TODAY Tonight host Anna Coren yesterday admitted a private eye hired by the program to track down Mercedes Corby had lied to set up the drug smuggler's sister.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Coren said Brisbane PI Colin Chapman had called Ms Corby and told her he was an "official" who had papers that would set Schapelle Corby free.
"He said that he was an official, he never said he was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said he was an official with some documents that would help Schapelle," Coren said.
"I think Mercedes asked him whether he was from Today Tonight and he said 'no'."
The explosive admission came as the tabloid TV war went nuclear yesterday, with Coren accusing her former Nine colleagues of running a personal smear campaign and falsely portraying her show as tacky and untruthful.
Coren said she had no regrets about the Corby story because Chapman was a private eye with no obligation to be ethical.
"As to the way he went about it, well he's not a journalist, he's a private investigator," she said.
"His code of conduct and ethics is different to our code of conduct and ethics."
A furious Ms Corby claimed she was ambushed in a McDonald's restaurant by a Today Tonight crew after a mysterious caller claimed he had explosive documents belonging to Liz O'Neill, a senior diplomat at the Department of Foreign Affairs killed in last week's Indonesian plane crash.
Today Tonight had hoped to set up a showdown on the Gold Coast between Ms Corby and her nemesis Jodi Power, who has accused the Corby family of drug-use.
While admitting the PI had passed himself off as an "official," Coren angrily denied Ms O'Neill's name was used.
"He never once used Liz O'Neill's name. I think the most disappointing part of this whole thing was that Liz O'Neill's name has been brought into this. It's deplorable, it's simply deplorable."
Coren said she knew about the plan to lure Ms Corby into a showdown but did not devise it.
Today Tonight executive producer Craig McPherson last night claimed rival A Current Affair failed to prove its charge that Ms O'Neill's name was used.
Coren, who replaced controversial host Naomi Robson at the beginning of the year, also denied saying last month that she planned to rid the show of chequebook journalism.
"I think I was misquoted. I think it was 'You wouldn't want all your stories to be chequebook journalism, you wouldn't want the entire show to be about chequebook journalism'," she said.
"There are just some stories you have to pay for, without a doubt . . . some stories have a price."
Coren, who agreed to the interview with The Daily Telegraph in the Seven Network's city boardroom before her show went to air last night, said she was dismayed by the personal attacks launched at her by former Channel 9 colleagues, including news and current affairs boss David Hurley.
Coren defended predecessor Robson and said she was proud to front TV's most controversial show.
"I think Naomi was unfairly dealt with, I really do. I'm not interested in what other media outlets want to write about me," she said.
. THE Seven Network emerged victorious from Monday's night of bitter feuding – in the ratings at least.
Today Tonight pulled in 1.5 million viewers to A Current Affair's 1.3 million.
And TT's audience stuck around after the Seven News, the most watched show with more than 1.5 million viewers.