The NY Times stuck with embattled former BBC chief Mark Thompson based on his assurances that despite thirty-three years at the BBC including eight at the helm he had never heard a whisper about BBC star Jimmy Savile's pedophilia.
Now the Times has documentation that his ignorance was not as complete as he had claimed. The ghastly facts and Thompson's creative defense:
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.
According to people who have reviewed the private letter, it recounted that the proposed article in The Sunday Times magazine would “look at a number of allegations regarding the behavior of the late television and radio presenter, specifically that he took advantage of a series of young women. Some of the alleged assaults took place on BBC premises.”
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.
So Thompson is going with the classic "I'll sue you if you say whatever it is you are saying, even though I have no idea what it is" defense. Save it for the laugh track.
Timesman Matthew Purdy, who has the unhappy task of investigating the new Times boss, notes a bit of a problem with Thompson's claim of aggressive ignorance:
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.”
That was his claim then, but... Thompson backed away from that denial in a subsequent letter reported by the Times (and mocked by yours truly); the evolving evasion was flagged in a story with a Purdy byline:
Mr. Thompson’s version of his role has shifted somewhat over the past 10 days.
In a statement released on Oct. 13, Mr. Thompson issued a blanket denial of any knowledge of the squelched BBC report. “I was not notified or briefed about the ‘Newsnight’ investigation,” he said, adding that “during my time as director general of the BBC, I never heard any allegations or received any complaints about Jimmy Savile.”
But on Tuesday, in a letter in response to Mr. Wilson, the Parliament member, Mr. Thompson appeared to adjust his answer slightly, saying, “I 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.”
So let's note two things. First, Mark Thompson had a long career at the BBC prior to becoming director general; neither denial claims he maintained his full ignorance of Jimmy Savile's conduct prior to his final promotion.
And his modified second denial emphasizes formal briefings and reports, which is very British and very bureaucratic - if there is no memo, it never happened. The second denial cracks the door open to the possibility that Mr. Thompson was told of the Saville problem but not in a formal briefing (a heads-up in the washroom preserves deniability).
Well - the Times now has a CEO who doesn't reliably read his morning briefings and threatens to sue people without knowing why. Is this See No Evil CEO right for a news organization?