- - 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.

A video of the concert on Mr. Archuleta’s website shows him crying as he tells the crowd about his plans.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed Mr. Archuleta’s mission on Tuesday, but declined to say where the singer will serve. More than 52,000 church members are serving full-time missions worldwide. Most are men ages 19 to 21.

‘Teen Mom’ star jailed over probation violation

A star of the MTV reality show “Teen Mom” has been ordered to jail in Central Indiana for violating her probation on felony domestic battery charges, according to the Associated Press.

Court records show that probation revocation was sought for Amber Portwood of Anderson after she was accused of battery and public intoxication in connection with a fight in November. She also is accused of not obtaining her GED diploma or completing anger management classes as required.

Madison Circuit Court Judge David Happe told the Herald Bulletin that Ms. Portwood was arrested Monday. The judge ordered her jailed until a Jan. 13 hearing.

Police investigated Ms. Portwood, who was 20 at the time, after a 2010 episode showed her hitting the then-24-year-old father of her daughter with the child present.

Hot dog eatery made famous in ‘M*A*S*H’ to be sold

A hot dog eatery made famous on the TV series “M*A*S*H” is getting a new owner, but the role of its founding family is still unsettled.

A judge on Monday approved a $5.5 million deal transferring ownership of Tony Packo’s Inc. to a private restaurant group. The move was made just days after the founder’s grandson was charged with stealing from the family business.

Tony Packo III, who is executive vice president of the company, had been in line to oversee the daily operations with the new owner. A lawyer representing the ownership group, TP Foods LLC, said last week that that hasn’t changed.

Mr. Packo and another company employee have been accused of stealing about $170,000, and each would face up to three years in prison if convicted. His attorney hasn’t commented on the charges, but questioned why prosecutors filed them in what he called a business dispute.

Robin Horvath, who owned half the company, sued Mr. Packo and his father, Tony Packo Jr., in July. He accused them of blocking him from looking at company financial records after he began questioning them about company spending.

Mr. Horvath also opposed the sale of Packo’s to a restaurant group that owns 26 Burger King restaurants in the Toledo area.

Actor Jamie Farr, a Toledo native, put Packo’s on the map in “M*A*S*H” when he portrayed a homesick U.S. soldier in the Korean War who longed for its hot dogs.

“If you’re ever in Toledo, Ohio, on the Hungarian side of town, Tony Packo’s got the greatest Hungarian hot dogs,” Mr. Farr’s character, Cpl. Max Klinger, said on an episode in 1976.

Compiled from Web and wire service reports.

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