone tonight? “Oh, no,” he says, “I think I’ll buzz at least two.” Just based on the music they’ve chosen, he says, he can guess who they’ll be.

Beside him is his agent turned manager John Ferriter, a.k.a. the Ferret, in tribute to whom Morgan named his company Ferret Productions. When Ari Emanuel and his William Morris Endeavor colleagues pushed Ferriter out just months after he’d emerged from a blood-clot-related coma, Morgan told Ferriter that if this was his Jerry Maguire moment, he would be his Rod Tidwell. Morgan had mentioned that his dream was to have the top-rated interview show in the world, but it was the Ferret who first suggested that he could take over Larry King’s slot at CNN. “I would never have been that ambitious myself,” Morgan says, sipping a cup of tea.

In early 2010, Ferriter started peppering CNN/U.S.’s then-president Jon Klein with links to interviews Morgan had done on ITV1. Larry King was 76, his ratings were in a nosedive, and CNN had been softly considering possible successors. King had the rare ability to book and interview a high-low mix of global political figures and pop-culture celebrities, and only a handful of other people could do the same. But Katie Couric wouldn’t be available for another year. Matt Lauer was locked into Today.

At the time, Klein was more urgently preoccupied with figuring out what to do with his 8 p.m. slot, where Campbell Brown’s show was dying, and only while on vacation a couple of months later, during a two-hour car ride from Palm Springs to L.A., did he get around to watching Morgan on his iPad. Until then, he had been only vaguely aware of the Brit, and strictly as a reality-TV personality. Now, watching Morgan’s interviews, he saw acerbic Simon Cowell come to the brink of tears and dronelike Gordon Brown well up as he spoke of his daughter’s death. “In one fell swoop, Piers had gone from pop culture to the height of politics,” recalls Klein, who now runs the digital-media-strategy firm @Media. “He handled both interviews deftly, he was intelligent and provocative, and he taught me something I hadn’t known. I was very impressed.”

At 10 a.m. on April 23, Morgan and Ferriter met with Klein, then–HLN head Ken Jautz, and two other CNN executives in Klein’s office at the Time Warner Center. It was more of a meet-and-greet than an interview for a particular job. “Piers walked in and blew us through the back of my office,” Klein says. “He owned that room from the moment he walked in. It was the single best interview I’d ever had with any talent.” Fifteen minutes after the meeting ended, Ferriter was standing in front of the Carnegie Deli when Klein called. “Wow,” Klein said.

The ensuing negotiations were complicated. CNN was concerned with finding a respectful way to ease King out. King wanted Ryan Seacrest to succeed him, but as someone close to the process recalls, “Ryan has politicians on his radio show and does a good job, but it’s a matter of what the CNN viewer would buy. Did we believe he could sit down with Donald Rumsfeld and Lady Gaga? We concluded no.” Morgan had a lot of other obligations to juggle. And CNN was also determined to thoroughly screen the tabloid veteran to ensure he would live up to the network’s standards. Hacking wasn’t yet on the radar, but Morgan’s Fleet Street background, and in particular the circumstances of his firing by the Daily Mirror, were a concern. In the cable-news booking wars, how far would Morgan go to win an interview? CNN executives carefully read Morgan’s books and had several conversations with him. “It was, ‘Hey, you grew up in a tabloid world, do you understand this isn’t an anything-goes environment?’ And he definitely did,” Klein says, “We came away feeling that he understood that we weren’t winking at him.”

Now Morgan is interviewing presidential candidates on CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight.Photo: Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Courtesy of CNN

For the debut week of their show, Morgan and his producer Jonathan Wald went all-out in booking a blockbuster lineup that launched with Oprah Winfrey and included Howard Stern and George Clooney. The haters were lying in wait. “Who is he,” James Wolcott asked in a Vanity Fair column, “why is he here, is he returnable?” But to their dismay, the ratings the first night were 2.1 million viewers, good enough to beat MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow if not Fox News’s Sean Hannity, and a full 219 percent above Larry King’s average audience in the final quarter of 2010. Since then, Morgan has benefited from a freakishly eventful nine months, from the Japanese earthquake–tsunami–nuclear disaster to the killing of Osama bin Laden to the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor. Through it all, Morgan’s show has remained in third place in the time slot, behind Hannity and Maddow. “They are at least not bleeding like they were,” a TV insider observes of CNN, “but I would not call the Piers Morgan show the shot in the arm they need.” Still, by comparison with King’s terrible final year, Morgan’s ratings have been a stark improvement, averaging 33 percent higher in the all-important 25–54 demographic and steadily closing in on Maddow’s. In August, his show was up 52 percent in the demo. “Piers Morgan went into a time slot that the previous host held 25 years,” says Jautz, now CNN/U.S. president. “Not only has he held that audience, but he’s grown it, and grown it significantly. That’s a significant accomplishment.”

New York: Have your views evolved as to what you consider desirable journalistic practices?

P.M.: I think journalists get into murky waters when they use the words “desirable journalistic practices.”

On Monday, September 19, CNN viewers tuning in to Piers Morgan Tonight were treated to the spit-take sight of Morgan, dark knight of Fleet Street, aggressively interrogating Joe McGinniss, an author who famously served as a case study of reportorial ethics in Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer. In the lead-in for the episode, Morgan asked: “Has Joe McGinniss gone too far?”

McGinniss had recently published The Rogue, a book about Sarah Palin, and in the course of his research he had moved—at the unsolicited invitation of the ­owner—into the house next door to the Palins in Alaska. The mainstream press had largely ignored the book, except to sniff, as the Times did, at its “caustic, unsubstantiated gossip.” Morgan, who in the past might have been expected to congratulate McGinniss on his moxie, instead seemed to adopt the conventional fuddy-duddy line, saying to McGinniss that “the criticisms are that you sort of dipped into the tabloid mire a little too much,” that the book included “salacious details,” and that McGinniss moving in next door was “creepy” and “a bit weird.” It was possible to agree with all of these observations and still find them a little disappointing coming from the great Piers Morgan.

Morgan himself seems to wrestle with the moral convolutions of his transition to Establishment journalist. On Twitter only a few days before the McGinniss interview, he came to the defense of a columnist for the Independent who had recently admitted to several instances of plagiarism. “Got to laugh at all the British journalists moralising about [Johann Hari],” Morgan tweeted. “Such paragons of ethically perfect virtue, one and all. Not. Even a flawed @JohannHari101 is considerably more principled and valuable as a journalist than most of his hypocritical critics.”

It was classic Morgan to side with someone accused of ethical infractions against the Fourth Estate’s self-­appointed moral arbiters, but the parsing seemed muddled, especially given that the Twitter­sphere soon lit up with people coming to McGinniss’s defense in much the way Morgan had with Hari.* “Shame,” wrote one tweeter. “Piers Morgan was absolutely rude and unprofessional towards Joe McGinniss.”

Rebekah Brooks, then-Times editor Ben Preston, and Morgan with Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. Photo: Fiona Hanson/AP

But Morgan has refined his taste for conflict. “My instinct as a newspaper editor was to declare war,” he says. “I used to like feuds. I’ve actually, I wouldn’t say grown up, because it’s a bit ridiculous when you’re 46 to say that, but I’ve become less concerned with wasting energy on feuding.” Even Morgan’s frosty relationship with Jeremy Clarkson, who punched him three times, leaving a permanent scar on his forehead, is on-again, off-again. And he recently shook hands with A. A. Gill for the first time in four years, at Murdoch son-in-law Matthew Freud’s Christmas party. “It wasn’t exactly Potsdam,” Morgan says, “but it was a start.” Since his arrival at CNN, Morgan’s feuds are jokier and feel made to monetize; in an interview of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane last week, he went out of his way to try to bait Jon Stewart, leaked a promotional clip, and finally tweeted about MacFarlane’s “beef with Jon Stewart.”

Morgan says he is very much enjoying living in second-chance America. “There’s a dust-yourself-down, get-on-with-it, call-people-out, be-brutally-honest streak that Americans love in Simon Cowell, love in Gordon Ramsay,” he says. “They like their Brits to be a certain way, and I fit that mold, I think, and that’s why CNN was quite smart to capitalize on that sentiment, which is when a British accent is saying these things, it’s more acceptable.” If Morgan appears to have handled the past year with considerable aplomb—and managed to self-medicate his nocturnal anxieties with fine French wine—it could be because, dating back to his tabloid years, he has a well-tuned and ever-present sense of life’s reversals. His Twitter motto is: “One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next a feather duster.”

*This story has been updated to correctly reference the Fourth Estate.

Sharon Stone Photo: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Piers Morgan Isn’t Sleeping Well