Friday, November 02, 2012

Child Abuse, the BBC, the New York Times, and Mark Thompson

The Mark Thompson case -- Mark Thompson is, or was, the "incoming" CEO of the New York Times and before that was head of the BBC -- the Mark Thompson case will test the New York Times' professed commitment to principle -- its professed abhorrence of the sexual abuse of children. Mark Thompson's defense that he had "no idea" what Jimmy Savile (and presumably others) had done to children while at the BBC is almost laughable: if Mark Thoompson did not know, it's because he did not want to know. See, e.g., Andrew O'Hagan, Light Entertainment: Our Paedophile Culture  London Review of Books (Nov. 8 [sic], 2012) (recounting widespread sexual abuse of minors by prominent personalities within the BBC but laying the blame at the feet of "culture").
See also Michael Moynihan, Will Mark Thompson Survive as New York Times CEO amid Jimmy Savile Scandal? Daily Beast (Nov. 2, 2012):
"A rough prĂ©cis of the increasingly complex scandal: BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, who died last year at age 84, is alleged to have sexually assaulted hundreds of woman and underage girls, which some have claimed was an open secret at Broadcasting House. Soon after his death, the BBC’s program Newsnight was set to air an investigation detailing horrifying allegations of rape and pedophilia against Savile. But  for reasons that are still unclear, higher-ups intervened and the program was dropped. Who intervened—and why—is a matter of furious debate.

"Thompson, then the top man at the BBC, claims to have known nothing of the Newsnight investigation and, therefore, was in not involved in spiking the Savile segment. But Thompson’s line on what he knew and when has been modified, shifted, and qualified since the story broke. (See The Daily Beast’s previous coverage of Thompson’s seemingly contradictory account of the Savile timeline here.) But new allegations in London’s Sunday Times suggest Thompson’s office was twice contacted about the Savile investigation by a freelance journalist last April. Thompson claims this information languished on his secretary’s desk, never reaching his ears, a defense that has provoked renewed scrutiny of his role at the Times. As New York magazine writer Joe Hagan put it, if conclusive evidence surfaces that 'Thompson had prior knowledge of the BBC report on Savile, the Times’ reputation would be damaged, not least because of its own tough reportage on molestation cover-ups inside the Catholic church and at Penn State.'”
The New York Times was not nearly so solicitous of what it took to be the defense of wilful ignorance in the case of Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals such as Bernard Law. (This is different because, after all, Thompson is not a Roman Catholic cleric?)

Is it time for someone to investigate whether the New York Times tolerated criminal sexual misbehavior by people within its own ranks? Or does the Times think that a journalist's privilege bars such an investigation?
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