Piers Morgan’s Past Catches Up to Him in UK Tabloid Inquiry

Piers Morgan (Photo: Getty Images)

LONDON — CNN talk-show host Piers Morgan may be known to Americans as a TV interviewer and “America’s Got Talent” judge, but it’s his past at the heart of Britain’s troubled tabloid newspaper world that is being trotted out before the cameras this week.

The often colorful and sometimes controversial story of Morgan’s rise to the top will be revisited Tuesday, when the former editor appears by videolink at a judge-led inquiry into the ethics and practices of Britain’s scandal-tarred press.

His appearance has been widely anticipated — not least because of the 46-year-old’s irreverent flippancy.

“So heartwarming that everyone in U.K.’s missing me so much they want me to come home,” he joked earlier this year amid demands he return to give evidence to the inquiry, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron following the disclosure that the now-defunct News of the World tabloid had for years illegally eavesdropped on the voice mail messages of public figures.

Actors Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller, “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling and singer Charlotte Church are among those who have given evidence about press abuse, while executives and lawyers for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. have defended the newspaper.

Morgan shot to national prominence when he was picked by Murdoch to run the News of the World at age 28. Under his tenure the tabloid exposed actor Hugh Grant’s liaison with Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown and Princess Diana’s late-night phone calls to married art dealer Oliver Hoare. It wasn’t all due to good reporting: Morgan has acknowledged he kept his edge in part through bribes paid to informants on rival titles.

In 1995 Morgan left the News of the World for the Daily Mirror. His time there was marked by scoops and controversy, but his editorship ended in 2004 when he ran a faked photograph purporting to show a British soldier urinating on an Iraqi detainee.

Morgan won a second life as a TV personality, eventually signing on as a judge of “America’s Got Talent” and taking Larry King’s old spot at CNN.

CNN spokeswoman Barbara Levin said the network was “extremely pleased” with how Morgan’s program was performing and the company has so far stood by its star even as the scandal over widespread phone hacking at the News of the World threatens to draw him in.

Skeletons have already begun peeking out of the closet.

Critics have been picking through old interviews and his autobiography “The Insider,” in which Morgan makes clear he knew of phone hacking as long ago as 2001.

Interviewed by supermodel Naomi Campbell for GQ magazine before the scandal over the practice boiled over, Morgan said he couldn’t get too upset over hacking because “loads of newspaper journalists were doing it.”

“Piers Morgan Tonight” airs weeknights at 9/8c on CNN.

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