Piers Morgan Stands By Phone Hacking Denials

Says 2009 BBC interview doesn't contradict his denials of phone hacking.

July 27, 2011— -- Former Fleet Street editor and current CNN host Piers Morgan says he in no way has admitted to knowledge of phone hacking by his staff when he was editor of two of Rupert Murdoch's British tabloids.

Morgan was responding to British political blogger Paul Staines who blogs under the name Guido Fawkes and who claimed to have discovered a 2009 recording where some interpret Morgan as admitting knowledge of the hacking and other unsavory activities by Murdoch journalists.

Morgan says "there is no contradiction" between his 2009 comments to BBC radio host Kirsty Young and his "unequivocal statements with regard to phone-hacking."

"Millions of people heard these comments when I first made them in 2009 on one of the BBC's longest-running radio shows, and none deduced that I was admitting to, or condoning illegal reporting activity," Morgan said in a statement Wednesday to ABCNews.com. "Kirsty 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."

Morgan spent last week denying that he was involved in phone hacking while editor of News of the World and the Daily Mirror after a member of Parliament accused him of publishing an article obtained by phone hacking.

"For the record, in my time at the News of the World and the Mirror, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, or published any stories based on the hacking of a phone," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room."

"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 concluded in his statement.

In the June 2009 interview, Morgan was asked how he felt about so-called "gutter" journalistic practices, such as digging through trash cans and tapping people's phones to get information and taking secret photographs.

"To be honest, let's put that in perspective as well. Not a lot of that went on. A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staff themselves. That's not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work," he said. "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 pretence 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," Morgan told the BBC interviewer.


Morgan gave a similar response to GQ in 2007 when he defended former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman, who went to jail for hacking phones of members of the royal household, by saying he had been made "a scapegoat for a widespread practice."

Morgan, who's also a judge on "America's Got Talent," served as editor at News of the World in 1994 and 1995, before helming the Mirror, where he stayed until 2004.

Last week, during a Parliamentary hearing with Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, whose now closed News of the World is at the center of the scandal, committee member Louise Mensch accused Morgan of publishing an article in 2002 that had been obtained via phone hacking.

Morgan denied the accusation and demanded an apology from Mensch.

He's also fighting off accusations from James Hipwell, a former Daily Mirror financial columnist who called illegal phone hacking "endemic" during Morgan's tenure.

"Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor," Hipwell told British newspaper The Independent Saturday. "I can't say 100 percent that he knew about it. But it was inconceivable he didn't."

A spokesman for Trinity Mirror, the publisher of The Daily Mirror, denied Hipwell's allegations to The New York Times, but has the Mirror has launched its own investigation.

Morgan also challenged Hipwell's credibility to the Times, pointing out that Hipwell served a brief stint in jail for profiting on stocks he touted in his column.

Meanwhile, Morgan has his defenders. He told The New York Times that he was grateful to see a tweet from Tom Watson, another member of the Parliamentary committee questioning the Murdochs.

"I've not seen any evidence linking @PiersMorgan to hacking. And I've seen a lot of documentation these last 2 years," Watson wrote.