Should Mark Thompson be our boss, asks NY Times (again)

Oct 30, 2012
Tim Edwards

Second columnist in a week questions suitability of former BBC DG to become New York Times CEO

ANOTHER week, and another New York Times columnist asks the question: is former BBC Director-General Mark Thompson the right man to take over as the newspaper company’s boss?

Thompson, who is due to join the New York Times Co as chief executive on 12 November, has been fending off questions over how much he knew about Jimmy Savile’s alleged child abuse on BBC premises and whether he was party to the December 2011 decision by Newsnight to cancel an investigation into the late presenter’s wrongdoing.

Last week, the New York Times’s public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote a blog asking: "How likely is it that the Times Company will continue with its plan to bring Mr. Thompson on as chief executive... It's worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."

Just 24 hours later, New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr appeared to clear Thompson. In an email to staff, he wrote that Thompson "possesses high ethical standards and is the ideal person to lead our company".

It’s not clear whether NYT business columnist Joe Nocera received that email. Yesterday he wrote a piece for his paper saying that the BBC had "plainly" covered up Jimmy Savile’s wrongdoing, adding: "What is far less certain is how high the cover-up went."

Nocera believes it is "plausible... given the byzantine nature of the BBC bureaucracy" that Thompson was telling the truth when he said he had never heard the rumours about Savile’s sexual abuses and that he only learned of the Newsnight investigation into the presenter after it had been spiked.

But Nocera notes that throughout the Savile affair, "Thompson winds up appearing wilfully ignorant, and it makes you wonder what kind of an organisation the BBC was when Thompson was running it - and what kind of leader he was. It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at The Times."

As for Sulzberger’s faith in Thompson, writes Nocera, let’s hope it is warranted. "Otherwise, the BBC won’t be the only organisation being asked tough questions about its judgment."

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