Now another born-in-Britain horror story is sending ripples to these shores.
This one involves former BBC-TV host Sir Jimmy Savile, who is posthumously accused of being one of Britain’s most prodigious, and certainly most famous, child abusers. Police in London say Savile, who died last year at 84, may have sexually molested more than 200 victims, mostly children, over several decades.
The emerging question is how much the BBC — Britain’s esteemed public broadcaster — knew about Savile’s conduct and whether it turned a blind eye to or even covered up his alleged crimes, some of which purportedly took place on BBC premises.
The BBC’s reputation has been damaged by the revelation that “Newsnight,” its version of “60 Minutes,” was about to expose Savile last December. But officials spiked the program at the last minute, purportedly because of a lack of evidence.
The allegations against Savile — a kind of freakish Dick Clark who was known for hosting shows such as “Top of the Pops” and was knighted for his charitable work — were broadcast this month by ITV, an independent rival to state-funded BBC.
This would likely be of passing interest here if the story hadn’t broken several weeks after the New York Times Co. announced the hiring of its new chief executive. He is Mark Thompson, who headed the BBC at the time the Savile documentary was spiked.
Thompson, 55, now finds himself in a what-did-he-know-when position as a British investigative committee begins looking into the Savile-BBC matter. The Times Co., meanwhile, finds itself answering questions about the future of its future chief executive, who is to start work next month.
“He’s our incoming CEO, and there’s no change in our plans for that,” said Times Co. spokesman Robert Christie on Wednesday. “He has the confidence of management. . . . He has said [in multiple press interviews] that he didn’t know about this and we take him at his word. There’s no evidence that he did.”
The Times’s newsroom, by contrast, now is in the awkward position of covering a story in which its incoming boss has a central role.
So far — at least in the judgment of the Times’s public editor, its independent critic — the paper has acquitted itself well.
“To its credit,” wrote the editor, Margaret Sullivan, this week, “the Times is reporting this story regularly through its London bureau, and has displayed it several times on the Web site’s home page.” Though she expressed skepticism that Thompson, while running the 22,000-employee BBC, knew about Savile and “Newsnight,” she added, “It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the [Times] job, given this turn of events.”