Note to NYT’s Sulzberger: Fire New CEO, Save Your Reputation

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Poll your editors and writers, Mr. Sulzberger. They don’t decide who runs your company, but they are opinion leaders in the world or the press, culture, the media and business. Most of them almost certainly will vote to fire your new chief executive, Mark Thompson. Today, Thompson takes over as the CEO of the media firm your family runs. The investigation into the BBC scandal is not over. Thompson will be under a cloud for months, and may he even be charged with an unacceptable amount of blindness to the sex scandal that has hammered one of the largest and most respected media conglomerates in the world.

What is likely to happen to Thompson now? His time is bound to be eaten up by an examination of the BBC by Parliament, and perhaps by the legal authorities. He will be called to testify, at least. Worse, he could be charged with negligence — not legally, but in the sense that he was lax, which is the sort of sin of omission that has brought down many other corporate leaders. It may not be a matter of what Thompson knew and when he knew it. It is more likely the case that, with regard to sex offender Jimmy Savile, he did not know at all. Thompson was director general of the BBC from 2004 to 2012.

What are the arguments for keeping Thompson? The first is that he may have done nothing other than nap at the BBC as it ethically crumbled around him. Perhaps he had no system in place to gather complaints — a suggestion box of sorts.

And perhaps your family does not want to pay Thompson millions of dollars of severance when there is a modest chance he will make it out of the BBC investigation intact, and even with some part of his reputation in place.

It will be embarrassing to jettison a new CEO days after he starts his job. But the reputation of The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) is on the line. The firm already has too many problems. A CEO who may operate while dogged by ethical questions for months, or worst, cannot be added to the mix.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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