Piers Morgan to Testify in Britain's Phone Hacking Scandal

CNN host on hot seat before British ethics inquiry on press abuse.

Dec. 20, 2011— -- Piers Morgan will be answering -- not asking -- the questions today when he testifies in an ethics inquiry over Britain's phone hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's now defunct News of the World.

The CNN host is scheduled to appear via videolink before the Leveson Inquiry, a judge-led investigation into the ethics and practices of Britain's scandal-tainted press. The inquiry convenes at 5 am eastern and Morgan is listed as fourth on the schedule.

Morgan has denied knowledge of phone hacking by his staff when he was editor of two of Murdoch's British tabloids, News of the World and the Daily Mirror.

His appearance has been widely anticipated, even as Morgan has made light of it.

"So heartwarming that everyone in U.K.'s missing me so much they want me to come home," he joked earlier this year amid demands that he return to give testimony.

The inquiry was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron after it was made public that News of the World had illegally eavesdropped on the voice mail messages of celebrities and other public figures.

Actors Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and singer Charlotte Church have all spoken before the inquiry about widespread press abuse, while executives and lawyers for Murdoch's News Corp. have defended the tabloid.

Morgan has been under scrutiny since the scandal broke over the summer.

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

Morgan asserted that there was "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 to ABCNews.com in July. "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."

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 was 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.

During a July Parliamentary hearing with Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, 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.

The former Fleet Street editor also fought off accusations from James Hipwell, a former Daily Mirror financial columnist who called illegal phone hacking "endemic" during Morgan's tenure. Hipwell is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the inquiry.

"Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor," Hipwell told British newspaper The Independent in July. "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 launched its own investigation.

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

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.