Morgan’s past resurfaces months into CNN host gig

NEW YORK (AP) — CNN knew Piers Morgan had a colorful past as a London tabloid editor when the network installed him as Larry King’s replacement this year, but surely didn’t anticipate how that personal history would ensnare him months into his new job.

Morgan issued another statement Wednesday denying any involvement or knowledge of journalists at Britain’s Daily Mirror newspaper illegally hacking into phone messages while he was editor there, despite the resurfacing of an old interview that brought what he knew into question.

CNN said it remains satisfied with Morgan’s explanations of what happened while he was a London editor.

The Daily Mirror has come under suspicion following revelations that rival newspaper News of the World — recently shut down by its publisher — routinely intercepted voicemails left for public figures.

To Americans, Morgan is best known as a judge on NBC’s top summer show “America’s Got Talent” and, since January, as a celebrity interviewer on CNN’s prime-time lineup. His show’s ratings aren’t robust, but his viewership is up 12 percent over the last year of “Larry King Live,” and more among younger viewers.

Morgan edited the now-defunct News of the World briefly in the 1990s, the newspaper at the center of the phone hacking scandal. He spent most of his editing career at the Daily Mirror, where he was boss from 1995 to 2004.

A blogger in Britain brought forth this week an audio recording of a BBC radio interview Morgan gave in 2009, where his questioner asked how a “nice middle class boy” felt about associating with people who rake through garbage cans, tap people’s phones and take secret photographs.

Morgan replied that the activity had to be put in perspective.

“Not a lot of that went on,” he said. “A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staffs 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. I simply say the net of people doing it was very wide, and certainly encompassed the high and low end of the supposed newspaper market.”

The remarks were interpreted by some as an admission that Morgan’s Daily Mirror engaged in the same practices that got the News of the World shut down. Morgan vigorously disputes that.

“Millions of people heard these comments when I first made them ... and none deduced that I was admitting to, or condoning illegal reporting activity,” he said. “(The interviewer) 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.”

Morgan also took to Twitter to attack those who were spreading stories about him.

“I don’t mind being wrongly smeared with all this Hackgate stuff,” he wrote. “I’d just rather it wasn’t done by liars, druggie ex-bankrupts and conmen.”

CNN has invested a lot of time and money into the launch of Morgan’s show and isn’t likely to give that up on the basis of what’s been heard so far, said Kim Bondy, a former CNN producer who now teaches journalism at the University of New Orleans.

“They’ll stand by him as long as they believe he’s being truthful with them,” Bondy said. “I don’t see them embarrassing him in any way.”

Tammy Haddad, a former producer for King who now runs her own media consulting business, said Morgan’s viewers won’t have much interest in what is going on in England and will judge him on his television show.

“If the investigation moves in a big way to U.S. soil, then Piers will need to talk with his audience and tell them directly his experiences and that he wasn’t involved,” she said.

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