Piers Dips Toe Into Political Waters

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CNN’s new primetime host Piers Morgan got his first chance to show off his political chops Tuesday night during the President’s State of the Union address. The network placed Morgan on a panel with political analysts David Gergen, Candy Crowley, Roland Martin and Erik Erikson and moderated by Wolf Blitzer.

Though Morgan is more recognizable sitting on a judging panel in America’s Got Talent than a political roundtable, the network made a similar move putting a new primetime host on coverage of a major news event when it chose to have Eliot Spitzer host its coverage of the Chilean miner rescue.

Though critics trashed that decision, CNN thankfully left most of the analysis to the big guns in its State of the Union coverage, relying heavily on Blitzer and John King reporting from Washington. Although after the President’s speech and the Republican response, Blitzer deferred to Morgan first each time for a reaction comment from the panelists.

He labeled the State of the Union address as “not massive on substance, but big on rhetoric,” and positioned himself as an outside observer of the statements made by saying “if I was watching as an American…” because Morgan is of course British. After the Republican response, Morgan deflected a question from Blitzer about if it was smart of Rep. Paul Ryan to compare the U.S. economy as heading toward a similar fate as Greece’s, and instead commented on the fact that the Republicans were giving two opposition responses makes the party appear divided as ever.

CNN was the only major news network that carried coverage of Tea Party leader Rep. Michele Bachmann’s response, including Fox News.

After the 10:45 p.m. commercial break, Morgan was briefly replaced by CNN host Anderson Cooper who then dropped out after the Bachmann speech to head to AC 360, which went live at 11 p.m.

All in all, it was mostly a guest appearance by Morgan, who didn’t say anything astoundingly insightful but who managed to hold his own among the panel of seasoned political gurus.

And that’s important for Morgan, who has said he plans to interview one political guest per week on his show Piers Morgan Tonight (no more so as not to kill ratings), especially leading up to a presidential election year in 2012 where many of the newsmakers will be in the political arena.