Rupert Murdoch has an increasingly outspoken defender on TV: Piers Morgan. After a week of relative silence on the subject of the ballooning phone hacking scandal, the CNN prime-time host and onetime Murdoch tabloid editor has taken to the airwaves as a staunch champion of the Murdochs and their associates.
In an appearance on Wolf Blitzer’s afternoon program, The Situation Room, Morgan lambasted a conservative member of the British Parliament for alleging that, in his memoirs, Morgan had indicated he had firsthand knowledge of phone hacking by Mirror reporters during his tenure as editor of that tabloid.
“The only intrigue in my book referring to phone hacking was when somebody warned me that my phone might be hacked and advised me to change my PIN number. I was pretty outraged [at the Member of Parliament’s comments],” Morgan said. (Earlier in the day, Morgan had denied flat out that any hacking had taken place at News of the World or the Mirror during his time at the helm of those tabloids). “None of these things she says that I wrote actually exist in [my] book.”
He then went on to offer a defense of the Murdochs as thorough as anything Rupert or James have said about the scandal on their own behalf. The hearings before Parliament in which the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks appeared were “a most extraordinary spectacle,” he said.
Morgan didn’t defend the hacking, but added, “I’ve known Rupert and James Murdoch for a very long time. Rupert Murdoch made me one of the youngest editors in Fleet Street history when I was 28 years old. I owe him a lot. I wouldn’t probably be here without his help."
And Morgan wasn't done gushing. "I also know Rebekah Brooks very well," he continued, "One of my oldest friends. And I’m proud to be their friends. This is a very tough day for them. . . . My summation of the thing was that nobody proved, I don’t think to any neutral observer, that Rupert Murdoch had any personal knowledge of what was going on with this phone hacking. Or James Murdoch for that matter, or Rebekah Brooks.”
“What you have seen are clearly management failings," Morgan said, "in how they controlled this story when it first came up. . . . It’s been very damaging for the Murdoch family, for the corporation, but, at the end of the day, money talks—I think that the stock price of News Corp. rose 6 percent today, so clearly the market believes that no death charge blow was landed.”
Morgan's appearance on Blitzer's show was one of the lengthier defenses Morgan has offered of his old boss, but it was by no means his first. Throughout the day, as Brooks and the two Murdochs appeared before a parliamentary inquiry, Morgan sounded off on Twitter. “Nothing unusual in Rupert's desk-whacking,” Morgan tweeted during Rupert Murdoch’s appearance before the committee. “He did that in every meeting I ever had with him. To convey both pleasure & displeasure.”
It is a rare thing for a host on CNN—a network that has defined its brand by news and not opinion—to be so open about his sympathies in an unfolding news story. And one he’s covering, at that. CNN wouldn’t comment for this story, but sources close to the network point out that Morgan has offered his opinion on other stories in the past and that, given how close he is to this one (in that Morgan is in the unique position of having worked for Murdoch at the very paper in the center of this scandal), it would be odd for him not to offer personal commentary.