New York Times gives star D.C. reporter Ali Watkins a fresh start in new bureau after claims she dated sources
The New York Times reassigned Ali Watkins, the star reporter who was accused being romantically involved with at the least two potential sources, to a new beat outside of the paper’s Washington bureau. The paper’s top editor detonation Watkins’ actions as “unacceptable” but said she deserves a second chance.
The Time announced on Tuesday that Watkins will relocate to New York after an internal review of her romantic history with potential sources. The newspaper also announced she will receive a mentor and a “fresh start, ” executive editor Dean Baquet told staffers.
Last month, a shocking indictment revealed that prior to joining the Times, Watkins, 26, had a three-year romantic relationship with Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe, 58, who was accused by federal prosecutors of lying about leaks of sensitive information to journalists. The indictment strongly indicated he was a source for Watkins and others, though Watkins reportedly has denied use her relationship for scoops.
The Gray Lady then published a scalding report about Watkins, its own employee, which exposed she dated another Intelligence Committee staffer. The report strongly implies Watkins rose to journalistic notoriety while use her married boyfriend as a source.
The Hour report headlined, “How an Affair Between a Reporter and a Security Aide Has Rattled Washington Media, ” and featured interviews with approximately 36 “friends and colleagues” of the scandalous former couple. Watkins carried on a three-year relationship with Wolfe, who is 30 years her senior and has been supervising classified information delivered by the CIA and FBI since “before Watkins was born, ” as the paper pointed out.
Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the paper, blasted the paper for publishing the “horrible” deep dive into Watkins’ past in an email to Daily Beast reporter Lloyd Grove.
“That story hung a 26 -year-old young woman out to dry. It was unimaginable to me what the ache must be like for her, ” Abramson said.
Baquet sent a memoranda to his personnel about the Watkins situation that was published by the paper on Tuesday.
“We hold our journalists and their work to the highest standards, ” Baquet wrote. “We are giving Ali an opportunity to show that she can live up to them. I believe she can.”
Baquet said the Times “must be a humane place that can allow for second opportunities when there are mitigating circumstances.” Despite government decisions not to terminate Watkins, Baquet did carry displeasure with her action in the note.
“We are troubled by Ali’s conduct, especially while she was employed by other news organizations. For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with person he or she covers is unacceptable.”
“We are troubled by Ali’s conduct, particularly while she was employed by other news organizations. For a reporter to have an intimate relationship with person he or she encompasses is unacceptable, ” he wrote.
Watkins encompassed national security for McClatchy, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, and Politico before joining The New York Times. She has denied receiving information from Wolfe during their relationship.
“Although her revealings differed in detail , none of her editors barred her from covering the intelligence committee, or explicitly told her that the relationship was inappropriate, ” Times media correspondent Michael M. Grynbaum wrote on Tuesday. “She has said the relationship did not turning romantic until after those narratives ran.”
Watkins was a finalist for the coveted Pulitzer Prize during her day at McClatchy.
“As she started her career, I believe she was not well served by some editors elsewhere who failed to respond appropriately to her revealings about her relationships, ” Baquet wrote, adding that the Times editors “also bear some responsibility.”
He said the Times’ inquiry “found that during the hiring process she disclosed aspects of her past relationships to some editors.”
Watkins received a letter in February notifying her that the Justice Department procured her records, but the reporter did not inform the Times until June at the advice of her lawyer, according to the report. Baquet wrote that those actions “put our news organization in a difficult position.”
“I respect and understand the Times’ review and agree that I should have handled aspects of my past relationships and revealings differently.”
Watkins issued the following statement: “I respect and understand the Times’ review and agree that I should have managed aspects of my past relationships and disclosures differently. I sincerely regret putting The Times in a difficult stance 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.”
Wolfe, who was indicted this month on three counts of lying to FBI agents and accused of leaking information to the media, pleaded not guilty in front of a federal magistrate judge in Washington , D.C ., earlier this month. Watkins has not written for the Times since his arrest.
“Reporters at The Times, and at other news organizations, have conveyed malaise over Ms. Watkins’s conduct. 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 sexuality for information, ” Grynbaum wrote.
Baquet said the vetting process at the Times will tighten as a result of the Watkins investigation.