A tense and sometimes hostile British television personality Piers Morgan has refused to disclose details about the most damning link between himself and Britain’s phone hacking scandal — his acknowledgment that he once listened to a telephone message left by Paul McCartney for his then-wife Heather Mills.
The CNN celebrity interviewer, testifying through a video link from the US, clashed repeatedly on Tuesday with the UK panel investigating media ethics, insisting that he never took part in the illegal phone hacking that has led to the closure of a Sunday tabloid he once edited and the arrests of friends and former colleagues.
The stakes were high for Morgan. More than a dozen journalists have been arrested, senior -executives with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media empire have lost their jobs and top UK police officers have resigned over their failure to tackle the phone hacking scandal.
His testimony was given under oath and Morgan could be subject to criminal proceedings if he is found to have violated any British laws.
Morgan’s defense on Tuesday was part denial, part apology and a healthy helping of “I don’t recall.”
A key line of questioning centered on the comments Morgan made in a 2006 article he wrote for the Daily Mail tabloid. In it, Morgan said he was played a phone message left by the former Beatle on Mills’ answering machine, describing it in detail and saying that McCartney “even sang We Can Work It Out into the answer phone.”
Mills, who divorced McCartney, has charged there was no way Morgan could have obtained the message honestly — an allegation that could prove embarrassing to CNN, which brought the 46-year-old journalist on board in January to replace Larry King.
Morgan stubbornly refused on Tuesday to go into any detail about the message, saying: “I’m not going to discuss where I heard it or who played it to me.”
Pressed by inquiry chief Lord Justice Brian Leveson about whether he could provide any evidence to substantiate that he had obtained the message legally, Morgan said he could not.
Before his US television career, Morgan ran two British tabloids — Murdoch’s now-shuttered News of the World, between 1994 and 1995, then the rival Daily Mirror, which is not connected to the Murdoch empire, where he stayed for nearly a decade.
Much of Tuesday’s inquiry focused on the time Morgan spent at the latter, which could revive earlier suggestions that hacking was not confined to journalists working for News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch’s global media giant, News Corp.
Although Morgan showed occasional flashes of humor, the atmosphere was mostly tense during Tuesday’s questioning.
At one point Morgan said he “doesn’t believe” he ever listened to hacked voicemail messages — and rejected suggestions he had any contact with the private detectives accused of carrying out many of the tabloids’ dirtiest deeds, saying his subordinates would have been charged with giving them assignments.
Morgan also dismissed earlier interviews about phone hacking in which he said that “loads of -newspaper journalists were doing it” or that he had trouble condemning the shady practices of private eyes “because obviously you were running the results of their work.”
Morgan told the inquiry that those statements were based on nothing more than hearsay and the newspaper industry’s “rumor mill.”
He said he couldn’t say who had filled him in on the rumors.
“My memory’s not great about this. It was a long time ago,” he said.
Occasionally — when confronted by written excerpts from his autobiographical The Insider Morgan accepted that some of what he had done had crossed the line.
For example, he acknowledged he had made use of Benji “the Binman” Pelham, a freelancer who specialized in raking though celebrities’ trash to look for scoops.
“Did I think he was doing anything illegal? No. Did I think he was doing anything on the cusp of unethical? Yes,” Morgan said.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete