Story first appeared on WSJ.com.
CNN said it is standing by television host Piers Morgan amid growing media scrutiny over his past as a tabloid editor in Britain, where a widening scandal over reporting tactics has led to a re-examination of the tabloid-newspaper industry.
Mr. Morgan launched a 9 p.m. show in January on Time Warner Inc. cable network CNN, transforming himself from tabloid journalist and entertainment host into a more serious prime-time news figure, interviewing celebrities but also covering major news stories such as the U.S. debt crisis and, earlier this year, unrest in Egypt.
But a scandal over voice-mail interceptions at the News of the World, a tabloid recently shut down by News Corp., has put a spotlight on U.K. tabloid tactics. In the process, media attention has turned to Mr. Morgan's past in the tabloid trenches now that he is a TV celebrity and a familiar face from his gigs on "Britain's Got Talent," "America's Got Talent" and "The Celebrity Apprentice."
News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Morgan, who had a brief stint editing the now-defunct News of the World in the 1990s, spent most of his tabloid newspaper career editing the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. The tabloid's owner is conducting a review of editorial practices at all its newspaper titles. It has called allegations in the U.K. media of phone hacking at the Mirror totally unsubstantiated.
Last week, several news outlets resurfaced an audio recording of a BBC interview Mr. Morgan gave in 2009. In the interview, Mr. Morgan responded to a question by the BBC about dealing with people who rake through garbage bins and tap phones for tabloids. He said not a lot of that went on...A lot of it was done by third parties rather than the staff themselves. That's not to defend it, because obviously you were running the results of their work.
Mr. Morgan, 46 years old, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of or involvement in voice-mail interceptions in public statements and interviews, and he reiterated such denials after the BBC interview resurfaced.
A spokeswoman for CNN said Piers Morgan has been firm and specific in his denial, and we continue to be supportive of his program. The cable-news channel declined to comment further.
Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Morgan declined to comment beyond prior public statements, including his response to the resurfacing of the BBC interview.
Two people close to CNN say that there has been ongoing discussion about the situation internally at the network, and Mr. Morgan has repeatedly reassured executives that he never hacked a phone or did anything illegal.
Meanwhile, late last week, Conservative member of parliament Louise Mensch apologized to Mr. Morgan for misquoting his memoir and using it to wrongly accuse him of admitting to hacking phones. In a letter, she said she had misread an article in the Daily Telegraph on which she based her allegation.
CNN hired Mr. Morgan to succeed Larry King and he has since become a key part of the network's prime-time lineup. Before signing him, CNN executives carefully read his books and thoroughly questioned him about his journalistic habits and ethics, a person close to the network said. A lot of the questioning, this person said, surrounded not telephone-hacking practices but Mr. Morgan's firing from the Mirror in 2004, after he authorized the newspaper’s publication of photographs showing Iraqis being abused by British soldiers that the British army alleged was fakes.
Since CNN was hiring Mr. Morgan to host an interview show, rather than cover breaking news, the discussion focused on Mr. Morgan's methods for booking guests for the show. CNN wanted to ensure that Mr. Morgan would never pay for interviews, this person said, and were satisfied with his answers.
One person stated that he wasn't hired to be a news anchor or correspondent; he was being hired as a personality—that dictated the standards. They added that he came off as a guy who had been chastened by his past and as someone who had the intelligence to grow and learn from it.