For much of the past two weeks, CNN personality and former editor of tabloid News of the World Piers Morgan has fervently denied any involvement in the phone hacking scandal rocking News Corp.
But in a just-unearthed BBC interview from 2009, Morgan tells an interviewer that he doesn’t disagree that phone “tapping” and other “down-in-the-gutter” tactics might have been used at NOTW to get good scoops. Morgan’s words could provide the strongest linkage between the anchor and the scandal so far.
The interview was discovered by Britan’s controversial political blogger Paul Staines, who goes by the pseudonym Guido Fawkes, a reference to the 16th century English soldier conspirator who attempted to assassinate King James I of England. Staines is known for his writing on “parliamentary plots, rumors and conspiracy,” according to his site.
Morgan has responded to the interview by arguing that he was speaking only in generalities and never hacked any phones himself, though he doesn’t rule out that a third party may have done so.
You can judge Morgan’s innocence yourself by listening to the BBC interview or reading the transcript of the interview below,along with Morgan’s statement.
As commentators argue over how incriminating this interview really is — see the Daily Beast, which says the interview is “dodgy,” and Forbes, which says the smoking gun is “not so smoky” — Staines and Morgan are taking to Twitter to duel it out. And they’re not pulling any punches.
After releasing the interview, Staines tweeted a quick jab at Morgan:
Piers in Tears: Well it looks like CNN's Piers Morgan is rather rattled this morning. Instead of addressing his ... http://bit.ly/pfzbe8
Morgan quickly responded by questioning Staines, who was an acid house party promoter in the 1990s before going bankrupt and starting his blog. Staines also spent several years in finance before he faced a series of business disputes described as a judge as “the most acrimonious litigation, hard fought at every turn of a number of interlocutory skirmishes. No holds were barred; no punches were pulled.”
Staines made it known that Morgan had sought to interview him, not the other way around:
Guido fact: Piers has long followed Guido on Twitter and GQ wanted me to grant him an interview in 2010, not the other way round.
And then Morgan, having had enough of the whole thing, went for the gut punch:
I don't mind being wrongly smeared with all this #Hackgate stuff, I'd just rather it wasn't done by liars, druggie ex-bankrupts and conmen.
Morgan is not the first journalist to criticize Staines, who has been taken to task many times for spreading rumors about politicians that later proved untrue.
In a BBC “Newsnight” debate with Staines, Guardian editor Michael White told the blogger: “You see a naive conspiratorial view of the political process and of politicians, which says in effect they’re all crooks, and they all ought to be in jail, and we will fearlessly expose them on the blogosphere. And it isn’t like that. ... You can be pretty cavalier with the facts sometimes.”
Now, listen to the June 7, 2009, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 of “Desert Island Discs,” in which Morgan is interviewed by Kirsty Young about tabloid tactics that were being widely condemned at the time in Parliament and investigated elsewhere:
Or read the transcript below:
Piers Morgan ‘Desert Island Discs’ interview with Kirsty Young
First broadcast: BBC Radio 4, Sun, 7 Jun 2009
KY: And what about this nice middle class boy who would have to be dealing with I mean essentially people who rake through people’s bins for a living…
PM: Well I…
KY: People who tap peoples phones , people who take secret photographs…
PM: I know but…
KY: …who do all that very nasty down in the gutter stuff, how did you feel about that?
PM: Well to be honest lets put that in to perspective as well, not a lot of that went on. A lot of it was done…
PM: 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 and defend all the things I used to get up to and I make no pretence about the stuff we used to do. I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide and a certainly encompassed the high and the low end of the supposed newspaper market.
After a series of exchanges between Morgan and Staines, the CNN anchor finally tweeted Wednesday morning: “I'll be making no further comment on this #Hackgate nonsense. But important for everyone to know exactly who these lying smearers are.”
Morgan’s full statement about the interview:
There is no contradiction between my comments on Kirsty Young's Desert Island Discs show and my unequivocal statements with regard to phone-hacking. Millions of people heard these comments when I first made them in 2009 on one of the BBC's longest -running radio shows, and none deduced that I was admitting to, or condoning illegal reporting activity. Kirsty asked me a fairly lengthy question about how I felt dealing with people operating at the sharp end of investigative journalism. My answer was not specific to any of the numerous examples she gave, but a general observation about tabloid newspaper reporters and private investigators. As I have said before, 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.