NY Times Editor Jill Abramson Distances Newsroom From In-House Criticism of New CEO

TImes CEO Mark Thompson left the BBC just before it was hit by scandal

New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson distanced herself from her paper’s recent critiques of new CEO Mark Thompson on Tuesday, telling Business Insider chief Henry Blodget that she was supportive of her new boss and argued that her paper has adequately covered the scandal at Thompson's old company, the BBC.

Blodget interviewed Abramson on stage at his website’s Ignition conference in Manhattan, and during a largely laudatory session jumped into the recent drama in Abramson's newsroom.

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Thompson (left) took over the Times in November, having left the BBC just before a new scandal tarnished Britain’s leading news organization. Under Thompson's leadership, the BBC quashed a report about late employee Jimmy Savile’s alleged pedophilia. 

Charges against Savile have since become an international news story, raising questions about why the BBC didn't air the report. Thompson has insisted he heard the report was quashed for journalistic reasons but knew little else, prompting questions of what he knew and when.

The Times’ own Joe Nocera wrote an op-ed column asking whether Thompson was the right man to run the Times.

“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. It also makes you wonder what kind of chief executive he’d be at the Times,” Nocera wrote.

The paper's Public Editor Margaret Sullivan also questioned the new hire, urging the Times to interview Thompson about what he knew.

The Times has run several pieces in its news pages, which are overseen by Abramson, over the past month on the BBC scandal and its new CEO, the most in-depth coming at the beginning of November. Matthew Purdy's investigation, titled "As Scandal Flared, BBC's Leaders Miss Red Flags," noted that "For the moment, the Savile case has shaken the solid reputation Mr. Thompson had when he left the BBC on Sept. 14."

While Abramson acknowledged the scandal at the BBC, she drew a distinction between her newsroom and these two pieces by columnists not under her oversight. 

“The people who’ve been saying he perhaps isn’t the best choice for this job are the public editor — an ombudsman or ombudswoman who doesn’t work in the newsroom – and one of our columnists,” Abramson said. “Columnists work for the editorial page. They toil in the opinion realm, which I have nothing to do with.”

“There has always been a separation between news and opinion; it’s one of the founding pillars of the New York Times,” she said. “There’s been a separation between those two.”

She then insisted that the Times has thoroughly reported on the scandal, defending the paper against any charges of bias.

“We have a team of reporters in London and New York reporting on the story,” Abramson said. “We’ve done a number of lengthy enterprise pieces about unfolding issues in the BBC investigation.”

Thompson testified before the closed-door BBC inquiry last Friday in London.

When Blodget asked whether people in the Times newsroom hissed at Thompson, Abramson countered with praise. She's had interesting meals with him, she said, has been in meetings with him and noted that he is full of energy an ideas.