Piers Morgan, a former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor who is now a high-profile television interviewer in the United States, has spent the past week categorically denying ever printing material derived from phone hacking.
He spoke out after being accused by a Conservative MP and political bloggers of being involved in the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, for which he used to work.
“For the record, in my time at the News of the World and the Mirror, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone,” he said last week on CNN, where he now hosts a talk-show.
But it has emerged that Morgan gave a notably different response when asked during an interview with the BBC about his potential involvement in covert “gutter” journalistic practices during his time as a tabloid editor between 1994 and 2004.
“What about this nice middle-class boy, who would have to be dealing with, I mean essentially people who rake through bins for a living, people who tap people’s phones, people who take secret photographs, who do all that nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff,” he was asked on BBC’s Desert Island Discs in June 2009. “How did you feel about that?”
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 pretense about the stuff we used to do,” he told the program’s host, Kirsty Young.
“I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide, and a lot encompassed the high and low end of the supposed newspaper market.”
(On Wednesday, Morgan issued this statement: “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.”)
The discovery of Morgan’s comment, first hinted at by the Guido Fawkes political blog, came after Trinity Mirror, the parent company of The Daily Mirror, announced it had opened an investigation into editorial standards at its newspapers in light of the phone hacking scandal.
Clive Goodman, a reporter for The News of the World, and Glenn Mulcaire, a private investigator employed by the newspaper, were jailed in 2007 for illegally hacking mobile phone voicemails. News International, the paper’s parent company, initially said the scandal was limited to a “rogue reporter” but in recent weeks conceded it was in fact widespread.
The News of the World was shut down and several more arrests have been made, including Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor hired by David Cameron to be the chief spokesman at 10 Downing Street and Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s former British newspaper chief. But News International has made clear it believes hacking was widespread among other tabloids.
At the weekend James Hipwell, a Daily Mirror financial columnist between 1998 and 2000, said that illegal phone hacking was “endemic” during Morgan’s editorship. “You know what people around you are doing,” he said.
Last week, Morgan was accused in a parliamentary committee by Louise Mensch, the Tory MP for Corby, of publishing an article in 2002 about an affair between Sven Goran Eriksson, the England football coach, and Ulrika Jonsson, the television presenter, which he knew had been obtained via phone hacking. He denied this and demanded an apology during a nine-minute row on live television.
Sources close to Morgan said that he was referring to the tabloid industry in general. In a statement, he said: “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. 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.”