Imagine this nightmare scenario: A well-known TV/radio host and media personality–let’s say Johnny Carson–dies peacefully after spending decades in the public eye as a respected entertainer, philanthropist and occasional newsmaker.
As the public mourns, a series of women currently in their 30’s and 40’s reveal inappropriate relations with the entertainer that occurred when they were still in their formative years, living at boarding houses and rehabilitation centers for troubled children. As the weeks go on, the number of accusers grows from a few to a dozen, then to several hundred. The worst part? Many of these women reported the abuse as it happened, but no one listened to them because the man in question was a celebrity beloved by an entire nation.
This is the story that’s captivated Great Britain for the past month–and it’s not going away anytime soon. The man was Jimmy Saville, and according to his many, many accusers, he molested teenage girls throughout his nearly 50-year career as a BBC TV/radio host and king of celebrity fundraisers. Yet many in the media seemed to accept him as an eccentric character with an unhealthy attraction to adolescent women. Friends and associates would often say, “Oh, that’s just Jimmy.”
Yuck. And it gets worse.
This weekend, the Savile story and its related mini-scandals claimed their three biggest names: BBC News chief Helen Boaden, her deputy Stephen Mitchell, and BBC director general George Entwistle. Here’s the thing: Entwistle wasn’t directly involved with Savile. He resigned after the BBC program “Newsnight” falsely named a former British politician as a suspect in another unrelated pedophilia scandal. It’s almost like the BBC, in trying to be more aggressive with its coverage this time around, stepped over the line into slander. And this week brings us yet another scandal as reports reveal that the BBC paid the departing Entwistle an exorbitant severance fee of approximately $700,000–after only 54 days on the job!
What do we think? Were Boaden and Entwistle correct to resign in the interest of the BBC at large? How should the organization counter public outrage over Entwistle’s ridiculous bonus? And what can the BBC do now to preserve its reputation?
*In what may be the most interesting twist in this already convoluted story, Entwistle’s immediate predecessor Mark Thompson officially became the CEO of The New York Times Company today. We’ll have more on that topic later.