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CNN host Piers Morgan a phone hacking whiz? Witness implies so

Piers MorganPiers Morgan has long insisted that, in his days as the editor of a London tabloid, he didn’t order or condone his reporters hacking into cellphones to get scoops about celebrities.

But a British TV personality told a special inquiry Wednesday that Morgan seemed to have some very specific knowledge about how to access other people’s phone messages. Morgan, now the host of a nightly talk show on CNN in the U.S., also joked about overhearing a phone conversation between a pair of celebrities, Jeremy Paxman testified before the British government panel investigating journalism ethics.

The BBC's Paxman recalled telling Morgan during a 2002 lunch that he was wholly unfamiliar with phone hacking. "He then explained the way to get access to people's messages was to go to the factory default setting and press either 0000 or 1234,” Paxman told the so-called Levenson inquiry, “and that if you didn't put on your own code, his words, 'You're a fool.' "

The testimony by the British news anchor was not the first to suggest Morgan might have had familiarity with unethical practices during his time at the Daily Mirror.

Last December, a former Daily Mirror journalist told the same inquiry that phone hacking was considered a "standard journalistic tool" at the tabloid once run by the CNN host. One-time business columnist James Hipwell said he believed that hacking by Mirror reporters was a daily routine.

In the more recent testimony, Paxman said the discussion about hacking began when Morgan teased another lunch guest, one-time weather woman and TV personality Ulrika Jonsson, about her affair with the manager of England’s soccer team, Sven-Göran Eriksson.

“Morgan said, teasing Ulrika, that he knew what had happened in conversations between her and Sven-Göran Eriksson, and he went into this mock Swedish accent,” recalled Paxman.

“Now I don't know whether he was repeating a conversation that he had heard, or he was imagining this conversation. ... It was a rather bad parody.”

Morgan last year denied that he ever listened to phone messages between the TV personality and sports celebrity.

Paxman said he didn’t know whether the conversation Morgan parodied actually occurred but that it made him uncomfortable because he felt Morgan verged on bullying Jonsson.

Morgan’s response to the latest testimony came via Twitter: "Right -- that's the last time I'm inviting Jeremy Paxman to lunch. Ungrateful little wretch."

RELATED:

CNN's Piers Morgan says he never authorized phone hacking

Reporter contradicts Piers Morgan's testimony about hacking

Regis Philbin returns to TV as Piers Morgan's guest host 

--James Rainey

twitter.com/latimesrainey

Photo: The name of CNN host Piers Morgan, once editor of the Daily Mirror tabloid in London, has come up with some frequency at an inquiry into unethical practices by the British press. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

 
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