CNN standing firm behind Morgan in phone hacking scandal

Dylan Stableford
August 1, 2011

First, Piers Morgan issued an emphatic denial.

"For the record," the CNN primetime host and "America's Got Talent" judge told Wolf Blitzer on July 26, "in my time at 'The Mirror' and the 'News of the World,' I never hacked a phone, told anybody to hack a phone or published any story based on the hacking of a phone."

Then, Morgan, former editor of the aforementioned tabloids, lashed out at critics--including a blogger who claimed to have a smoking gun audio tape of Morgan purportedly acknowledging hacking--and announced he would no longer be discussing "this Hackgate nonsense."

But like it or not, Morgan's name has continued to surface as no less than three investigations into News International's phone hacking are being carried out on two continents.

And according to the Wall Street Journal, "two people close to CNN say that there has been ongoing discussion about the situation internally at the network."

Publicly, CNN is standing by Morgan.

"Piers Morgan has been firm and specific in his denial," a spokeswoman for CNN told the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal. "And we continue to be supportive of his program."

Morgan declined further comment.

As the Journal points out, CNN managers were well aware of what they were getting when they hired Morgan last fall to replace cable talk legend Larry King in primetime:

Before signing him, CNN executives carefully read his books and thoroughly questioned him about his journalistic habits and ethics, a person close to the network said. A lot of the questioning, this person said, surrounded not telephone-hacking practices but Mr. Morgan's firing from the Mirror in 2004, after he authorized the newspaper's publication of photographs showing Iraqis being abused by British soldiers that the British army alleged were fakes.

Since CNN was hiring Mr. Morgan to host an interview show, rather than cover breaking news, the discussion focused on Mr. Morgan's methods for booking guests for the show. CNN wanted to ensure that Mr. Morgan would never pay for interviews, this person said, and were satisfied with his answers.

Nonetheless, columnist Toby Young writes in the Daily Telegraph, "it now looks probable" that Morgan will receive an invitation from to appear before the Culture, Media and Sport select committee to discuss phone hacking. "That is an extremely perilous position to find himself in."

But if he does appear, at least Morgan will have a newfound ally. Over the weekend, Morgan drew an apology from Louise Mensch, the conservative member of Parliament who brought Morgan's name up in connection with the phone-hacking scandal during her questioning of Rupert and James Murdoch during last month's select committee hearing. Mensch alleged at the time that Morgan discussed, and appeared to condone, the practice of phone hacking in his memoir, The Insider.

Mensch said last week that the comment stemmed from her own misreading of an article related to Morgan's book, and "therefore, I must apologize to Mr. Morgan."