- - Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Piers Morgan tight-lipped on phone hacking details

CNN celebrity interviewer Piers Morgan refused to disclose details Tuesday about his most damning link to Britain’s phone hacking scandal - his acknowledgment that he once listened to a phone message left by Paul McCartney for his wife at the time, Heather Mills.

In an eagerly awaited appearance before the United Kingdom’s media ethics committee, Mr. Morgan, who replaced Larry King on CNN, was visibly tense and sometimes hostile. He often rejected characterizations of his actions made by inquiry attorneys as “nonsense,” the Associated Press reports.

The stakes were high for Mr. Morgan. More than a dozen journalists have been arrested, senior executives with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire have lost their jobs, and top U.K. police officers have resigned over their failure to tackle the phone hacking scandal. His testimony Tuesday was given under oath, and Mr. Morgan could be subject to criminal proceedings if he is found to have violated any British laws.

Before his U.S. television career, Mr. Morgan ran two British tabloids - first Mr. Murdoch’s News of the World and then the Daily Mirror, owned by Murdoch competitor Trinity Mirror.

A key line of questioning centered on comments Mr. Morgan made in a 2006 article in the Daily Mail tabloid. In it, Mr. Morgan said he was played a phone message left by the former Beatle on Ms. Mills‘ answering machine, describing it in detail and noting that Mr. McCartney “even sang ‘We Can Work It Out’ into the answerphone.”

Ms. Mills, who went on to divorce Mr. McCartney in one of most expensive separations in British history, has said there was no way Mr. Morgan could have obtained the message honestly.

Mr. Morgan on Tuesday stubbornly refused to answer almost any questions about how he came to hear the message, saying: “I’m not going to start any trail that leads to the identification of a source.”

But when asked by inquiry chief Lord Justice Brian Leveson whether he could supply any information to back the assertion that he had heard the recording legally, the 46-year-old journalist said he couldn’t.

Mr. Morgan earlier said he “doesn’t believe” he had ever listened to hacked voice-mail messages and dismissed interviews in which he had discussed phone hacking at length as having been based on rumor and hearsay.

Mr. Morgan was giving evidence to Britain’s media ethics inquiry by video link Tuesday from the United States - one of dozens of phone-hacking victims, journalists and tabloid executives to face the inquiry, set up in the wake of the uproar over phone hacking and other unethical news-gathering methods at the News of the World.

Witnesses at the inquiry have exposed the seamy side of British journalism, with reporters accused of cooking up stories, blackmailing subjects, hacking phones and paying bribes to police officers to secure tips.

‘Idol’ runner-up to embark on 2-year religious mission

“American Idol” runner-up David Archuleta said he will take a break from his singing career to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Associated Press reports.

The contestant from the 2007-08 season made the announcement during a Christmas concert Monday in downtown Salt Lake City. The Deseret News reported that the 20-year-old Utah resident said he is not quitting music, but feels a strong call to serve the church.

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