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Raymond Snoddy 

Why old master Rupert Murdoch sees something new in Piers Morgan

Why old master Rupert Murdoch sees something new in Piers Morgan

Ray Snoddy studies the very different current trajectories for two big beasts of the British journalism jungle – Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan

Piers Morgan’s return to News Corp was treated like the second coming by The Sun with a gushing double page spread, while the man himself suggested modestly, that he hoped he’d prove as good a signing as that of Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester United.

Yet even when you scrape away the self-serving ballyhoo, Morgan’s alleged £50m deal with Rupert Murdoch represents something new – a journalistic superstar spread across three continents, on television, print and online.

It is proof, if proof were still necessary, that Murdoch can still, at the age of 90, be flexible and determined enough to get what he wants, and can put together a bespoke deal to dangle in-front of his intended target at almost any cost.

It is a well-established modus operandi as many can testify, including, in a very modest way, myself.

 To entice his target, Murdoch mines his media empire to assemble a tasty package to flatter and reward. 

This may be one of Murdoch’s most dramatic efforts so far but how do such Transatlantic deals work out? There is history here, ironically involving both Piers Morgan and Andrew Neil, who has just exited stage left from GB News, accompanied by mutterings  of legal action for likening the channel to Fox News on Question Time.

Murdoch groomed Andrew Neil to launch a TV career on his US television stations but after the pilots were in, it was decided that the US was not ready yet for the Neil phenomena. The great interrogator never even made it to air in anger.

Piers was famously dropped by CNN, which of course is considered to lie considerably to the left of Murdoch’s Fox News, partly because of the ratings but partly because his views and performance did not match mainstream American expectations.

He was undone by, what to us might seem perfectly reasonable opposition to American gun laws and the constitutional right to buy and carry assault rifles on almost all occasions and use then in massacres. 

Morgan has strong views on many things not least the anti-vaxxers. He caused outrage on Twitter by suggesting that those who are not vaccinated, without good medical reason, could be refused NHS treatment for Covid-19.

As is well known, Fox News is a great supporter of the right to bear arms and until recently many of its stars were sceptical about vaccination and some still are. Fox has also pushed the line that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump by electoral fraud.

On Good Morning Britain Piers ripped into Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who not only has declined to be vaccinated, but continues to insist that there had been widespread electoral fraud in 2020.

It’s far from clear how well the views of Piers Morgan, if he expresses them, will go down on Fox News and the same applies to his American print gig, the New York Post.

The aim however, is to create a global TV show and presumably it will be big on celebrity interviews, along the lines of the late Sir David Frost, one of the few British interviewers who did make it in America.

Frostie never tried to create a global show, simply different programmes for the US and the UK, created with the help of Concorde. 

It is not clear how well a “global” show will play out in Murdoch’s revived plans for his TalkTV newsish channel to be launched in the UK in Spring.

How well will it go down on the increasingly controversial Sky News in Australia?

ABC’s News Watch media programme has already welcomed Piers to Australia by highlighting his previous firings and noting tartly that what the world really needs now "is a global outrage machine spanning three continents.” 

Piers Morgan knows Murdoch well enough to understand that when Murdoch is hot-to-trot he is very hot indeed but equally, a three-year contract represents eons compared with the Murdoch attention span.

What Rupert Murdoch was really after was the necessary tent pole to support and justify the launching of a news channel to replace the loss of Sky News from his empire in the lucrative Comcast takeover of the Sky group.

We do not know, but can guess, that Murdoch probably had to be pulled away earlier this year from a fidgety desire to launch a news channel, when faced with the scale of the potential losses.

Perhaps Murdoch was already looking around for his Morgan-like global star to justify going ahead later or waiting to see how GB News would fare.

The near implosion of the channel, the effective end of Andrew Neil’s involvement and the deployment of Nigel Farage, with possibly Strictly star Ann Widdecombe to follow, must have helped persuade Murdoch that there is space for a new right-of-centre news channel in the UK after all. 

The fate of GB News looks grim with other well-known figures like Simon McCoy, said to be considering their position.

It can obviously survive for some time because of the pile of money invested in it,but it will be a marginal thing if it turns into little more than a vestigial rump of the UKIP party.

It is unlikely that advertisers would see much merit in reaching the 44,000 fans of the Farage Show even before you get into zero audience segments during the day.

It is never a pretty sight to see online pressure groups of the left or right trying to influence the commercial decisions of advertisers. 

In this case, it is difficult to see mainstream advertisers being very enthusiastic about advertising around Nigel Farage.

At the moment, we see very different trajectories for two big beasts of the British journalism jungle – Andrew Neil and Piers Morgan.

At least for now Morgan, and the size of his bank account are definitely on the rise, with his global programme to look forward to next year.

Neil will clearly have more time to spend at his home in the South of France.

One of the country’s best, and finely balanced television political interviewers has passed out the other side from the BBC and now GB News, and long ago burnt his boats with Murdoch. ITV already has Peston.

As happy returns seem to be fashionable, perhaps the founding chairman of Sky can also come full circle and be reborn with a bumper deal from Sky News.

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