Lispy CNN host Piers Morgan's increasingly desperate claims to have had no knowledge of phone hacking during his time as editor of the Daily Mirror just got a little harder to believe: The Telegraph and Daily Beast have published audio of Morgan admitting to a BBC Radio interviewer in 2009 that he played all kinds of dirty tricks.
In the interview with BBC Radio 4's "Desert Island Discs," Morgan was asked about the "down-in-the-gutter stuff" that tabloid reporters get into, including specifically "tap[ping] people's phones." Rather than deny any phone hijinks, Morgan candidly acknowledged hiring private investigators for unsavory purposes:
Q: [P]eople who tap people's phones, people who take secret photographs, who do all that very nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff-how did you feel about that?"
A: Well, to be honest, let's put that into 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. 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 pretense 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 the low end of the supposed newspaper market.
The exchange falls far short of the bald confession it was said to be when the interview's existence was first reported yesterday. (It's available online at the BBC web site, but British blogger Paul Staines, who writes under the name Guido Fawkes, first dug it up yesterday. He suggested to Forbes' Jeff Bercovici that it was incriminating and then, rather than post it or link to it on his own blog, provided it to the Daily Beast.) Nor is it exactly news: the Mirror was found by a 2006 parliamentary inquiry to have paid private eyes to violate British privacy laws at least 681 times. But it reveals as a lie Morgan's coy claim that he was largely unfamiliar with voicemail hacking when he was at the paper.
Staines has also dug up another instance of Morgan showing familiarity with phone hacking—and openly acknowledging publishing a story based on its fruits—in Morgan's 2009 memoir God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Brit. In that book, Morgan openly refers to the Mirror's 2002 scoop about TV hostess Ulrika Jonsson's affair with soccer coach Sven Goran Eriksson as being based on phone hacking:
It was the Daily Mirror, under my editorship, which exposed Sven's fling with Ulrika Jonsson after learning of a similar message left by the then England manager on her phone.
Staines first broke open the floodgate of allegations against Morgan two weeks ago by claiming that the Jonsson story was based on voicemail hacking and that Morgan knew it was. So this latest tidbit would tend to vindicate him completely.
But there is one complicating factor: According to contemporaneous accounts of that story in rival papers, the Mirror basically stole it from the News of the World—then edited by Rebekah Wade—which had obtained the incriminating voicemails. The Guardian says the scoop was an "apparent spoiling operation." And Private Eye says the Mirror was either tipped off to the story by a disgruntled NOTW reporter or Jonsson's publicist, who may have been seeking a more favorable venue for the affair's outing. In other words, it's entirely possible that Morgan "learned of a...message" left by Erikkson for Jonsson because the NOTW had obtained it and someone leaked it to him. While that would technically contradict Morgan's claim that he never published a story based on phone hacking, it's a bit different from actually commissioning a hack himself.
That's not to say Piers Morgan didn't hack phones, or at least countenance such hacking. He obviously did. It's only a matter of time until the other shoe drops.