Two bungled investigations into sex scandals have put the BBC into crisis mode, with top boss George Entwistle forced to retire last weekend.It’s been a huge deal in the UK, and many have been wondering if the scandal could come across the sea and bite incoming New York Times CEO Mark Thompson, the man who had previously held Entwistle’s job until earlier this year.
Thompson, importantly, was the Director General of the BBC when a proposed Newsnight investigation into the BBC star suspected of decades of sex abuse was mysteriously shelved.
Now, it is beginning to look like the scandal may taint Thompson.
New details have come to light of about a letter sent by Thompson’s office at the BBC to the Sunday Times 10 day before he left the BBC in September. The letter (ironically brought to light again last night by the New York Times itself) reportedly threatened legal action over an article due to be published in the Murdoch-owned newspaper that said that Thompson and others had been involved in killing the BBC investigation into alleged BBC sex abuser Jimmy Savile. The letter also contained an account of the allegations against Savile, including allegations that some of the abuse occured on BBC property.
The details of this letter seem odd when compared to Thompson’s own account of the scandal.
“I was not notified or briefed about the ‘Newsnight’ investigation, nor was I involved in any way in the decision not to complete and air the investigation,” he said when the scandal broke in October, before adding, “During my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”
While an aide who spoke to the New York Times said that Thompson “orally authorised” the sending of the letter, it is said he had not known the exact details of its contents. It is also worth baring in mind that this occurred just 10 days before he left his job as the boss of one of the world’s largest media organisations.
But the letter does seem to show that Thompson had opportunities to know more about the scandal and could have done more to control it. As Andrew Beaujon of Poynter observes, “Thompson displayed a remarkable ability to evade learning about the spiked investigation” as his time at the BBC came to a close, despite BBC journalists asking him about it as far back as December 2011.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Entwistle quit his job at the BBC after only 54 days. If Thompson had not escaped to the NYT, would he still have a job?