The New York Times apparently doesn’t like to fire people.
The paper is keeping Ali Watkins, reassigning her to an as-yet unnamed new beat in New York from her position covering politics in Washington, D.C., even though she failed to fully disclose a romantic relationship with James Wolfe, a well positioned staff member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she specifically covered and wrote about for several years.
Although the multi\year relationship between Watkins and Wolfe poses an obvious violation of journalistic ethics and norms, as Watkins covered the committee before and after getting together with Wolfe — including for The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Politico — the paper is not firing her. Watkins also did not disclose to her editors at the Times for several months that federal investigators had seized her e-mail and phone records as part of an investigation into information leaks involving Wolfe, who in June was arrested for allegedly lying to the FBI but not leaking. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, sent a memo to staff, acknowledging it was atypical to explain an internal investigation like the one the paper launched into the Watkins matter and has since reported in an extensive front-page story that detailed Watkins’ romantic relationship with Wolfe, as well as several others. But given the “extraordinary nature of the case,” he did so, to a degree.
Besides, he said in the memo, it wasn’t Times editors’ fault — it was all those other places where she worked.
“Ali is a talented journalist, and no one has challenged the accuracy of her reporting,” Baquet wrote. “She has also made some poor judgments. But as she started her career, I believe she was not well served by some editors elsewhere who failed to respond appropriately to her disclosures about her relationships.”
Baquet went on to say that a reporter carrying on an “intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable,” but that the Times needs to be “a humane place that can allow for second chances when there are mitigating circumstances.”
The Times and a number of other media outlets have reported that Watkins in the past disclosed her relationship with Wolfe while covering the committee, but was never taken off of the beat. Baquet also admitted that she “disclosed aspects” of past relationships to Times editors during the hiring process last year, but nothing came of the disclosures.
Noting Watkins was “cooperative” during the internal review and now “understands the gravity of her mistakes,” Baquet said he decided to reassign her to New York, where she will be supervised and work with a mentor.
Baquet did indicate, though, that such a situation might not happen again — sort of.
“We also intend to tighten our job candidate screening process to ensure that significant questions make their way to the newsroom leadership for full discussion, which did not happen in this case,” he added.
Watkins is the second reporter in about six months to be reassigned. Former White House reporter Glenn Thrush, also an alumni of Politico, was taken off of that beat late last year after being suspended for “sexual misconduct” stemming from accusations in a Vox report that Thrush made a number of drunken advances on younger female colleagues, including unwanted groping and kissing. Baquet said at the time that the Times did not “condone” Thrush’s alleged behavior, but that he “didn’t deserve to be fired.”
One person who did get ousted was longtime Metro editor Wendell Jamieson, who “resigned” in April for allegedly “inappropriate” communications and interactions with female colleagues.
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