New York Times Keeps Ali Watkins on Staff, Kicks Out of D.C. Bureau

Former BuzzFeed reporter Ali Watkins, whose reporting for the New York Times is now under investigation.
PBS NewsHour via YouTube

The New York Times declared Tuesday it will not terminate Ali Watkins — one of its reporters who, prior to joining the paper, was romantically linked to at least one source — but will reassign her from Washington, DC, to New York.

Watkins carried on a three- or four-year relationship with former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James A. Wolfe prior to joining the New York Times and is an alumnus of McClatchy, HuffPost, and BuzzFeed.

The Watkins-Wolfe relationship ended in 2017. Last month, Fox News reported Watkins to be 26 years old and Wolfe to be 57.

Federal prosecutors issued an indictment for Wolfe in June, accusing him of leaking sensitive information to journalists, including Watkins. As part of their investigation into said leaks, they seized email and phone records from Watkins.

The Department of Justice claims Wolfe acknowledged his romance with Watkins, having records of tens of thousands of messages and phone calls exchanged between the two.

The Times claims to have known about the Watkins’s romance with Wolfe prior to hiring her.

“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. … I also believe that The Times must be a humane place that can allow for second chances when there are mitigating circumstances,” wrote Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, in a memo to his staff.

Via statement, Watkins wrote, “I respect and understand the Times’ review and agree that I should have handled aspects of my past relationships and disclosures differently. 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.”

On Watkins’s romantic relationship with Wolfe, the New York Times wrote, “Journalists were also unsettled by her violation of a bedrock norm of their profession: avoiding romantic involvement with a person she covered. Reporters at The Times, and at other news organizations, have expressed unease 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 sex for information.”

Despite criticizing Watkins’s previous editors for permitting her to continue reporting on a person she was romantically involved with, Baquet acknowledged that his own news media outlet did the same.

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