A month into Entwistle's leadership, the BBC was thrown into crisis with the revelation that its "Newsnight" program had shelved an investigation into allegations that Jimmy Savile, the renowned BBC TV host who died last year, had sexually abused several hundred children -- cajoling some into having sex with him in his car, his camper van, and even in dingy dressing rooms on BBC premises.
The sex allegations were later aired on the rival ITV network. Since then, scores of adults have come forward to claim that their allegations of sexual assault had been ignored by authorities and the news media.
The BBC's decision not to air the Savile report -- and the suggestion that managers did not investigate allegations of sexual abuse by one of their stars -- prompted deep soul-searching at the trusted broadcaster and assurances from Entwistle that he would get to the bottom of the decision.
He said the broadcaster would hold an inquiry into the "culture and practices of the BBC" during the years Savile worked there. Soon after, "Newsnight" editor Peter Rippon stepped aside pending an investigation into his decision to scrap the Savile story.But the furor was reignited soon after the same program aired a Nov. 2 report about alleged sexual abuse of children in Wales in the 1970s and 1980s. During the program, victim Steve Messham claimed he had been abused by a senior Conservative Party figure. The BBC didn't name the alleged abuser, but online rumors focused on Alistair McAlpine, a Conservative Party member of the House of Lords. On Friday, McAlpine issued a fierce denial and threatened to sue. Messham then said he had been mistaken about his abuser's identity and apologized to McAlpine, prompting criticism over the BBC's decision to air the report, the suspension of investigative programs at "Newsnight" and mounting questions over Entwistle's leadership. Entwistle insisted he was not aware of the program before it was broadcast, saying in hindsight he wished the matter had been referred to him. That claim drew incredulity from politicians and media watchers who wondered how he could have allowed a second botched handling of a high-profile child sex-abuse story only weeks after the Savile scandal.