On Tuesday, CNN talk show host Piers Morgan took his turn giving testimony in the Leveson inquiry into media ethics. The former editor of two British tabloids, News of the World (1994-95) and The Daily Mirror (1995-2004), answered questions for an hour via video link from Los Angeles, stating that he did not know any one who hacked phones and that he did not pay police officers for information, despite statements that he himself had previously made about the extent of such practices. His displeasure, if not discomfort, at having to answer questions was apparent in his “annoyed, sometimes combative, often terse” responses, as the New York Times puts it.
In addition to the testimony given at the Leveson inquiry, and the hint that Rupert Murdoch himself may be summoned as a witness, seven more claims for illegal interception of voice mail against News Group International were settled on Tuesday. Among those involved were James Hewitt, the former army officer who had an affair with Diana, Princess of Wales, and Paul Dadge, who became known as a hero after helping victims of the 2005 terrorist bombings in London.
The Leveson inquiry was set up in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that roiled Rupert Murdoch’s media empire this past summer and led to the closure of the NoW; a number of former and current NoW staff including former editor and former News International CEO Rebekah Brooks have been arrested. Morgan’s testimony is significant both because of his editorship at the NoW and references to phone hacking in his memoir, The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade, and because no evidence has so far surfaced that phone hacking occurred at newspapers other than those owned by Murdoch.
Asked by Robert Jay, the Leveson’s inquiry’s lead counsel, about who had played him a voicemail left for Sir Paul McCartney by his former wife, Heather Mills, Morgan said four times that he could not “compromise the source.” When Lord Justice Leveson said that he “was prepared to call” Mills to ask if she had let Morgan hear her voicemails, Morgan responded that “What we know for a fact about Lady Heather Mills McCartney is that in her divorce case, Paul McCartney stated as a fact that she had recorded their conversations and given them to the media.”
In reference to an interview he had given with a trade paper for magazines and newspapers, the Press Gazette, in which he had described phone hacking as “a very widespread practice … loads of newspaper journalists were doing it,” Morgan said he was just repeating what he had heard on the “Fleet Street rumor mill.” In the same interview, he referred to former NoW Royals reporter Clive Goodman who went to prison in 2007 on charges of phone hacking as a “scapegoat.” Asked about this, Morgan said ”I would have thought that subsequent events [show] he was made a scapegoat.”
Other statements of Morgan’s suggested that he was little aware , or wished to say he was little aware, of all that was going on at the papers at which he was editor of. Stating that he was “100 percent” sure that he knew nothing about phone hacking, Morgan said:
“My own evidence is I had no reason or knowledge to believe it was going on…”
“I would say the average editor is probably aware of about 5% of what his journalists are up to at any given time on every newspaper.”
Regarding whether reporters at The Daily Mirror had bribed police officers for information, Morgan commented that ”I have no reason to believe so, no. I’ve never been made aware of any evidence for that at all.”
CNN hired Morgan to replace Larry King. As the Guardian notes, in the month of November, “Morgan’s ratings declined to their lowest point since he replaced King, lagging in third place far behind Fox News’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the daily 9pm slot.” How much did CNN really know about Morgan before signing him to a multi-million dollar contract in 2010?
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