Incoming New York Times CEO faces questions about future as U.K. scandal spreads
The Guardian | The New York Times
The British Broadcasting Corporation killed a news report investigating allegations of child abuse by one of its longtime stars when Mark Thompson was the BBC's chief. He's now the incoming CEO of the New York Times Company, and questions about how much he knew are getting louder.
Thompson has said he first heard about the report, prepared for the BBC show "Newsnight," at a holiday party last December. The Guardian's Adam Gabbatt writes that a Thompson spokesperson told the Times of London, "Mark attended a party late last year where a journalist mentioned the fact that 'Newsnight' had been investigating [Jimmy] Savile. The journalist said words to the effect that, 'You must be worried about the "Newsnight" investigation.' "
Thompson heard specific allegations about Savile later, the spokesperson told the Times. Gabbatt writes that "Thompson's spokesman insisted to the Guardian that he stood by both statements and said there was no inconsistency between them."
But Thompson's position appears to rest on the difference between being "made aware" and being "notified or briefed". The BBC journalist who spoke to Thompson at the party, Caroline Hawley, told the Times of London on Wednesday that while she could not remember exactly what she said, she was likely to have given the "broad context" of the allegations.
(I'm quoting his spokesperson in such a roundabout way since most of that Times of London article is behind a paywall.)
In an interview with The New York Times' David Carr and Christine Haughney published today, Thompson said he alerted BBC management the day after his conversation with Hawley. "[T]here is nothing to suggest that I acted inappropriately in the handling of this matter. I did not impede or stop the ‘Newsnight’ investigation, nor have I done anything else that could be construed as untoward or unreasonable.”
Thompson has not yet started at the Times Company, the reporters note.
He does not have a special contract and he or the company may end the agreement at any time. A New York Times spokesman said that while the newspaper’s board had been notified of the BBC matter, he was confident that Mr. Thompson will be the company’s chief executive.
On Tuesday, Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote The New York Times should "thoroughly" report this story. Thompson's "integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The Times and its journalism — profoundly," she wrote. "It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."
A quick primer on the Jimmy Savile scandal:
- He was a "presenter" on British television for decades, host of popular shows including "Top of the Pops" and "Jim'll Fix It." He died last October. His name is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable and rhymes with "ravel."
- An ITV documentary this fall alleged Savile had systematically abused young girls throughout his career. People with U.S. IP addresses can't watch the show through ITV's player, but the documentary is on YouTube.
- U.K. police are continuing to investigate the allegations; Scotland Yard's "Operation Yewtree" has "identified 200 potential victims" of Savile's abuse.
- The “Newsnight” investigation was killed by an editor named Peter Rippon, who has “stepped aside” but not resigned. Rippon explained his decision in a blog post that the BBC later said was "inaccurate or incomplete in some respects."
- Thompson’s successor, George Entwistle, was questioned by members of Britain’s parliament Tuesday and said “further investigation would have been appropriate” after the “Newsnight” report was spiked. The BBC, which has a comprehensive page about the scandal on its website, aired a report about its actions on its TV show "Panorama" Monday. The show "interviewed two of the aborted program’s producers, both of whom took issue with Rippon’s decision to axe the program," Henry Chu writes in the Los Angeles Times. "One of Savile’s alleged victims also described her ordeal of opening up to 'Newsnight,' only for her accusations to go nowhere."