How the Mirror presented George Bush’s reasons for going to war
The scene is the aftermath of the bomb that tore into Canary Wharf in 1996, causing the evacuation of the offices housing the Daily Mirror. Its young new editor is impatient to get back into the building and has been heckling police officers attempting to keep order at the chaotic scene.
Eventually, the irritated senior officer turns to Pat Pilton, then the Mirror’s managing editor. Nodding towards the offending loudmouth, he says: “Tell him – one more word and he’s nicked.”
No prizes for guessing who he was talking about. It’s an episode that neatly sums up the style of Piers Morgan. Impatient. Unimpressed by figures of authority. A little reckless.
Not quite cognisant of the dangers ahead. But boundlessly enthusiastic for the newspaper he’s working on.
And until last Friday, it was a style that had stood him in good stead. As The Sun’s Bizarre editor, where he popped up after studying at Harlow College and working on weekly newspapers in Surrey, his modus operandi – later much copied – was to gatecrash showbiz parties with a photographer and get himself snapped with his arm round unsuspecting celebrities.
“It was great,” he said of his Bizarre stint. “A five-year con.”
Despite his success at the column, the 29-year-old Morgan was hardly the obvious choice to take the chair at the News of the World vacated by the ill Patsy Chapman. The appointment left even this notorious motormouth “gobsmacked”. He started as he would go on, with a scoop that landed him in hot water, offended the establishment and outraged the broadsheets – revelations about Countess Spencer’s stay at an addiction clinic.
It brought him rebukes from the PCC and his proprietor.
A string of scoops and a year later, the Mirror chair came up and Morgan found himself the youngest ever editor of a national daily. His defection, just weeks after he had attended a senior News International executives’ conference in Australia, did not impress the Wapping powers that be and set the tone of mutual animosity that continued for the next nine years, particularly when David Yelland was editor of The Sun.
Morgan’s arrival transformed the Mirror newsroom as he worked 15hour days, often jumping on stories before copy tasters had seen them. “He bounces around so much, he’s like Zebedee,” said one.
There were notable highs – Paul Burrell and the Palace intruder; disastrous lows – Achtung! Surrender, and the Viglen share scandal; and bucketfuls of classic tabloid dingdongs in between.
It was a reign characterised by surprises, yet the eventual manner of Morgan’s departure may not have been one of them. In an interview for Bill Hagerty’s book on the Mirror centenary last year, Morgan told him: “One day there will be someone else in this job. It may be next week, next year, in 10 years, but all I can say is that when I do go, it will be because I have been sacked.”
By Ian Reeves