Wednesday 23 May 2018

Scandal forces Morgan to reflect on life in the Mirror

Despite success in the US, the former tabloid editor may soon have to return to Blighty, says Donal Lynch

When Piers Morgan ascended to Larry King's vacant throne at the beginning of this year a howl of jealous revulsion went up across the Englishman's homeland.

"A show-off, a hypocrite, arrogant and pompous," were some of the kinder things the former 'Mirror' editor has been called by his former Fleet Street rivals over the years.

It galled them that he was so successful -- everything he touched turned to gold -- well connected and vainglorious. It didn't seem possible to them that Americans could have been tone deaf enough to allow this major irritant to have his own television show. But they valiantly tried to look on the bright side: at least he wasn't in England any more.

And so the delightful irony that Morgan's return to the UK is suddenly something of a national imperative has not been wasted on the ex-hack -- he bitterly tweeted about it being "heart-warming" that he was so "missed" back home. Of course, as anyone who glanced at the news this week will know, his countrymen aren't so much pining for the tabloid boy wonder as yearning for a pound of his flesh.

John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons culture, media and sport committee, said it was right that the former Daily Mirror editor should return from the US to answer questions about his alleged involvement in the hacking of phones of various celebrities while another Tory MP, Theresa Coffey, said Morgan needed to shed "more light" on the investigations.

Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, chimed in, saying Morgan had questions to answer. She pointed to a column he wrote five years ago in which he wrote that he had once been played a message left on a mobile phone belonging to Heather Mills. In a Daily Mail column from 2006, Morgan wrote that he had heard the message, which was left by Paul McCartney on Mills's phone after the couple had an argument. He said the former Beatle sounded "lonely, miserable and desperate".

The ex-Mrs Paul McCartney told the BBC's Newsnight programme that a senior journalist (not Morgan) on a paper owned by Trinity Mirror, the Daily Mirror's parent company, had admitted to her in 2001 that he had hacked into a message left for her by McCartney. Macca himself followed up on this by saying that he intended to go to the police about the matter. He didn't specify which paper he thought had hacked him but said: "I do think it's a horrendous violation of privacy. I do think it has been going on for a long time and I do think more people than we know knew about it."

Morgan has vehemently denied all knowledge of hacking on his watch at the Mirror but in a 2007 interview he described the practice of phone hacking as something that was going on at "almost every" newspaper in Britain. One of his former underlings has said this extended to the Mirror. James Hipwell, a former journalist at the paper, now says that phone hacking was "endemic" at the paper.

"Piers was extremely hands-on as an editor," Mr Hipwell added in an interview with The Independent in the UK. "I can't say 100 per cent that he knew about it. But it was inconceivable he didn't."

It probably didn't help Morgan that almost as soon as the hacking scandal broke he voiced his support for both his former boss Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, who worked under him at The Sun.

Morgan's name becoming connected with the scandal has put his bosses at CNN in an awkward position.

The network is the closest thing the hysterical American news media cycle has to a station of record, yet it has notably steered clear of discussing Morgan's alleged complicity in phone hacking.

Along with Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer, Morgan is their most high-profile personality. They have staked a lot on the man who was Britain's youngest ever national newspaper editor (he took over The Sun at just 28); to see him hauled back to Blighty to be tarred and feathered would be ignominy indeed.

But anyone drafting Morgan's career obituary would be wise to note that he has always sloughed off scandal like dead skin. If he seems combative and blithe about all of this he may have read the popular mood. There's a sense with the hacking scandal that it may hold a good deal more fascination for the press themselves than it does for the public who are possibly not too bothered that publicity hounds like Ulrika Jonsson had their privacy invaded.

Morgan is despised by his fellow hacks but the public seem to love him -- the ratings for his show continue to rise.

His bio line on Twitter reads "one day you're cock of the walk, the next you're a feather duster".

For the moment at least Britain's most irritating man can still swagger.

Sunday Independent

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