Piers Morgan may have no bigger enemy in the blogosphere than Paul Staines. Though virtually unknown in the U.S., Staines—who writes under the pseudonym "Guido Fawkes"—operates one of the more widely-read political blogs in Britain. The libertarian Staines is Matt Drudge with more schadenfreude, and he's been leading the charge against Morgan as questions mount over the CNN host's involvement in the U.K. hacking scandal. By phone from a summer home in the French countryside, Staines spoke to Adweek about Morgan, the tabloids, and why he thinks his vendettas are justified.
Adweek: How are you?
Paul Staines: I’m very tired. We’re in an old house in France. And we always have lots of work to do. And I’ve been mixing mortar. And we’ve been going around fixing an old roof. Mortar is very much like Piers Morgan: thick and sloppy.
You don’t have any personal animus toward Piers Morgan?
No, I think he adds to the gaiety of the world immensely. He’s making out that I’m some kind of publicity seeking—what did he say? I’m an ex-bankrupt druggie? Basically what I’m saying is, causing him hassle doesn’t pay our bills in any way what so ever. We’re actually doing it to widen out the hacking issue beyond News International. We’re using him as the poster boy to express it.
So you view Piers Morgan, and his alleged behavior, as representative of the entire tabloid industry?
Yea, he was at the heart of that whole culture of hacking. And the other thing is, no other newspaper editor has this kind of profile and has written these memoires in such a cocky and boastful way, when he says ‘I listened to Paul McCartney crying on the phone.’ So, I’m sure the other tabloid editors have done [the same thing], but they don’t have Piers Morgan’s profile and haven’t written their own confessions.
Morgan has denied any knowledge of hacking. And he’s been fairly consistent in the phrasing of his denial.
No he hasn’t! The first version [of his denial] was different. The first version said ‘I have never published any stories based on hacking.' That was the first version he said in answer to Louise Mesnch. And then later he inserts the phrase knowingly. But even that isn’t going to work because he knowingly did it. And I think, the problem with James Hipwell who is the first journalist to testify about it, is that James got arrested. [In 2005 Hipwell, a former Daily Mirror reporter when Morgan was editing the paper, was prosecuted for buying shares in a company called Viglen Technology the day before he recommended the stock in a column.]
But people forget that Piers bought 60,000 pounds of shares and didn’t go to jail for the same thing. It is a fact that if you Google “Viglen Share Scandal,” you’ll see Piers bought shares as well. But Piers got off somehow. Piers [asked his reporters] ‘Who are you tipping tomorrow?’ And they said ‘We're tipping Viglen,’ and journalists bought shares in it, and Piers bought shares in it, and somehow Piers didn’t get done.
You excerpted a paragraph from Morgan’s autobiography The Insider.
Oh, you mean when [U.K. Member of Parliament] Louise Mensch messed it up a bit.
Right. But the way your blog had excerpted the section from Morgan’s book, readers naturally would have drawn the same conclusions that Mensch did. Specifically, Morgan seemed to be admitting to hacking in that section. In the proper context, it is clear that Morgan was, in fact, discussing the possibility that his phone had been hacked. Didn’t you take the passage out of context?
We obviously quoted the hot point. We knew the background to this whole hacking thing. There was his quote [from The Insider], and then we said his newspaper did this on the Sven-Goran Eriksson and Ulrika Jonsson story. So we linked that excerpt and that story. But that was because we have a whole lot of context that didn’t fit into 500 words.
Actually in a later story we dug out a quote where he said he got that story through voicemail. Which kind of said that even though you couldn’t make the inference that Louise Mensch did, she made an inference that we implied. And she messed up doing that. But the interesting thing about that is, he jumped on that so hard. He ran at that full blast, didn’t he? And I knew when he did that that is a man who is guilty. If he hadn’t gone after Louise Mensch, we would not have trolled through anything else.
Did you edit that particular post, or did you write it yourself?
I take full responsibility. I can’t remember who actually wrote it, but I take full responsibility for the way that post was done.
Even if Piers turns out to be the biggest criminal on Earth in this regard, that post made it seem like he was writing something that he wasn’t. Right?
I mean I’ll reread it. I wrote that with the knowledge of context that we didn’t put in that post. So I knew from discussions with people, journalists, that the Sven-Ulrika story was the product of phone hacking. So we’re doing the Sven-Ulrika thing, and then we have this quote from him about phone hacking, and we tied the two together.
He was implying that it was the product of a voicemail. Now, he I think is implying that it was a product of a voicemail from a rival newspaper being hacked. So Morgan’s people hacked a rival newspaper. I think that’s the implication he’s trying to make. He hasn’t said it explicitly, but he’s hinted at it.
Who are your sources, generally?
Most of our sources aren’t cabinet members and senior government people, they’re the people who work for them. You know, the interns and the staff. They are, they’re the people we go to the pub with. And when you run a great story about who’s shagging who, and who’s having affairs and stuff like that, they’re the ones who know because it’s probably the girl they work with. So I’m quite happy with that way of the world.
What gets you excited, journalistically?
Scalps. If we don’t get a scalp a year, we kind of feel we haven’t really done it. And we generally get a scalp a year. Obviously scandals like this bring us loads of traffic and that makes the advertisers happy. Even though we’re I guess you’d call us pashy muckrakers, people have to advertise with us, because that’s where everyone is.
There’s a lot at stake, with the certainty that you write.
There’s absolutely no question that he knew about hacking. People who work for him tell me this. They won’t go on the record. The only people who will go on the record are people who have been fired. There’s an omerta at the moment in the British tabloids. British tabloids aren’t writing about this story. Huge in the broadsheets, but the tabloids are not mentioning phone hacking at all. Because they’re all guilty.
Morgan isn't the only editor involved in this scandal.
He’s not the only one. But he’s the only one who anyone knows. Andy Coulson is famous because he was appointed to Downing Street. Nobody knew who he was before that. No other editor is on mainstream TV Friday night. Piers is. I could be writing about [current Daily Mirror editor] Richard Wallace, [Sunday Mirror editor] Tina Weaver, [Sun editor] Dominic Mohan, all these other editors who are equally guilty.
You think they’re all equally guilty of hacking?
Oh yeah, a lot of the stories in the British press over the last decade have [had headlines that read] things like ‘Text Message Shame.’ How the fuck did they know that? So yeah, there’s two different crimes that have been committed by the tabloids. One’s called hacking and the other one's called blagging—getting your phone records, medical records, tax records by paying someone in the office and getting your records. And the newspapers have done that for years. There’s two different crimes. That’s how British tabloids have gotten their stories, have done for years.
Would you run that story we discussed earlier—that included the controversial excerpt, would you run that again?
Absolutely. My job is to move the story along. And when we know that the basic story is correct and we don’t have nine-tenths of the building blocks and we’ve only got six-tenths of the building blocks, we’ll go with it.
But you’re sort of arguing that the journalistic ends justify the means, aren’t you? Saying, ‘well the context may not have been right, but we know Piers Morgan is guilty.'
We always say we double source everything—usually it means we just call the same person twice. That was a joke! We don’t mind. We are prepared to take flyers. And we’ve only ever come a major cropper once in seven years. We’ve had minor croppers, lawyers’ letters. And we’ve quietly taken the story down. We will not be quietly taking this story down.
So you don’t think you quoted the book out of context?
I actually think I quoted the book in exactly the right context, because I think that is the kind of thing that Morgan was alluding to. And I’ve put it in the context of [his involvement in hacking], which he was cattily alluding to.
There’s a lot of interest in this story in the U.S.
We gave that story to Daily Beast and we did that to get the story kicked off in the States. The reason we wanted to put it out in an American outlet is we knew that it would kick the ball rolling. And I get the impression that Tina Brown hates his guts.