CNN talk show host Piers Morgan denied any wrongdoing in the current phone-hacking scandal that has rocked the British media. At the end of a very tough session of the Leveson Inquiry into UK press ethics, Morgan told the panel he felt “like a rock star having an album of his worst ever hits” thrust at him as the former News Of The World and Daily Mirror editor. Sitting under a halo of soft light in an unadorned room back in Los Angeles, Morgan spent over two hours giving evidence on such topics as rumor mongering, phone hacking, and Paul McCartney’s voicemails. His testimony was piped into the inquiry room in London, where the exchanges were decidedly strained. It all got off to a rocky start when Robert Jay, counsel for the inquiry, asked Morgan to confirm he was currently employed by CNN. “Yes, it’s clearly passed you by, Mr. Jay,” Morgan quipped when Jay said he’d heard the cable news network’s Piers Morgan Tonight was “apparently” very popular in America. Jay then consistently brought up past interviews and passages from Morgan’s own books to challenge the CNN host. Morgan said he’d never to his knowledge listened to what he believed to be illegally obtained messages, and said he had no knowledge or reason to believe there was phone hacking at the Daily Mirror during his tenure. At one point, Jay exclaimed: “Oh, come on Mr Morgan, [the Mirror] was at the top of the list of the perpetrators. And you well know that.” Morgan shot back: “You also know not a single person has made a formal complaint against the Daily Mirror. So why would you say that?”
Jay also pointed to voicemail messages left by Paul McCartney for his now ex-wife Heather Mills — messages Morgan has already said he’d listened to. Jay asked if listening to someone else’s message is unethical, to which Morgan said, “It doesn’t necessarily follow that listening to someone else talking to someone else is unethical.” Morgan bristled at being questioned over the McCartney messages, saying he would not talk about it because he would not be led to reveal his source. “I’m not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me.” Jay then quipped, “I think we do expect you to identify what is obvious.” Lord Justice Leveson cut in to add that the only person who could legally listen to the messages would be Mills herself or someone authorized on her behalf. To which Morgan responded, “Possibly … what do you expect me to say?” Leveson then said he’s perfectly happy to call Mills to have her give evidence.
Another heated exchange involved Benji the Binman, who is known around Fleet Street for rummaging through celebrities’ garbage cans. Morgan said, “I can’t say how many times we deployed him” but allowed it was “several times.” Jay and Morgan then got stuck on a point of ethics over whether something becomes public domain once it is thrown in the trash. Later, speaking about celebrity in general, Morgan noted, “I have very little sympathy for celebrities who sell photographs of their weddings then get upset when they’re caught having an affair.”
Meanwhile, earlier this morning, News International said it had settled seven privacy claims against its parent News Group Newspapers. Those who received undisclosed compensation and apologies include politicians and local celebrities including Ulrika Jonsson, Abi Titmuss, James Hewitt and Calum Best.