New York Times Turns Up Heat on New Chief Executive Mark Thompson -- With Caveats
When did the New York Times Company's new chief executive Mark Thompson first know about the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal and coverup when he headed the BBC? The paper has stepped up its questioning of Thompson in recent days (albeit after he began work at the New York Times Co. as of November 12). But the paper still has yet to match the front-page intensity it brought to its "damning" reporting on phone hacking by newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, a Times competitor and perceived ideological adversary, or to allegations against Pope Benedict XVI.
Thursday's front page brought a report suggesting his policies at the BBC contributed to failures both in the Savile case and in another, in which a politician was falsely accused of sexual abuse: "Crises at BBC Brought Rules, Then a Failure."
But it is these very structures that seem to have failed the BBC in the most recent scandal, in which its news division first canceled a child abuse segment it should have broadcast, and later broadcast one it should have canceled. In the first instance, it appears that people overseeing the program were too cautious, so that top managers were left unaware of its existence; in the second, managers may have relied too much on rigid procedures at the expense of basic journalistic principles.
On Friday, investigative reporter Matthew Purdy contributed new information (relegated to page 9, the International section) in "Letter Raises Questions About When BBC Ex-Chief Learned of Abuse Cases." Oddly, the photo caption identified Thompson only as "the former BBC chief." Only in the sixth paragraph did Purdy note that Thompson "began work this week as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company."
In a report last week, the MRC's Matthew Philbin and I demonstrated "how the Times pursued, in its words, 'questions about [Catholic Pope Benedict XVI’s] role in the handling of an abuse case while he was an archbishop in Germany,'" while hypocritically downplaying questions about Thompson's role in handling the BBC's Savile coverup.
Purdy uncovered information suggesting Thompson may have known more about the Savile scandal than he has said.
A legal letter sent on behalf of Mark Thompson, the former director general of the BBC, raises questions about his assertions that he learned of accusations of sexual abuse against its longtime host Jimmy Savile only after leaving the corporation’s top job.
In the letter, sent 10 days before Mr. Thompson left the BBC in September, lawyers representing him and another executive threatened to sue The Sunday Times in London over contentions in an article it was preparing that they had been involved in killing a BBC investigation of Mr. Savile.
Interviews show that the letter included a summary of the alleged abuse, including the allegation that some abuse might have occurred at the BBC.
An aide to the former BBC chief said that although Mr. Thompson had orally authorized the sending of the letter, he had not known the details of its contents. “It’s not clear if he was shown it, but he doesn’t remember reading it,” said the aide, a personal adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to give Mr. Thompson’s version of events. Mr. Thompson declined to comment.
The timing and substance of the letter are significant because Mr. Thompson, who began work this week as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company, said in October that “during my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”
There were other moments during Mr. Thompson’s final months at the BBC -- involving brief conversations and articles appearing in London news media -- when he might have picked up on the gravity of the Savile case. But the letter is different because it shows Mr. Thompson was involved in an aggressive action to challenge an article about the case that was likely to reflect poorly on the BBC and on him.
The existence of the letter from lawyers for the BBC was first reported last weekend by The Sunday Times. But only after its wording was described in interviews this week did it become clear the degree to which Mr. Thompson, in his final days at the BBC, had information at his fingertips about Mr. Savile’s alleged abuse and the scuttled “Newsnight” investigation.
While the paper is not ignoring the Thompson controversy, the Times has yet to match the front-page intensity it brought to its "damning" reporting on phone hacking by newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, a Times competitor and perceived ideological adversary, including four front-page stories in eight days in May 2012.