The New York Times announced Tuesday that it is reassigning Ali Watkins, 26, to a position in New York after her three-year affair with James Wolfe, the director for security on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee Watkins reported on for past publications. Wolfe has been charged with lying to the FBI about his interactions with three reporters. His affair with Watkins came to light during a Justice Department investigation into the leaks in which Watkins’s phone and email records were seized.
In an internal memo, New York Times executive editor, Dean Baquet, said that “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 someone he or she covers is unacceptable. It violates our written standards and the norms of journalism.”
Watkins’s editors did not prevent her from covering the intelligence committee and did not tell her the relationship was inappropriate, something Baquet notes was a mistake.
“We also bear some responsibility,” Baquet acknowledged. “Our inquiry found that during the hiring process she disclosed aspects of her past relationships to some editors at The Times.”
The Times also noted that “last fall, after Ms. Watkins and Mr. Wolfe had broken up, she briefly dated another staff member at the intelligence committee, friends said.”
In her new position, Watkins “will be closely supervised and have a senior mentor.” The publication also plans “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.”
Watkins issued a statement in response to the news.
“I respect and understand the Times’ review and agree that I should have handled aspects of my past relationships and disclosures differently,” she wrote. “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.”