New York Times columnist Joe Nocera questioned Tuesday whether Mark Thompson, the paper's incoming CEO, did enough to investigate allegations of a pedophilia scandal at the BBC while he led the British television network.
Several women have said that Jimmy Savile, a BBC children's show host who died last year, coerced them into sex at the corporation's studios when they were underage. Thompson was the director-general of the BBC at the time, and says he inquired about the accusations but did not personally look into them.
The Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has called for an aggressive investigation of what her paper's future leader knew. In a column in the Times Tuesday, Nocera questioned why his future boss didn't do more.
He noted that publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who defended Thompson during Thursday's third-quarter earnings call, has put is his faith in the former BBC head.
"Arthur Sulzberger is in a difficult spot," Nocera wrote. "He believes strongly that he’s got the executive he needs to lead the Times to the promised land of healthy profits again … Sulzberger is backing his man unreservedly."
Thompson has said he was approached by a BBC reporter at a party in December who asked if he was concerned about the investigation by the BBC program "Newsnight" into Savile, Nocero wrote.
Thompson told the Times that soon after, he asked his underlings about the investigation, was told that the broadcast had been shelved for journalistic reasons, and did not push further, Nocero added.
The columnist said that Thompson did not even act when the Daily Mail printed a story in February saying the BBC had killed the "Jimmy Savile sex abuse investigation 'to protect its own reputation.'" A month later, Thompson resigned as the head of the corporation.
"Thompson winds up appearing willfully ignorant, and it makes you wonder what kind of an organization the BBC was when Thompson was running it — and what kind of leader he was," Nocera wrote. "It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at the Times."
The columnist appeared to urge caution in his closing paragraph, saying he hopes Sulzberger's faith "is warranted."
"For the sake of Times employees — not to mention the readers who want to see a vibrant New York Times Company — let’s hope his faith in Thompson is warranted," he wrote. "Otherwise, the BBC won’t be the only organization being asked tough questions about its judgment."