Piers Morgan stands by his man

The CNN host comes out swinging for Murdoch

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published July 20, 2011 4:30PM (EDT)

You can call Piers Morgan a Fleet Street hack and a craven lickspittle, but you can't say the guy's not loyal. After remaining conspicuously silent on the Murdoch hacking scandal for weeks, the former News of the World editor has come out swinging in defense of his former employers.

As the world watched, riveted, on Tuesday as Rupert Murdoch, his son James, and Rebekah Brooks appeared before British Parliament to respond to the numerous allegations of widespread wrongdoing within the Murdoch machine, Morgan turned into a Twitter machine, gleefully observing that "News Corp stock price has risen throughout the hour. Not, I suspect, how the MPs hoped things might go from their interrogation" and explaining that "Rupert called me every week for 18ms on News of the World - rarely asked about anything but what stories we had that week" and "Strong finish by Rupert. Love him or hate him, does anyone genuinely think he's a crook or condoned crime? Because I don't."

Given his history within the Murdoch machine and his well-documented adversarial relationship with the cult of celebrity, it's no wonder the cantankerous Morgan might be feeling a tad defensive lately. He was for years, first at NOTW and then the Daily Mirror, part of an aggressive, eminently British tabloid culture that is now under scrutiny. In Parliament on Tuesday, M.P. Louise Mensch suggested that Morgan had "boasted" of phone hacking in his 2005 memoir "The Insider," a claim Morgan vehemently denied.

"Still trying to smear me @LouiseMensch?" he tweeted. "Try repeating your lies about me outside of parliamentary privilege and see how you get on." And in a fiery exchange on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room" Tuesday night, he directly called her accusation "an absolute blatant lie -- a deliberate and outrageous attempt to smear my name" and chided her "breathtaking gall."

Morgan does indeed briefly mention phone hacking in his memoir -- but in regard to his own fears of being victimized. "Someone suggested today that someone might be listening to my mobile phone messages," he writes, regarding "a little trick" of simple hacking that other journalists have since noted and reported on. There may be irony in a NOTW editor fretting over something we now know its own staff at times engaged in, but it's far from an implication of his own guilt.

Morgan, who has had an unusual trajectory from tabloid journalism to "America's Got Talent" judge and CNN interviewer, is a long way from his days of news sniffing in London. But his steadfast devotion to Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks, whom he calls "a great, and loyal friend," is simultaneously admirable and more than a little gross. It's yet to be determined how deeply involved Murdoch and Brooks were in acts of deplorable invasions of privacy and obstruction of criminal justice. He's absolutely right to combat destructive misstatements about his own memoir. And he's understandably fond of the people who helped him along the way of his career. But his steadfast refusal to acknowledge the toxic environment of shamelessly negative, destructive journalism that they fully cultivated is woefully misguided. When it comes to assessing character, you'd think a man who critiques talent for a living would have more discerning judgment.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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