New York Times Investigates Incoming CEO’s Role in Sex Abuse Scandal

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Photo: Bloomberg/2011 Bloomberg

As recommended yesterday by the New York Times public editor, the paper has published an interview with its own new CEO Mark Thomspon, who's set to start at the company in November. It's complicated: Thompson, who worked atop the BBC from 2004 until last month, is embroiled in a British scandal stemming from sex abuse allegations against former TV host Jimmy Savile. While Thompson was director general of the broadcaster, the program Newsnight decided not to air its investigation into Savile's alleged pedophilia in what is now being viewed as a potential cover-up meant to protect the BBC. Thompson, though, insists to the Times that "there 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."

Yesterday, public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote of Thompson, "How likely is it that he knew nothing?" And as for his forthcoming start date as Times Company CEO, she added, "It's worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."

But in today's Times, Thompson said he only found out about the Newsnight investigation at a cocktail party last December and was not aware of the allegations against Savile. "I had no reason to believe that his conduct was a pressing concern," Thompson said. "Had I known about the nature of the allegations and the credible allegations that these horrific crimes had taken place during his time at the BBC and in the building at the BBC, I of course would have considered them very grave and would have acted very differently."

For now, the Times Co. is sticking by their man, according to a spokesperson, but investors might already be getting antsy. "It might make sense to delay his start date until there is more clarity on how this is going to play out in Parliament and in the U.K.," recommended one investment bank analyst. "Even if everything he has said to date is accurate, there is still a great deal of confusion around the actual facts of the case."

As the paper noted with frosty distance, Thompson "does not have a special contract and he or the company may end the agreement at any time."