The New York Times has turned its guns on one of its own, and right about now Mark Thompson must be looking for somewhere in the corporate suite to hide.
In a devastating article, the paper of record raises questions about what its newly minted chief executive officer knew about a pedophilia scandal at the BBC and when he knew it. Thompson stepped down as BBC director-general in September and assumed his new perch at The Times on Monday.
Yet his cross-Atlantic transition has been turbulent. He has found himself dogged by the scandal engulfing the BBC after allegations emerged that he tried to prevent an exposé by one of the network's investigative programs into claims that children's TV host Jimmy Savile routinely coerced teenage girls into having sex. Savile, who died in 2011, was one of the BBC's biggest stars.
Thompson has maintained that he learned of the claims against Savile after leaving the BBC, but a legal letter indicates that he was aware of the accusations before he stepped down from his post, according to the article in The Times. In the piece, reporter Matthew Purdy writes that lawyers representing Thompson threatened to sue The Sunday Times over an article it was writing that claimed he had squelched his network's investigative report on Savile's sexual behavior. The letter was sent 10 days before Thompson resigned from the BBC.
The Sunday Times is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and is based in the United Kingdom.
"There were other moments during Mr. Thompson’s final months at the BBC — involving brief conversations and articles appearing in London news media — when he might have picked up on the gravity of the Savile case," Purdy writes. "But the letter is different because it shows Mr. Thompson was involved in an aggressive action to challenge an article about the case that was likely to reflect poorly on the BBC and on him."
The letter purportedly included a summary of Savile's alleged abuses. The Times reports that an aide to Thompson said he authorized the letter orally, but was not fully informed about its contents.
After the story broke, speculation mounted on Twitter among media watchers that Thompson's position at The Times might be in jeopardy.
"The odds on Mark Thompson staying as CEO of the New York Times just changed," Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, tweeted.
At the very least, it appears that reporters at the paper have taken to heart Public Editor Margaret Sullivan's charge to cover the BBC scandal aggressively.
"As the BBC has found out in the most painful way, for The Times to pull its punches will not be a wise way to go," Sullivan wrote.
As Thompson, still nursing Purdy's uppercut, just found out, The Times looks ready to put some muscle into it.