LONDON – A prominent British TV presenter said Wednesday that CNN talk show host Piers Morgan gave him a primer on phone hacking, a revelation that suggests he knew a fair amount about how the shady practice was carried out.
BBC quiz show host and television news presenter Jeremy Paxman told a media ethics inquiry that Morgan delivered his warning over lunch at the headquarters of the Mirror newspaper, which he was then editing, in 2002.
Paxman said that Morgan "turned to me and said, 'Have you got a mobile phone?'"
"I said, 'yes,' and he asked if there was a security setting on the message bit of it. ... I didn't know what he was talking about.
"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 and that if you didn't put on your own code, (in) his words, 'You're a fool.'"
Paxman testified before Lord Justice Brian Leveson, who is sifting through the fallout of the scandal over unethical and illegal behavior at Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper, which Morgan briefly edited before moving to the Mirror.
Journalists at the now-defunct tabloid routinely hacked phones to get stories, bypassing weak security to illegally eavesdrop on private conversations of politicians, celebrities, sports stars, and other public figures.
The scandal that erupted when the full extent of such practices was exposed last year has rocked Britain's establishment, leading to the arrest of dozens of people and casting a harsh light on relations among the press, politicians, and the police.
Morgan testified before Leveson late last year, suggesting he'd only been aware of phone hacking in general terms.
Quizzed repeatedly about statements he'd made suggesting that many in the British newspaper business were involved in phone hacking, Morgan claimed that he'd merely been repeating gossip he picked off the industry's rumor mill.
"I wasn't aware that it was widely prevalent in any specific form," he said in December, going on to explain that he was unaware of the details of what British journalists nicknamed "the dark arts." The CNN star has repeatedly denied having ever hacked a phone or knowingly run material obtained by phone hacking.
Morgan didn't immediately answer questions about Paxman's testimony sent via email, but he took to Twitter to make light of the development.
"Right — that's the last time I'm inviting Jeremy Paxman to lunch," Morgan wrote. "Ungrateful little wretch."
Links between media and senior politicians are expected to come under scrutiny on Thursday, when the disgraced former aide to Olympics Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Adam Smith, is due to testify before Leveson. Smith resigned after email and text messages published by the inquiry showed him exchanging too-friendly emails with Murdoch lobbyist Frederic Michel, who was pressing Hunt's department to help ease the media mogul's multi-billion pound (dollar) bid for U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB.
Michel is also due to testify Thursday. Hunt's most senior civil servant, Jonathan Stephens, is due to testify Friday. Hunt is due to testify separately at a later date.