A prominent British TV presenter says CNN talk show host Piers Morgan gave him a primer on phone hacking, a revelation that suggests he knew a fair amount about how the shady practice was carried out.
BBC television news presenter Jeremy Paxman told a media ethics inquiry on Wednesday that Morgan delivered his warning over lunch at the headquarters of the Mirror newspaper, which he was then editing, in 2002.
Paxman said that Morgan “turned to me and said: ‘Have you got a mobile phone?’”
“I said: ‘Yes,’ and he asked if there was a security setting on the message bit of it … I didn’t know what he was talking about,” Paxman said. “He then explained the way to get access to people’s messages was to go to the factory default setting and press either 0000 or 1234, and that if you didn’t put on your own code, [in] his words: ‘You’re a fool.’”
Paxman testified before Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is sifting through the fallout of the scandal over unethical and illegal behavior at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World newspaper, which Morgan briefly edited before moving to the Mirror.
Journalists at the now-defunct tabloid routinely hacked phones to get stories, bypassing weak security to illegally eavesdrop on private conversations of politicians, celebrities, sports stars and other public figures.
Morgan testified before Leveson late last year, suggesting he had only been aware of phone hacking in general terms.
Quizzed repeatedly about statements he had made suggesting that many in the British newspaper business were involved in phone hacking, Morgan claimed that he had merely been repeating gossip he picked off the industry’s rumor mill.
“I wasn’t aware that it was widely prevalent in any specific form,” he said in December last year, going on to explain that he was unaware of the details of what British journalists nicknamed “the dark arts.”
The CNN star has repeatedly denied having ever hacked a phone or knowingly run material obtained by phone hacking.
Morgan did not immediately answer questions about Paxman’s testimony sent via e-mail, but he took to Twitter to make light of the development.
“Right _ that’s the last time I’m inviting Jeremy Paxman to lunch,” Morgan wrote. “Ungrateful little wretch.”
Links between media and senior politicians were expected to come under scrutiny yesterday, when the disgraced former aide to Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, Adam Smith, was due to testify before Leveson. Smith resigned after e-mail and text messages published by the inquiry showed him exchanging too-friendly e-mails with Murdoch lobbyist Frederic Michel, who was pressing Hunt’s department to help ease the media mogul’s multibillion dollar bid for UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB. Michel was also due to testify yesterday.
Hunt’s most senior civil servant, Jonathan Stephens, is due to testify today. Hunt is due to testify separately at a later date.