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Lloyd Grove, thedailybeast.com / Jul 26, 2011 11:45 PM EDT.
Embattled CNN host Piers Morgan—whose years as editor of News of the World and the Daily Mirror are coming under increasing scrutiny amid Britain’s phone-hacking and police-bribery scandal—has spent much of the past week denying any involvement in questionable journalistic tactics and lashing out at his critics.
But in a nearly forgotten interview on a BBC radio program two years ago, Morgan admitted to knowing of some of the news- and gossip-gathering practices that are now under investigation by the U.K. government as well as by a Justice Department probe in the United States. He did not specifically admit to the interception or “hacking” of voicemail messages, one of the practices under official investigation since the revelation that News of the World hacked the cellphone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2002.
But two years before the exposure of Fleet Street’s methods rocked the British body politic, Morgan didn’t disagree that that phone-“tapping” and other “down-in-the-gutter” tactics might have been employed in the attainment of sensational scoops.
In the June 7, 2009, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 of “Desert Island Discs”—in which guests select musical works, books, and luxury items for an imaginary marooning on a remote island—interviewer Kirsty Young pressed the former Fleet Street editor about tabloid tactics that were being widely condemned at the time in Parliament and elsewhere.
“And what about this nice middle-class boy who would have to be dealing with, I mean, essentially people who rake through people’s bins for a living?” Young asked Morgan. “People 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?”
Morgan’s response: “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.” But, in an admission Morgan more recently has steered clear of, he added: “That’s not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.”