Note: this story has been updated to include Piers Morgan's statement about the recording.
In a recently unearthed 2009 interview, CNN host Piers Morgan appears to acknowledge to a BBC radio host that he ran stories based on phone hacking while he was a tabloid editor in Britain.
Morgan edited Rupert Murdoch's News of the World from 1994-1995, before jumping to Murdoch's main tabloid rival, the Daily Mirror, in 1995. He edited the Mirror until 2004, when he was forced out over a faked photo scandal involving the British military.
Morgan's appearance on the venerable BBC radio program "Desert Island Discs" was dusted off by the Daily Telegraph, which uploaded a portion of it to the Internet. The Daily Beast later ran a version of the same audio. In the Telegraph's clip, host Kirsty Young asks Morgan how it felt to "dealing with, I mean essentially people who rake through bins for a living, people who tap people's phones, people who take secret photographs, who do all that nasty down-in-the-gutter stuff."
"Not a lot of that went on," Morgan replies. "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."
A case could be made that, in his response to Young, Morgan was broadly referring to some of the sleazier practices of the tabloid press, rather than specifically acknowledging that he was complicit in phone hacking. Indeed, that is exactly the case Morgan himself made to the Daily Beast in a statement on Tuesday night:
“There is no contradiction between my comments on Kirsty Young’s Desert Island Discs show and my unequivocal statements with regard to phone-hacking. Millions of people heard these comments when I first made them in 2009 on one of the BBC’s longest-running radio shows, and none deduced that I was admitting to, or condoning illegal reporting activity. Kirsty asked me a fairly lengthy question about how I felt dealing with people operating at the sharp end of investigative journalism. My answer was not specific to any of the numerous examples she gave, but a general observation about tabloid newspaper reporters and private investigators. As I have said before, I have never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone, nor to my knowledge published any story obtained from the hacking of a phone.”
However, the audio will only add to Morgan's recent headaches, which have all stemmed from the scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Before the explosion of the hacking scandal over the past month, his tabloid tenure had remained, if not wholly uncontroversial, at least not that much more controversial than any other tabloid editor's, and he has carved out an extremely successful second act for himself on television.
However, Morgan has found himself the target of repeated allegations that criminal hacking was practiced at the Daily Mirror with his full knowledge and complicity. Morgan has categorically denied these claims, which have mostly come from two sources: James Hipwell, a former Mirror journalist who was later jailed for stock manipulation, and the British blogger Guido Fawkes. Hipwell caused a stir over the weekend when he told the Independent that hacking was "endemic" during Morgan's tenure at the Mirror, and that is was "inconceivable" that Morgan was unaware of this.
On Tuesday, Fawkes told Forbes that he has a recording of Morgan which contradicts his denials. It is not clear if the BBC recording is the same as the one Fawkes claims to possess.
If the charges prove to be true—a hard thing to nail down—then Morgan will have a serious problem on his hands. Ten people have already been arrested in connection with the Murdoch hacking scandal.