New York Times reporters interview the incoming CEO Mark Thompson amid a sex scandal at the BBC, where he previously worked
The New York Times' top media reporters grilled Mark Thompson, the paper's incoming CEO, over his handling of a BBC news program's investigation of sexual misconduct by TV host Jimmy Savile.
Thompson, who previously headed the BBC and is scheduled to start work at the Times next month, has been accused by reporters at the BBC show "Newsnight" of killing an investigation by the program that revealed Savile, a children's TV host, cajoled teenage girls into having sex.
"There is nothing to suggest that I acted inappropriately in the handling of this matter," Thompson said Wednesday in an interview published Wednesday with media reporters Christine Haughney and David Carr. "I did not impede or stop the 'Newsnight' investigations, nor have I done anything else that could be construed as untoward or unreasonable."
An internal investigation by the BBC recently found that Savile had coerced the teens into having sex in what the Associated Press described as "dingy dressing rooms" at the BBC studios. Police say there could be as many as 200 victims.
"I had no reason to believe that his conduct was a pressing concern," Thompson told the Times. "Had I known about the nature of the allegations and the credible allegations that these horrific crimes had taken place during his time at the BBC and in the building at the BBC, I of course would have considered them very grave and would have acted very differently."
The Times Company said in a statement to the Associated Press that the scandal had "obviously been a topic that we've discussed" but the newspaper was "satisfied" with Thompson's response to questions.
"Mark has done an excellent job of explaining the matter," Times spokesman Bob Christie said in the statement.
Thompson, one of several BBC executives coming under British government and public scrutiny, also defended himself in a letter to Conservative leader Rob Wilson, saying he never worked with or even met Savile. He also said he never heard the rumors about Savile's alleged transgressions.
"If I had, I would have raised them with senior colleagues and contacted the police," Thompson, 55, wrote in the letter released Tuesday. "I had no reason to believe that anyone in the BBC was withholding controversial or incriminating material."
"Newsnight" editor Peter Rippon recently stepped down as the BBC's internal investigation moved forward. The BBC, which had stood behind Rippon, said in a statement recently that his explanation for agreeing to kill the Savile story was incomplete and inaccurate.
In a statement last week, Thompson said he had "never heard any allegations or received any complaints" during his tenure as the director-general of the corporation, from 2004 to 2012.
On Tuesday, the Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote that the paper needs to "aggressively cover" the scandal.
"His integrity and decision-making are bound to affect the Times and its journalism — profoundly," she wrote. "It's worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job, given this turn of events."
Updated at 5:15 p.m. PST with statements from the New York Times Company.