Bloomberg News

Thompson Starts as New York Times CEO Under Cloud of BBC Scandal

November 12, 2012

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson

New York Times Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Thompson. Photographer: Antoine Antoniol/Bloomberg

Mark Thompson took over today as chief executive officer of the New York Times Co. (NYT:US) amid lingering criticism of his handling of a sex scandal at the British Broadcasting Corp.

Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger issued a memo to staff this morning confirming the CEO’s arrival, after a number of columnists at the newspaper questioned BBC’s journalism practices under Thompson. He was hired for the job in August following a career at the U.K. broadcaster.

Sulzberger welcomed Thompson to the Times’ staff in the memo, saying his management experience at the BBC “will be of great value to our company as we continue our pursuit of creating the highest quality journalism and the business results to support it.”

The BBC has been roiled by allegations that the popular host Jimmy Savile sexually abused dozens of children while he worked at the broadcaster. While BBC’s “Newsnight” had sought to bring light to Savile’s past last year, the story was killed, further raising concerns about a cover-up. Thompson, who led the BBC for an eight-year stretch lasting until September, said he wasn’t aware of the abuse allegations and didn’t participate in stopping “Newsnight” from airing the segment.

“I was not involved in any way in the decision-making about the ‘Newsnight’ investigation into Savile,” Thompson said in an interview last month. Savile died last year.

Successor Resigns

Thompson’s successor at the BBC, George Entwistle, resigned last weekend over a separate “Newsnight” report that erroneously implied a senior politician had molested a young boy. Meanwhile, an independent investigator is looking into the canceled Savile segment. Two of the BBC’s most senior news executives -- Helen Boaden, who reported to Thompson at the time, and her deputy Stephen Mitchell -- have relinquished their responsibilities during the probe.

Thompson, 55, signed an employment agreement in August with the New York Times valued at as much as $10.5 million, including a signing bonus potentially worth $4.5 million that he starts collecting today.

The Times’ columnists have openly questioned whether the company should reassess its choice.

“His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect the Times and its journalism -- profoundly,” Margaret Sullivan, public editor for the New York Times, wrote last month. “It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events.”

‘Willfully Ignorant’

Joe Nocera, an op-ed columnist for the Times, wrote that Thompson’s lack of knowledge about the Savile matter makes him appear “willfully ignorant.”

“It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at the Times,” he said in his column.

The New York-based company declined to comment beyond the memo by Sulzberger, who said the board remains committed to Thompson.

“Mark will lead us as we continue our digital transformation, bolster our international growth, drive our productivity and introduce new technologies that will help us become better storytellers and enrich the experience for our readers and viewers,” Sulzberger said. “That is what he did as director-general of the BBC.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Edmund Lee in New York at elee310@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net


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