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As tabloid phone hacking scandal explodes in Britain, CNN's Piers Morgan finally emerges



piers-morgan-tonight1.jpgFor those of us TV nerds who have been watching the exploding scandal over phone hacking obliterate one of the most-read tabloid newspapers on the planet, one question remains niggling just beneath the surface:

Where the heck is CNN's Piers Morgan?

As a former editor of two British tabloid newspapers -- one of the qualifications he used to push back against critics who wondered why he was worthy of taking Larry King's 9 p.m. slot in the first place -- Morgan seems uniquely positioned to lead coverage of this scandal.

When Prince William and Kate Middleton wed earlier this year, Morgan was front and center, touting his friendship with the royals and leading CNN's coverage of the nuptials that day.

But on this scandal, one of the biggest meltdowns to hit British press and media in modern memory, he was strangely AWOL. Until this week.

First, on Monday night, Morgan finally talked about the scandal, asserting that his former boss Rupert Murdoch wouldn't have condoned unearthing stories using illegal means.

Then it all exploded Tuesday. That was when a conservative member of Parliament, Louise Mensch, claimed during questioning of News International owner Rupert Murdoch, that the CNN host had boasted of using hacking technology to get stories in one of his books.

Morgan appeared on colleague Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room show by phone -- by phone? Really? Was he in Siberia? -- to insist that the politician got her facts wrong. Judging by the quote Morgan eventually presented on his own show later that night, the host of CNN's 9 p.m. anchor show had instead described how he might be the victim of phone hacking while noting unsuspecting celebrities could also become victims.

Morgan also once again used the occasion to directly deny ever using phone hacking to obtain a story or ordering anyone else to hack phones. But this denial came a week into the story, after a newspaper he edited for a year in 1994 was closed by Murdoch, amid reports that crime victims may have had their phones hacked and up to 4,000 devices may have been illegally accessed.

piersphonehacking.jpgMorgan worked in Britain's tabloid newspaper industry for more than 10 years, starting first as editor of News of the World and later taking over the Daily Mirror. His experiences in British press would be invaluable in covering this scandal -- but he has been barely visible, doing little to aid CNN, despite his enormous experience in the industry.

Perhaps he's worried about being sucked into the scandal and forced to talk about his own past in the country's bruising tabloid industry. But if Morgan wasn't involved in hacking, then he should have disclosed that fact right away and either recused himself publicly from talking about it, or jumped into CNN's coverage like any staff expert. He has also said on his show he believes Murdoch didn't know about the hacking.

But if two guys from your newsroom go to jail for phone hacking in 2006 and it keeps going on, doesn't that either make you the world's worst manager or an owner looking the other way?

During Blitzer's interview, Mensch came off as a shifty, obsequious apparatchik, anyway, refusing to repeat her accusations against Morgan outside Parliament for fear of speaking "outside the cloak to privilege." She never produced a specific passage in Morgan's book to prove her accusations and helped turn CNN's coverage of Murdoch's testimony into a sideshow of controversies about anything but the question at hand:

What did Rupert Murdoch, son James and right hand Rebekah Brooks (above, shown palling with Morgan) know, and when did they know it?

Even late Tuesday night, the lead story on Morgan's CNN homepage was his interview with comic Tom Arnold, which took up much of the show that night, after the program began with a discussion of Murdoch.

CNN should have been cutting through the nonsense to talk about what Murdoch actually said. Instead, it let one of its own hosts use their coverage to cover his own behind, focusing on saving his own reputation to the detriment of the report.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 20, 2011 12:49pm]


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