The Piers Morgan Show

Our UK Political Editor, Harry Cole, reports from the Royal Courts of Justice on the appearance by Piers Morgan at the Leveson Inquiry into Press Ethics

Welcome to the Piers Morgan show
Harry Cole
On 21 December 2011 12:05

A summons from Lord Leveson would have sent a lesser man into a tailspin of panic. Not so Piers Morgan, the disgraced British tabloid editor, who bounced back as CNN's replacement for Larry King.

He was his usual arrogant and charming self in Court 73 of the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday. Never one to avoid an opportunity for self-promotion, he had his own books scattered around his table, fully utilising his first taste of a huge global audience.

For a man who has reached the dubiously dizzy heights of US prime-time network host with dismal ratings, yesterday's appearance, via video link from Los Angeles, was an unwanted headache.

Apparently, Morgan wouldn’t appear in person because he was desperate not to miss an appearance on CNN, though you must wonder if his handful of viewers would really have noticed he was gone. In reality his no-show in the court room was nothing more than a cheap bit of PR, trying to play down the seriousness of being hauled before a judge to explain his past actions.

It backfired though. Morgan looked like he was being interviewed from a cell. With that strange light above his head you half expected to hear the America’s Got Talent rejection buzzer go off at any second. There were more than enough clangers dropped by the former Editor of the Daily Mirror to warrant such a reaction.

Morgan was run out of Fleet Street in 2003 after he published photographs of British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners. They turned out to be fake. Before that he'd had a glittering career, rising through the ranks of Murdoch's Sun, before becoming editor at the age of just 28 of the now defunct News of the World. Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, the baddies of that paper’s downfall, cut their editorial teeth under Morgan. There are very few others associated more closely with this dark-era of British news than these three friends. As the world saw in court yesterday, this newsroom godfather certainly has a lot to answer for.

Morgan was dragged into the phone-hacking scandal in the summer because, as with so many of his career bumps, he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut. His memoirs, articles, and interviews since departing these shores are littered with references to the method, ethics and use of phone-hacking.

These were trawled and reprinted around the world, resulting in Morgan being hauled before the good judge.

“I recall”, “I believe”, “I don’t remember”, “perhaps”, “it's possible”, “to the best of my knowledge” dominated Morgan’s responses - we were a long way from a full and frank admission today, and Lord Leveson snapped on multiple occasions.

Seasoned watchers of the Inquiry will note that Leveson is a man of few words and even fewer facial expressions, but we were treated to the full range during the more nail-biting part of Morgan's interrogation.There were various sticky points for Mr Morgan. Firstly was his absurd decision, perhaps his only option, to use the argument favoured by the Murdochs and the News of the World and clung to until the bitter end -- that they can't remember, that they were not accountable for the actions and the practices of their journalists, and that they did not ask who the sources were for stories. Beside a few blinks at key moments, Morgan stuck to his guns.

It was not just phone-hacking that Morgan was clearly blind to either. He was asked about data from “Operation Motorman”, a British investigation into newspapers’ use of private detectives and illegal intrusion. The Mirror Group Newspaper paid private investigators some £442,878.73 to illegally procure personal data like tax records, medical and phone records. Sixty-five invoices for criminal transactions can be traced back directly to the Mirror during Morgan’s time as editor. He blamed the news desks for this, but it wasn’t just Lord Leveson that was left scratching his head over why nobody asked where all the money was going and how such a clueless Morgan could have been such a successful editor.

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