After an extensive internal review, The New York Times announced on Tuesday that Ali Watkins would receive a “fresh start” and move from Washington, D.C., to “a new beat” in New York City even though the 26-year-old reporter had been romantically involved with at least two potential sources over a three-year period.
Executive Editor Dean Baquet explained the decision by stating The Times “must be a humane place that can allow for second chances when there are mitigating circumstances.”
Nevertheless, he added: “We are troubled by Ali’s conduct.…For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with someone he or she covers is unacceptable.”
Baquet also noted: “We hold our journalists and their work to the highest standards. We are giving Ali an opportunity to show that she can live up to them. I believe she can.”
Also on Tuesday, Watkins issued a statement in response: “I respect and understand the Times’ review and agree that I should have handled aspects of my past relationships and disclosures differently.”
She then added:
I sincerely regret putting the Times in a difficult position and am very grateful for the support I’ve received from my editors and colleagues here.
I also appreciate the review’s conclusion that my reporting has been fact-based and accurate.
In an article written by media correspondent Michael M. Grynbaum, The Times stated that Watkins — who has been covering federal law enforcement in the nation’s capital — will also be assigned a mentor for the time being.
Grynbaum noted that the reporter had a three-year affair with 57-year-old James Wolfe, who “handled classified material” for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which “she covered for several news organizations before joining the Times in December.”
Wolfe was arrested last month “as part of a leak investigation in which the Justice Department also seized Ms. Watkins’ communications, an unusually aggressive move against a journalist,” the correspondent stated.
However, the aide pleaded not guilty in front of a federal judge in D.C. to charges he lied to the F.B.I.
“Although her disclosures varied in detail, none of her editors barred her from covering the intelligence committee or explicitly told her that the relationship was inappropriate,” Grynbaum continued. “She has said the relationship did not turn romantic until after those stories ran.”
“Reporters at the Times — and at other news organizations — have expressed unease over Ms. Watkins’ conduct,” he noted. “Women in particular say the episode has made them more vulnerable to an ugly and false stereotype often lobbed at female reporters, that they exchange sex for information.”
Also discussing Watkins’ situation was FoxNews.com’s Brian Flood, who wrote that the paper published “a blistering report about Watkins” and that “[t]he report strongly implies Watkins rose to journalistic fame while using her married boyfriend as a source.”
As NewsBusters previously reported, a story in early June revealed that some reporters were using unethical means to obtain and leak classified information about the Trump administration, which was “cracking down” on leakers.
That report referred to Wolfe’s arrest and the fact that his primary contact with the press was Watkins.
At the end of that month, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson issued a “public spanking” of the newspaper over the “horrible 3,000-word exposé” of Watkins that “hung a 26-year-old young woman out to dry.”
Of course, Baquet also asserted on Tuesday that the vetting process at the “Grey Lady” will “tighten as a result of the Watkins investigation.” The Times executive editor apparently subscribes to the motto “better late than never.”