CNN's Piers Morgan Fiercely Contends Accusations of Phone Hacking, Tells Female Member of Parliament to 'Show Some Balls'

CNN's Piers Morgan tried to clear the air Monday by explaining his time as editor of the scandal-ridden British tabloid paper News of the World, and denied any illegal activity in gathering stories. The story exploded on Tuesday, however, as Parliamentary member Louise Mensch mentioned Morgan on-air during the Murdoch hearings as an example of an editor who had used the illegal practice of phone hacking to gather a story.

When Mensch appeared on CNN's The Situation Room later that day and addressed her previous remarks, Morgan called in and defended his credibility against her "blatant lie," telling her to "show some balls" and repeat her accusation, and then reveal the spot in his book "The Insider" where he supposedly made the claim.

Mensch explained that, due to Parliamentary privilege, she could not repeat what she had said during the committee room hearing. Morgan would have none of it, saying he was "amused by her cowardice."

"At no stage in my book or indeed outside of my book have I ever boasted of using phone hacking for any stories," Morgan insisted. He later added that "what she did today was a deliberate, in my view, and outrageous attempt to smear my name, CNN's name, The Daily Mirror's name."

Morgan also expounded on life as an editor at a British tabloid, giving his own opinion on just how much insight Murdoch would have had into what was going on at his papers.  

"And people may be bemused by what he said and not believe him, but when he [Murdoch] says that he didn't have much day-to-day contact with these papers, that's true," Morgan held. "And I think when you run a company of 50,000 people, it is a bit ridiculous to expect Rupert Murdoch to be all over the micro-detail of how each individual part of his company gets run."

"I spoke to the editor of the News of the World maybe once a week, maybe once every two weeks. He never asked me about methodology of stories, he didn't have time. He would just say what's going on, and you would tell him what stories you had and he would be, I'm sure, in a position where he thought, I have editors, I have managers, I have lawyers, I have accountants, they do all the box ticking here. My job is just to get an overview of what's going on."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on July 19 at 5:31 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

(Video Clip)

LOUISE MENSCH, British Parliament member: Piers Morgan, who is now a celebrity anchor at CNN, you do not appear to have asked him any questions at all about phone hacking. As a former editor at The Daily Mirror, he said in his book, "The Insider," recently, and I quote, that "that little trick of entering a standard four-digit code allow anyone to call a number and hear all your messages."

In that book, he boasted that using that little trick enabled him to win the scoop of the year on a story about Sven-Goran Ericksson. So that was a former editor of The Daily Mirror being very open about his personal use of phone hacking.

(End Video Clip)

(...)

BLITZER: All right, what evidence do you have to make that kind of accusation against Piers Morgan?

MENSCH: Well, I'm – well, I said what I said in the committee, Wolf, and I'm afraid right now I'm going to say that I can't comment about it outside of the committee room because, as Mr. Morgan will know, inside Parliament, when I speak at a select committee of Parliament, I am protected by absolute Parliamentary privilege.

To repeat something outside of Parliament doesn't give me that cloak of privilege, and Mr. Morgan is a very rich man. So I am sure that the ferocious investigative journalists at CNN and across the news media in the United States will take careful note of what was said in the committee and look into it. That's the best, I'm afraid, I'm going to be able to do on legal grounds.

(...)

PIERS MORGAN, host, CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight: Well, I'm amused by her cowardice in refusing to repeat that allegation now she is not in Parliament and covered by privilege. As she may be already aware, she came out with an absolute blatant lie during those proceedings. At no stage in my book or indeed outside of my book have I ever boasted of using phone hacking for any stories.

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. And what she did today was a deliberate, in my view, and outrageous attempt to smear my name, CNN's name, The Daily Mirror's name. And I think her now to have the breathtaking gall to just sit here calmly and say, I can't possibly repeat that cause I haven't got privilege, is an outrage.

And I call on you Mrs. Mensch now to repeat it, show some balls, repeat what you said about me and then maybe go and buy a copy of my book, "The Insider," and see where in that book these claims that you made today in a televised committee watched all over the world, where that claim is in that book, because it isn't there.

BLITZER: All right, Mrs. Mensch, do you want to respond to that?

MENSCH: They – as I've just said, I made the claims in the select committee and people will look at them.

(End Video Clip)

BLITZER: All right, let's continue our conversation with Piers Morgan, he's joining us live right now. She clearly, Piers, did not want to say in public what she said behind closed -- behind open doors, indeed the whole world was watching, in Parliament, but she has parliamentary immunity so she's not going to get into a fight with you on that. Is there anything else you want to say before I move on to some of the substance of what was done today?

MORGAN: Well, only that – I mean, she made some very specific claims and, in fact, later on she repeated them even down to me apparently to me giving tutorials in phone hacking, how I'd hacked people myself, how my staff have broken stories of hacking , and she has absolutely no evidence for any of this. And she based it on what she claimed I had published in my own volume of diaries. Well, you've seen the entries now, Wolf, and I've read the entries to her earlier. There is no such thing. The only entry in my book referring to phone hacking was when somebody warned me that my phone might be being hacked and advised me to change my pin number.

So I was pretty outraged, actually. I think when somebody makes such a claim against your own integrity and does it based on a complete falsehood and then hides behind parliamentary privilege – I think your viewers will find rather mysterious entity where a politician in Britain can say anything they like and you can't sue them, not that I would anyway, but you can't sue them -- I think it's pretty rich when she now knows – or must know having seen the book, presumably, that none of these things she's said that I wrote actually exist in the book.

(...)

BLITZER: How much pressure were you under when you edited these newspapers in London to get the scoop, to get the big story, and to do whatever it took to get that story?

MORGAN: Huge pressure, and I detail that in my book as well. You know, when you're an editor of a British tabloid newspaper, you're in a commercial war and you're encouraged to be aggressive, to be forceful, to pursue stories with the full might of your reporting army. But most news organizations are the same. Rupert Murdoch's happened to have been more successful than most over the years. The key thing for me was listening to Murdoch today – a lot of what he said resonated. And people may be bemused by what he said and not believe him, but when he says that he didn't have much day-to-day contact with these papers, that's true.

I spoke to the editor of the News of the World maybe once a week, maybe once every two weeks. He never asked me about methodology of stories, he didn't have time. He would just say what's going on, and you would tell him what stories you had and he would be, I'm sure, in a position where he thought, I have editors, I have managers, I have lawyers, I have accountants, they do all the box ticking here. My job is just to get an overview of what's going on.

And I think when you run a company of 50,000 people, it is a bit ridiculous to expect Rupert Murdoch to be all over the micro-detail of how each individual part of his company gets run. As he said, you know, he may have been let down by other people that he charged to look after this detail and big mistakes were made. And when it came to the phone hacking of the young missing girl and so on, utter outrages, and everybody shares that view.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014