Mark Thompson, a former director-general of the British Broadcasting Corporation, began his new job Monday as president and CEO of The New York Times. The lack of embarrassment was remarkable. Thompson claimed he was the worst kind of ignorant buffoon, knowing nothing about the massive sex-abuse scandal — and then its censorship — that’s rocking the BBC.
Scotland Yard has been conducting a criminal investigation into allegations of child sex abuse by the late disc jockey and TV personality Jimmy Savile over six decades, describing him as a “predatory sex offender.” In mid-October, the metropolitan police stated they were pursuing over 400 lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims. Chris Patten, the head of the BBC’s government body called it “this great tsunami of filth.” BBC’s “Newsnight” was about to broadcast an expose last December — but BBC bosses spiked it, and, incredibly, aired Christmas tributes to Savile instead.
The New York Times has routinely found it implausible that a Pope or a Republican president or a Rupert Murdoch could ever be unaware of grave scandals or allegations of scandals beneath them. The paper consistently telegraphs that someone so unaware of such a scandal must be the worst kind of knave or dolt. So the newspaper’s hiring of Mark Thompson is the height of corporate hypocrisy.
And that’s the best that can be said. What if Thompson was not unaware, as common sense dictates?
The corporate statement that matters most (and sickens most) came from publisher “Pinch” Sulzberger. He insisted against all the evidence that Thompson “abides by high ethical standards” and “is the ideal person to lead our company.” How in blazes do Thompson’s assertions of ignorance of censorship and child sexual abuse in the hallways of his own network constitute “high ethical standards” and ideal leadership qualities?
It’s perfectly obvious that the Times editors have followed Sulzberger’s moral judgment and given the BBC a kid-gloves treatment, especially when you compare it to the paper’s aggressive campaign of coverage against Rupert Murdoch in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. The differing levels of aggression are notable in the number of stories, the tone of stories and the allergic-to-front-page placement of BBC stories. Reporters covering Savile seem forced to use qualifiers that they would not use for subjects they dislike.
As in “Whether through a series of near misses or a more deliberate avoidance, the executives failed to confront questions about Mr. Savile and the possibility that, in decades past, the BBC was somehow complicit in his behavior.” Somehow?
Or: “For the moment, the Savile case has shaken the solid reputation Mr. Thompson had when he left the BBC on Sept. 14.” For the moment?
The Times has mostly buried Mark Thompson’s role in the ignorance and censorship, largely consigning it to official-sounding paragraphs of denial buried late in its BBC scandal stories, deep inside the paper.
Matt Philbin and Clay Waters of the Media Research Center did some counting. Between Oct. 14 and Nov. 6, the Times ran just 16 stories on the BBC sex-abuse scandal, and only one ran on the front page. By contrast, in a two-month period in 2010, the Times published 64 news stories on Catholic sex abuse scandals, 13 of them on the front page. Twenty of these accusatory articles began with sentences linking Pope Benedict to the scandal with phrases like a “growing pressure to address his role” in allowing abuses.
The Times would like to think there is no one to apply “growing pressure” to them when they look askance at sexual abuse at the BBC. The BBC, in their eyes, is a global enterprise in enlightenment, while the Catholic Church is a global conspiracy of sexual repression and male chauvinism.
In an Oct. 15 column, former Times executive editor Bill Keller sneered at Murdoch, the “BBC-hater,” for making this an issue. “So far no evidence has surfaced that Thompson, his successor, or anyone else up top had anything to do with dropping the Savile documentary.” Keller even tried to smear the stain over all of Britain. He quoted one BBC insider as saying there was ‘’a kind of national conspiracy which united all of us ... and together we colluded with him.’’
Keller, by contrast, wrote a scabrous column in 2002 insisting that the Catholic sex abuse scandal was “of the pope’s making.” And “The fact that the pope’s passing reference to the rape of children as a ‘crime’ was treated as a bolt of divine enlightenment reflects just how eager we are to let him off the hook ... The scandal is the persistent failure of the church hierarchy to comprehend, to care and to protect.”
The scandal today is the persistent failure of Thompson and/or The New York Times hierarchy “to comprehend, to care, and to protect.” Keller and Co., heal thyself. Thompson must be dumped.