CNN talk show host Piers Morgan is becoming more deeply embroiled in the phone hacking scandal that shut down the British tabloid News of the World and threatens Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.
Paul Staines, who blogs about politics under the name Guido Fawkes, told Forbes on Tuesday that he has a recording which directly contradicts Morgan’s recent claims that he neither engaged in, nor had any knowledge of phone hacking during his nine-year run as the editor of the competing tabloid The Daily Mirror. Staines has been very vocal in his insistence that Morgan is guilty of publishing stories based on hacked voice mails.
The CNN personality and Celebrity Apprentice winner has adamantly denied the allegations against him. “I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone,” Morgan said in an email to the New York Times. “I am not aware, and have never seen evidence to suggest otherwise, that any Mirror story published during my tenure was obtained from phone hacking.”
Forbes’ reporter Jeff Bercovici wrote yesterday that the tape Staines referred to turned out to be a recording of a 2009 interview Morgan gave to the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs. When interviewer Kirsty Young asked about “all that nasty, down-in-the-gutter stuff” that must have gone on, Morgan replied, “To be honest, let’s put that in perspective as well. Not a lot of that went on. A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staff themselves. That’s not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.
“I’m quite happy to be parked in the corner of tabloid beast and to have to sit here defending all these things I used to get up to, and I make no pretence about the stuff we used to do,” Morgan added. “I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide, and certainly encompassed the high and the low end of the supposed newspaper market.”
James Hipwell, a former journalist at The Daily Mirror under Morgan, told The Independent that hacking was so widespread at the tabloid that he couldn’t believe Morgan didn’t know it was going on. “You know what people around you are doing”, he said. “They would call a celebrity with one phone and when it was answered they would then hang up. By that stage the other phone would be into their [the celebrity’s] voicemail and they would key in the code, 9999 or 0000. I saw that a lot.
“Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor,” Hipwell added. “He was on the floor every day, walking up and down behind journalists, looking over their shoulders. I can’t say 100 per cent that he knew about it. But it was inconceivable he didn’t.”
Morgan responded to Hipwell’s claims by noting that he was jailed for manipulating the stock market, calling his crediibility into question. He also reiterated his claim that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
“I’ve never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone,” he posted to Twitter.