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Piers Morgan, the man who took over Larry King's chair at CNN, was forced to confront his past today. Morgan was hooked up by video link to London to field questions at a public inquiry into media ethics. The inquiry was convened because of the News of the World phone hacking affair. That scandal has so far led to the resignation of top executives in Rupert Murdoch's media empire and more than 20 arrests.
Today, Morgan, himself a former British tabloid editor, was asked what if anything he knew about illegally intercepted voice mails. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Piers Morgan makes his living asking questions. Today, the tables were turned.
PIERS MORGAN: I have no doubt.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Your full name please, Mr. Morgan.
REEVES: Morgan was editor of The News of the World in the mid-'90s. He then moved to the Daily Mirror, where he spent more than a decade at the helm, while phone hacking in the industry was at its height. He's always denied hacking happened on his watch and did so again today.
MORGAN: My evidence is that I have no reason or knowledge to believe it was going on.
REEVES: Morgan seemed relaxed when he began his testimony, but he became tetchy as Robert Jay, the inquiry's attorney, honed in on some of his published remarks about phone hacking. These include admitting in a memoir that he knew how phone messages could be hacked way back in 2001. Jay asked where that information came from.
MORGAN: I can't remember.
REEVES: Morgan did confirm that when he was editor of the Daily Mirror, someone played him a phone message left by Paul McCartney for his then-wife Heather Mills. Morgan refused to divulge details and came under more pressure from Jay.
ROBERT JAY: Have you listened to recordings of what you knew to be illegally obtained voice mail messages?
MORGAN: I do not believe so. No.
JAY: Well, you either did or you didn't. I don't think it's a question of belief.
REEVES: Jay suggested it was unethical to listen to that tape.
MORGAN: Not unethical, no.
JAY: Why not?
MORGAN: It's not - it doesn't necessarily follow that listening to somebody speaking to somebody else is unethical.
REEVES: The inquiry chairman, Lord Justice Brian Leveson, intervened.
SIR BRIAN LEVESON: The only person who would lawfully be able to listen to the message is the lady in question or somebody authorized on her behalf to listen to it. Isn't that right?
MORGAN: Sorry. What do you expect me to say?
LEVESON: Well, put forward another possibility if there is one, I think.
MORGAN: Well, I mean, I can't go into the details of it without compromising the source, and I'm not going to do that.
LEVESON: Well, I am perfectly happy to call Lady McCartney to give evidence as to whether she authorized you to listen to her voice mails.
REEVES: This inquiry is also about the wider question of press ethics. On this, Morgan's replies were more revealing. He admitted mistakes during his term as an editor: a manipulated picture, payments to a mole in a rival title. He also quibbled over whether it was ethical to publish material gleaned from a celebrity's trash can. Morgan ended by asking the inquiry not to forget his good work as an editor before he became a TV star.
MORGAN: It's just gone how I thought it would, which is it becomes like - almost like a rock star having an album brought out from his back catalog of all his worst ever hits.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.