Incoming New York Times CEO Mark Thompson has agreed to go before Parliament to answer the question of whether he had a hand, as the head of the BBC, in killing a Newsnight investigation into allegations of pedophilia against late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile. If he winds up getting called, he’s going to have to convince the MPs that he knew nothing of the contents of the investigation, even though he’s said he knew of its existence. The Times, which interviewed Thompson Tuesday about his role in the scandal, followed up that story with one on Wednesday that included comments from the Newsnight reporter who first made Thompson aware of the show’s investigation, at a holiday party in December 2011. Her take: He didn’t seem to know they were working on a story about what Savile apparently called “Jimmy’s specials.”
Per the Times:
Caroline Hawley, the journalist who spoke with Mr. Thompson, said in a statement that while she did not remember the conversation word for word, “I remember asking why it had been dropped.” She said she raised the subject after speaking earlier in the day with the “Newsnight” reporters involved in the Savile investigation who “were upset that the story had been dropped.” They had already filmed one victim as she told her story, and the accounts of other assaults alleged to have occurred on BBC property.
Ms. Hawley said she did not know everything that the reporters had uncovered but that “one detail stuck in my mind — that Jimmy Savile had allegedly asked for sexual favors, ‘Jimmy’s specials,’ as they were described to me.” Although she could not remember if she had mentioned that to Mr. Thompson, she said, “I came away with the impression that he did not know about the investigation.”
But as the Times’ Matthew Purdy and Christine Haughney point out, Thompson has already changed his story slightly, first denying any knowledge of the Newsnight investigation and then acknowledging, in a Tuesday letter to Tory MP Rob Wilson that he “was never formally notified about the Newsnight investigation and was not briefed about the allegations they were examining and to what extent, if at all, those allegations related to Savile’s work at the BBC.”
Thompson told the Times on Wednesday he never knew any details of what might be in the Newsnight investigation. “I knew about its existence. But I was told however the program decided to stop it.” For now, the Parliament’s Culture, Media, and Sport Committee appears to be buying Thompson’s explanation, and he hasn’t been called to testify. But committee chairman John Whittingdale told the Times, “if reasons arise to talk to him, we will do so.”