Savile scandal poses threat to former DG's New York job

Oct 24, 2012

New York Times ombudsman asks: 'Is he the right person for the job given this turn of events?'

Carl Court

FORMER BBC Director-General Mark Thompson's future as chief executive of the New York Times – a job he's due to take up on 12 November – is being questioned because he was still DG when Newsnight's Jimmy Savile investigation was controversially dropped in December 2011.

The New York Times' public editor – or ombudsman - Margaret Sullivan asked yesterday: "How likely is it that the Times Company will continue with its plan to bring Mr. Thompson on as chief executive?"

Sullivan blogged on the paper's website: "His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect The Times and its journalism - profoundly. It's worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."

In addition, The Daily Telegraph reports today that a BBC foreign correspondent is casting doubts on Thompson's recent claim that he was unaware of Savile's reputation regarding underage girls.

Caroline Hawley says she expressed concerns about the dropping of the Newsnight investigation when she talked to Thompson at a Christmas 2011 drinks party. Hawley now says: "I think I must have mentioned the broad context of the investigation but genuinely don't remember the words I used."

Other developments in brief:


Fellow BBC radio disc jockey Paul Gambaccini claimed yesterday that Jimmy Savile may have been a necrophiliac as well as a paedophile. In what the Daily Mail calls "one of the most extraordinary allegations to have come out in the wake of the scandal", Gambaccini told Radio 5 Live that the press and the BBC were equally culpable for never exposing Savile's behaviour. He said he had heard a newspaper reporter talking at a wedding 10 years ago about Savile being a necrophiliac. Presenter Nicky Campbell warned: "That particularly lurid accusation that you have just brought to people's attention is one that has not been in the public domain." Gambaccini agreed and asked 'Why not?... Who vetted the knighthood? Coco the clown?"


The decision to drop Newsnight's December 2011 Savile investigation may have been taken because the head of BBC News, Helen Boaden, placed an "impossibly high barrier" before the programme-makers, according to BBC sources talking to The Times. They say that Meirion Jones and Liz MacKean, the journalists leading Newsnight's investigation, believed that Boaden effectively blocked their report by insisting they act as if Savile were alive and able to sue. "They knew his barrister would have attacked his victims' credibility because Savile picked on girls with troubled backgrounds in an approved school," one source said.


It is alleged that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon took the decision in December 2011 to abandon the Savile inquiry after suggesting: "It was 40 years ago... the girls were not too young". The allegation arises from an email seen by Channel 4 News. It was sent last December by Newsnight reporter Liz MacKean to a friend. She wrote: "Having commissioned the story, Peter Rippon keeps saying he's lukewarm about it and is trying to kill it by making impossible editorial demands." MacKean reportedly went on: "When we rebut his points, he resorts to saying, well, it was 40 years ago ... the girls were teenagers, not too young ... they weren't the worst kind of sexual offences etc."


The BBC's chairman, Lord Patten, has launched what The Guardian calls "a spirited defence" of the corporation's independence. He was responding to Culture Secretary Maria Miller who urged him to become more personally involved because "very real concerns are being raised about public trust and confidence in the BBC". Patten wrote back to Miller saying: "I know that you will not want to give any impression that you are questioning the independence of the BBC."


The police, who are investigating individuals from other institutions as well as the BBC, are expected to make their first arrests soon, as a result of claims being made by alleged victims of sexual abuse, not only at the hands of Jimmy Savile. It is not certain whether any of those arrested will be BBC staff or contractors, but The Guardian reports that some suspects did have associations with Savile at the peak of his fame. Yesterday, the BBC confirmed to The Week that it was dealing with nine allegations of sexual harassment, assault or inappropriate conduct regarding current staff or contributors, and that "where appropriate" details had been passed to the police.

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