LONDON (AP) — The child abuse scandal that has enveloped one of Britain's most respected news organizations is now hitting one of America's, as the incoming president of The New York Times is on the defensive about his final days as head of the BBC.
Mark Thompson was in charge of the BBC in late 2011 when the broadcaster shelved what would have been a bombshell investigation alleging that the late Jimmy Savile, one of its biggest stars, was a serial sex offender.
The BBC scandal has horrified Britain with revelations that Savile, a popular children's television presenter, cajoled and coerced vulnerable teens into having sex with him in his car, in his camper van, and even in dingy dressing rooms on BBC premises.
Police say there could be more than 200 victims, leading one child protection charity to state that Savile could rank among Britain's most prolific child sex predators.
Hmm, would the Times hire the former Penn State Athletic Director to run their sports desk? Inquiring minds want to know.
The Times Public Editor exhorts the Times to cover this with appropriate vigor. And they do! Their account makes the scheduled ascension of Mr. Thompson on November 12 seem absurdly unlikely.
But first, a bit of the scandal, as described in the Times; Parliamentary hearings have just begun:
How could this have happened, over decades, without action to stop it? How could some of the country’s most respected institutions — among them the BBC, the National Health Service, police forces in London and other areas, as well as the national prosecuting authority — have failed to bring the accused principal abuser to book? How could so many vulnerable young girls and boys — more than 200, according to the police — have been exposed to such vileness, for so long,and so blatantly, without anybody stepping in to help them?
The occasion was the opening of hearings by the House of Commons committee on culture, media and sport, and the matter at hand cascading revelations in the past month that have portrayed one of Britain’s most beloved television hosts, Jimmy Savile, who died last year at 84, as an insatiable pedophile, a predator who abused teenagers in children’s homes, in hospitals for the emotionally disturbed, in BBC dressing rooms yards from stage sets where he made himself a national idol.
And more background here:
Abuse Allegations Against BBC Host Multiply in Britain
By ALAN COWELL
The British police said Friday that the allegations of sexual abuse leveled against one of Britain’s best-known television personalities were “unprecedented,” with more than 400 leads and at least 200 potential victims, more than three times the tally only days ago.
The disclosure represents a significant widening of the scandal, as victims and accusers overcome decades of reticence to step forward and denounce the former BBC host, Jimmy Savile, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and had often been depicted as a national treasure.
“The public’s response to this issue has been astounding,” Peter Spindler, a commander with Scotland Yard, said in a statement. “We are dealing with alleged abuse on an unprecedented scale. The profile of this operation has empowered a staggering number of victims to come forward to report the sexual exploitation which occurred during their childhood.”
The accusations against Mr. Savile, who died last year at the age of 84, have stunned many Britons, shattering the public image of a television personality who for decades attracted a young audience through his role as host of two popular BBC programs, “Top of the Pops,” a chart-countdown show, and “Jim’ll Fix It,” in which Mr. Savile promised to grant viewers’ wishes.
The accusations first came to light in a documentary broadcast this month on the rival commercial channel ITV.
With his hallmark peroxide-blond hair and long cigars, Mr. Savile was widely known as a showman whose celebrity enabled him to sponsor many charities. The complaints of abuse of under-age girls in hospitals that Mr. Savile visited as a volunteer, in children’s homes and on the premises of the BBC, Britain’s public broadcaster, have also raised searing questions about why the station did not move earlier against Mr. Savile, whose behavior was the topic of much-discussed rumors among BBC employees.
So, what did Mr. Thopson know and when did he know it? He claims he knew nothing, quite resolutely, as head of the BBC from 2004 until September 2012. Yet per the Times, rumors about Mr. Savile have been circulating for more than a decade:
Starting in September, accusations began to surface in news reports that Mr. Savile, a beloved television personality, philanthropist and longtime BBC employee, had victimized more than 200 boys and girls before his death last year. The accusations have also raised questions about whether the BBC was aware of his suspected pattern of criminal behavior while he was employed there and whether the “Newsnight” investigation was shut down to avoid embarrassment for the corporation.
For years, Mr. Savile’s career had been dogged by rumors of his sexual behavior. In a 2000 documentary, Mr. Savile acknowledged speculation that he was a pedophile, saying, “I know I’m not.”
That level of incuriousity on the part of Mr. Thompson may not be indictable but I doubt the Times board will consider it a helpful embellishment to their imagined brand. And if rumors circulated for years but never reached his ears, what sort of a corporate culture of communication was he fostering? What was his approach - "My door is always open - for good news"?
Naturally, there is also some question of a specific cover-up - a BBC investigative team was working on a Savile project which was eventually cancelled. So far, Mr. Thompson has managed to preserve his shield of perfect ignorance.
But so what? Is this really the man the Times wants leading what they would like to present as a news organization? Maybe they could signal the change in leadership with a change in motto - "All the News That Jumps In Our Lap and Slaps Our Face".
The Times current official position is to Keep Hope Alive:
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.
“Mark will join The New York Times Company as president and CEO the week of Nov. 12,” said the spokesman in a statement. “We believe his experience and accomplishments make him the ideal person to take the helm of the Times Company as we focus on growing our businesses through digital and global expansion.”
Hell will freeze and Thompson will have to skate across it to get this job on this schedule. We hear from a voice of realism:
Douglas Arthur, an equity analyst at Evercore Partners, an investment bank that follows The Times and currently has a buy rating on the stock, was more cautious. “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.,” he said. “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.”