Former News of the World editor and current CNN talk show host Piers Morgan looked nervous during his appearance testifying about phone hacking before the Leveson Inquiry on Tuesday. From a live video feed in Los Angeles, Morgan sat behind a desk stacked high with books, loose papers and a 4-inch-thick binder full of documents for nearly two hours. The image of the former Fleet Street hack flanked with two bottles of water -- some even suspected it was sponsored by Evian -- is a memorable one, perhaps more memorable than what Morgan said during the grilling by members of the Leveson Inquiry. Because as his public image and future as a teevee personality hangs in the balance, Morgan seems mostly concerned with image.
The details of Morgan's actual testimony is both long and detailed. You can catch up by reading his two witness statements (No. 1, No. 2, both PDFs), but The Independent's headline says it all: "Piers Morgan 'unaware of phone hacking.'" The report leads with three key points:
Former tabloid newspaper editor Piers Morgan today told an inquiry into press standards that he was unaware of any phone hacking when in charge at the Daily Mirror.
And Mr Morgan said he had not been "directly involved" in the use of private investigators at the Daily Mirror.
Mr Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror and News of the World, told the Leveson Inquiry that "ethical considerations" had been "interwoven" into his work.
Morgan added that he believed British libel laws were "enormously onerous" (read: too strict) and that "people don't understand how stories get into newspapers."
If you were expecting something more revealing from Morgan, we're sorry to disappoint. But remember, we're dealing with a man that puts celebrities on the spot for a living. When he's on the spot himself, Morgan performs quite well. After joking, "This is the most riveting @piersmorgan show have seen in a while," New York Times media critic David Carr added, "from technical perspective, @piersmorgan is an excellent witness. careful and brief answers, does not speculate or elaborate." Besides looking a little nervous, the cherub-cheeked witness did indeed choose his words well. Though his tactfulness seemed to annoy his questioners, Morgan did not appear to say anything condemning.
Morgan's composure during the hearing matches his behavior since he was first implicated in the phone hacking scandal earlier this year. Enterprising investigative journalists managed to dig up a number of condemning-sounding statements that Morgan had made about the widespread practice of phone hacking, but when asked directly, his responses kept him removed from culpability. What we saw on Tuesday sort of read like a condensed version of his many carefully worded statements about what he knew while working under Rupert Murdoch as editor of News of the World from 1994 to 1995 and the Daily Mirror from 1995 to 2004. Though some continued to believe he's been lying about his knowledge of phone hacking, Morgan has also avoided arrest by the London Metropolitan Police conducting a criminal investigation and scrutiny from Parliament.
While Morgan's not out of the treacherous waters yet -- he could be called back and reporters will definitely ruthlessly fact-check his statements -- he's passed this test. As Financial Times columnist John Gapper suggests, it doesn't really matter whether the public believes him. "Wonder if it matters that Piers Morgan was a truly terrible and unconvincing witness at
#leveson inquiry? He's not on trial, so perhaps not," Gapper tweeted during the testimony. An hour later, he followed up, tacitly agreeing with Carr's estimation of the witnesses performance, "Piers Morgan is somehow managing to become an even more evasive witness on share tipping than on hacking."