Does CNN Know What It’s Getting With Piers Morgan?

The British host of “America’s Got Talent” has plenty of skeletons yet unknown to a U.S. audience

CNN executives may be impressed enough with Piers Morgan to make him Larry King’s replacement, but do they really know what they getting with the scandal-plagued former U.K. newspaper editor?

Known on this side of the Atlantic as the meanish one on “America’s Got Talent” and winner of “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2008, it was a taste for the sensational that got Morgan fired as editor of Britain’s Daily Mirror in 2004.

After publishing photos of British soldiers torturing Iraqi civilians that turned out to be a hoax, Morgan was briskly escorted from the paper’s offices.

At the time, members of the British military, worried they were falsely facing their own version of the Abu Ghraib scandal, condemned Morgan and the Mirror for putting U.K. soldiers lives at risk in the Middle East and “creating a recruiting poster for al-Qaeda.”

More recently, Morgan was criticized for unprofessional conduct during interviews with leading politicians during the nation’s last election by Sir Trevor McDonald, one of Britain’s most respected TV anchors.

“It’s quite inappropriate and undignified for any journalist to ask the Prime Minister whether he joined the ‘Mile-High Club’ when he first met his wife Sarah on an aircraft,” McDonald said to the “Evening Standard” in March. “He (Morgan) then went on repeatedly to ask impertinent questions about how he proposed to his future wife.”

Then again, maybe that’s what ratings-starved CNN wants in its flagship show – where Presidents, prosecutors, pundits and professional celebrities all sit on the other side of the desk.

Certainly King, who had more than a few personal scandals of his own over the years, was known to toss softballs and to be more interested in feelings and personal tidbits than policy.

Not that Morgan’s antics and attitudes should be any secret. The notoriously indiscrete host wrote in his 2009 book “God Bless America” of many a drunken lunch, lustful thoughts, celeb feuds with Elton John and Sharon Osbourne and that he thought “every Russian woman in London right now is basically a hooker.” Morgan also called former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife Cherie a “rude, grasping, self-deluded Scouse banshee.”

And Morgan’s lack of tact seems to have also been much more self-serving on one occasion. 

Though the U.K. Department of Trade cleared him in 2004, it was revealed in court that Morgan played fast and loose with insider information in 2000, purchasing more than $100,000 in shares of a computer company that the Daily Mirror was about to promote the next day in a business column. Shares of Viglen more than doubled that day, according to the Guardian newspaper, netting the editor a profit of over $120,000. No charges were ever leveled.

But if judgment isn’t such a big issue for CNN, perhaps the network should look at his ratings track record. Though a part of the winning team on both “Talent” shows, Morgan has lagged as a serious newsman.

His British show “Morgan & Platell,” with Morgan on the political left and Conservative Party operative Amanda Platell on the right, was cancelled in 2005 after a short run due to low ratings.

That said, other shows like “Piers Morgan’s Life Stories” and the travelogue “Piers Morgan on … ” have done very well in the U.K. In mid-2008, Morgan signed a two-year, $3.6 million deal with ITV to stay on “Britain’s Got Talent” and host other shows.

Still, if CNN is seeking to stake out solid journalistic ground while gaining some prestige, is Piers really the best it can find?

“The only reason Piers has a career in America,” a U.K. media peer of Morgan’s told me, “is thanks to Simon Cowell.”

There is no denying the former “American Idol” judge was the one who put his friend on “Britain’s Got Talent.” It was also Cowell, who had to leave his own show in 2006 due to conflicts with “Idol,” who made Morgan a judge on “America’s Got Talent.”

It was that platform, solidified by his roguish behavior on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2008 that gave Morgan a stateside profile.

Then again, CNN did just give a disgraced N.Y. governor its 8 p.m. slot.

Maybe CNN is going the bad-boy route across the board. Anderson Cooper better get himself a scandal going.