March 2, 2021

Calls for CNN Host to Testify in Hacking Scandal

The calls came amid fresh signs that separate parliamentary and police inquiries into investigative practices in British newsrooms are on a course to expand beyond The News of the World tabloid, now defunct, and the executive chain in Rupert Murdoch’s stable of British newspapers to rival publications. The inquiries seem sure to encompass two papers owned by the Trinity Mirror group, The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror, the toughest competitors for the Murdoch-owned tabloids here.

Mr. Morgan, 46, who in January took over the CNN talk show slot previously held by Larry King, has issued a series of denials in recent weeks that he had any knowledge of phone hacking at The Mirror when he was the editor from 1995 to 2004. He was forced to resign in an uproar over faked photographs that the paper published with an article about accusations that British troops beat Iraqi detainees after the 2003 invasion, but he rebuilt his career on television, making his American debut on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” in 2006.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Morgan was thrust back into the furor that has already forced the closing of The News of the World and the arrest of 11 people linked to accusations of wrongdoing at the paper. The BBC program “Newsnight” reported that a voice mail message left in 2001 by Paul McCartney, the former Beatle, on the cellphone of Heather Mills, then his girlfriend and later his wife, had been intercepted. The BBC report quoted from an article by Mr. Morgan in The Daily Mail in 2006, in which he said he had listened to a tape of “a message Paul had left for Heather on her mobile phone” and had found it “heartbreaking.”

In the article, written as a commentary on the bitter divorce proceedings then under way between Mr. McCartney and Ms. Mills, Mr. Morgan said that he felt “a mounting sense of guilt” for having introduced the couple at an awards ceremony in 1999 hosted by The Mirror. He said the recording of the message had been played to him at a time when the McCartney-Mills marriage was “in trouble.”

“The couple had clearly had a tiff,” he wrote. “Heather had fled to India, and Paul was pleading with her to come back. He sounded lonely, miserable and desperate, and even sang ‘We Can Work It Out’ into the answerphone.”

Ms. Mills said in a BBC interview broadcast Wednesday that a Trinity Mirror group executive — someone she did not name, though she said it was not Mr. Morgan — had called her at the time and quoted from the message. “He said, ‘I hear you’ve had a big argument with your boyfriend,’ and I said, ‘Why would you know this?’ ” she said. “And he started quoting verbatim from the messages from my machine.”

“I said, ‘You’ve obviously hacked my phone, and if you do anything with this story, I’ll go to the police,’ ” she said. “And he said, ‘O.K., O.K., yeah, we did hear it on your voice messages. I won’t run it.’ ”

No reference to the voice message appeared in The Mirror’s coverage, and the issue lay dormant until police investigations into the phone hacking practices gained momentum in recent months, when Ms. Mills joined a group of celebrities in Britain who said publicly that they believed that their cellphones had been hacked. In the BBC interview, she said that Mr. Morgan, as The Mirror’s editor at the time, must have known about the hacking. “There was absolutely no honest way that Piers Morgan could have obtained that tape that he has so proudly bragged about unless they had gone into my voice messages,” she said.

A statement issued on Mr. Morgan’s behalf by CNN on Wednesday did not mention his reference in The Daily Mail article to having heard Mr. McCartney’s message for Ms. Mills. But the statement attacked Ms. Mills’s credibility, citing a judge’s assessment of her evidence in her divorce from Mr. McCartney as “inconsistent and inaccurate but also less than candid.”

The statement added, “No doubt everyone will take this and other instances of somewhat extravagant claims by Ms. Mills into account in assessing what credibility and platform her assertions are given.”

“And to repeat,” it said, “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.”

Brian Stelter and Bill Carter contributed reporting from New York.

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