CNN, Piers Morgan, and the Hacking Scandal

Questions raised about primetime anchor's tenure as a tabloid editor

It would be rather ironic if Fox News enemy CNN turns out to have a hacking-scandal-by-association problem on its hands, brought on by News Corp.’s woes and CNN’s decision to hire a former British tabloid editor to anchor an hour of primetime. That might even perk up the folks at “Fox & Friends” on the importance of this whole hacking story.

Piers Morgan is the former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor who took Larry King’s interview hour spot at CNN. A tabloid editorship on the CV alone is discomfiting these days, but Gawker’s John Cook rounds up several pieces of reporting from a number of different sources who allege phone hacking occurred at the Daily Mirror, which I should note is not a News Corp. paper, while Morgan was its editor.

Some of these are very interesting, and the fact that many of them come from Guardian reporting with on-the-record sources, one in a surreptitious police sting, gives them extra credibility. For instance:

Former Daily Mirror reporter Gary Jones was secretly recorded by British police telling private investigator Jonathan Rees—an accused (and acquitted) axe murderer at the heart of the hacking scandal who is accused of everything from voicemail snooping to conducting “burglaries of public figures to steal material for newspapers”—that “some of what he was doing for the Mirror was illegal.” Jones was employed by the Mirror as a reporter for the entirety of Morgan’s tenure there.

That seems worth exploring.

Meantime, it’s worth remembering noted investigative reporter Naomi Campbell’s—yes, that Naomi Campbell—grilling of Piers Morgan for GQ four years ago (she had sued Morgan’s Daily Mirror for reporting that she was in drug treatment):

CAMPBELL: What do you think of the News Of The World reporter who was recently found guilty of tapping the Royals’ phones? Did you ever allow that when you were there?

MORGAN: Well, I was there in 1994-5, before mobiles were used very much, and that particular trick wasn’t known about. I can’t get too excited about it, I must say. It was pretty well-known that if you didn’t change your pin code when you were a celebrity who bought a new phone, then reporters could ring your mobile, tap in a standard factory setting number and hear your messages. That is not, to me, as serious as planting a bug in someone’s house, which is what some people seem to think was going on.

CAMPBELL: It’s an invasion of privacy, though.

MORGAN: It is, yes. But loads of newspaper journalists were doing it. Clive Goodman, the NOTW reporter, has been made the scapegoat for a very widespread practice.

There’s little doubt that News of the World wasn’t the only one doing illegal things, which is one big reason why this is the media story that will keep on giving. As at News Corp., the big questions will be: What did top editors and executives know and when did they know it? Were illegal actions covered up? And if so, what involvement did the government and police have?

Let’s be clear, there’s certainly no reason to suspect that CNN itself did anything wrong, and the Daily Mirror accusations are just that so far. Morgan has denied that he had anything to do with hacking. But CNN made the decision to hire a former tabloid editor to replace Larry King, and it will have to live with whatever falls out.

Ad Week reported a week ago that CNN had yet to cover the Morgan angle, despite an MP’s allegations that his phone was hacked by the Daily Mirror while Morgan was editor. At least now the network has started to acknowledge that there’s an in-house angle.

Oh, one more snippet from Naomi Campbell’s interrogation of her one-time tormentor Piers Morgan:

CAMPBELL: How do you feel about snitches who sell private information to the papers. Do you pay them?

MORGAN: Yes, papers pay snitches. But they are disgusting little vermin.

CAMPBELL: Who help you sell papers …

MORGAN: Yes, so there is a rank hypocrisy there again. I agree. But just because papers buy the stories, it doesn’t mean the editors don’t think the people selling them aren’t horrible.

That’s your primetime anchor, CNN.

And hey: Naomi Campbell? Hugh Grant? They’re no Nick Davies, but they’ve made real contributions to the story. It sure is fun to see a couple of celebrities turn the tables on the hacks.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,