Morgan, Mensch, The Daily Mirror and Me - Proof We Don’t Need More Press Laws
Prolific blogger Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes tells all about his involvement with the Leveson Inquiry, Operation Motorman and Piers Morgan
The popular revulsion at the Millie Dowler hacking revelations in July 2011 led David Cameron to announce that he was setting up the Leveson Inquiry with a remit to look into the specific claims about phone hacking at the News of the World, with a terms of reference that explicitly focused on “the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International”.
Singling out Murdoch’s newspapers seemed to me at the time to be a self-harming mistake by the PM, the unexpected climax of a successful partisan campaign by the Guardian and Tom Watson to destroy Andy Coulson and screw the Tories politically.
Why else had those foes of tabloid wrong-doing largely ignored the rest of the tabloids’ equally bad misbehaviour, when it was clear to all who know the red tops that they were equally as guilty of information blagging and phone hacking.
Talking to Downing Street advisers and Cabinet Ministers at the time it was clear that they felt this was - Millie Dowler hacking aside - of concern only to the broadsheet reading chattering classes, they were confident that it would get no cut through to the voters.
That seemed complacent, once Andy Coulson is on trial and the BBC are running footage night after night on the news of the PM and his Director of Communications together it would get cut through. They needed to pull the Labour backing tabloids like the Daily Mirror into the mud as well, with a Labour-leaning media villain to counter-balance Andy Coulson.
In my judgement there was an obvious candidate - Piers Morgan. Now more famous as a reality TV show judge and CNN celebrity interviewer, he was up to his neck in the whole tabloid culture from his decade editing the Daily Mirror. Best of all he was a well known Labour supporter, with plenty of footage of him with Labour’s last PM, Morgan having just before the election done a soft-focus, tear-jerking ITV interview with Gordon Brown designed, in his own words, to show his "human side".
I spoke to ex-Mirror journalists and put together the background to the infamous Sven and Ulrika affair story which won the Daily Mirror “Scoop of the Year” in 2003 at the British Press Awards. Running the revelations on the Guido Fawkes blog with “Piers Knew” in a big red tabloid style headline.
To give the story some oomph I briefed Louise Mensch by phone to bring up the issue at the Culture and Media Select Committee on the same day Murdoch testified. Her garbled accusation that Piers had personally hacked phones set off a media firestorm. Morgan angrily denied the accusation calling Mensch and myself liars and druggies on Twitter.
Piers Morgan with some chutzpah told CNN: “For the record, in my time at The Mirror and the News of the World, I have never hacked a phone, told anybody to hack a phone or published any story based on the hacking of a phone.” That evening Wolf Blitzer shredded Mensch on CNN’s “Situation Room” in the spot usually reserved for the cross-examination of the likes of Colin Powell.
The plan to turn Piers Morgan into Labour’s equivalent of Andy Coulson in the public’s perception was not going so well. Fortunately Morgan’s published diaries provided plenty of material to build a stronger case against him - unbelievably it turned out he had admitted in his diary that the Sven and Ulrika story was based on voicemails.
An old interview on Desert Island Discs resurfaced to remove any pretence to ignorance of hacking and another in GQ from 5 months earlier where he explained how to hack a phone contradicted his comprehensive denial after Louise Mensch made her allegation.
Close study of files leaked from the police-led Operation Motorman investigation revealed tens of thousands of pounds had been paid by the Mirror during Morgan’s editorship to private investigators to obtain information that could not be obtained by legal means.
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