Mark Thompson begins a new life as one of the US media’s most influential power-brokers this morning, hoping the scandal that lingers over his stewardship of the BBC will stay largely confined to the far side of the Atlantic.
The former Director General of our national broadcaster will ride to the upper floors of the New York Times building in central Manhattan to start work as the firm's Chief Executive. Yet his first day at the coalface is likely to be spent fielding questions about the Jimmy Savile affair.
Ironically, the lion’s share will come from Mr Thompson’s own staff. Most US news organisations have ignored the controversy that now dominates British discourse, on the grounds that neither Savile, nor the BBC, are particularly relevant to their audience. But the NYT tends to take introspection seriously.
To that end, Mr Thompson’s newspaper is eagerly digging into the question of what he knew about Newsnight’s ill-fated investigation into Savile’s sex life, and when. One of its most influential pundits, Joe Nocera, recently devoted an entire column to the scandal.
“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,” he concluded.
The former DG will earn $5m [$3.22m] during his first year at the Times. The paper’s reports of his appointment have lingered not just on his hefty remuneration, but also on such fripperies as the fact that his new office has a personalised name-plate on its door.
Margaret Sullivan, the NYT’s “public editor,” has meanwhile urged colleagues to continue vigorously pursuing their new boss. “It’s worth considering now whether he is the right person for the job,” she wrote recently. “Questions ought to be asked. I hope The Times rises to the challenge and thoroughly reports what it finds.”