Female NYT reporter reassigned to new bureau after admitting to affair with former Senate staffer

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New York Times reporter Ali Watkins will be relocated from the outlet’s Washington, D.C., bureau to its New York City bureau after admitting to having an affair with former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe, 58.

What is a brief history?

Wolfe also once served as the committee’s head of security, and has since been accused of leaking information to reporters.

He was indicted in June for reportedly lying to the FBI about the leaking allegations, but is adamant that he is innocent. Watkins also denied that she received any information from Wolfe during her three-year relationship with the married aide.

The Department of Justice notified Watkins in February that the government had seized her private records as part of its investigation into leaks coming from within the government.

Watkins had been working for outlets Politico and Buzzfeed during the periods from which the government seized records, and had been involved with Wolfe before joining the Times staff.

Watkins’ personal lawyer, Mark J. MacDougall, released a statement to the New York Times, saying, “It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department — through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process. Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”

In an in-depth investigation conducted by the Times, Watkins, 26, was also accused of having an affair with a second potential news source — a second Senate Intelligence Committee member.

What is the Times saying?

The Times reported that Watkins will be physically relocated from the D.C. bureau to New York City, and she will be assigned a new beat.

A newsroom memo by Executive Editor Dean Baquet called Watkins’ reassignment a “fresh start.”

“We hold our journalists and their work to the highest standards,” he said, according to the memo. “We are giving Ali an opportunity to show that she can live up to them. I believe she can.”

Baquet added that the Times “must be a humane place that can allow for second chances when there are mitigating circumstances.”

In a Tuesday statement, which the Times also published, Watkins admitted that she should have handled things differently, but was grateful for the second chance.

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.”

Prior to working for the Times, Watkins was reportedly intimately involved with Wolfe for three years, including the time that she had been covering the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of her beat.

How is the media responding?

Jill Abramson, former executive editor of the Times, said that the Times’ investigative report on Watkins’ doings was inappropriate.

“That story hung a 26-year-old young woman out to dry,” Watkins wrote in an email to The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove. “It was unimaginable to me what the pain must be like for her.”

BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal echoed Abramson’s sentiments with a statement of his own.

Buzzfeed News’ Steven Perlberg, a media and politics reporter, shared Mittenthal’s statement on Twitter.

The statement read, “While the Times is free to devote extensive resources to publicly dissecting the private life of a young female reporter — the accuracy of whose reporting has never been questioned — we are focused on the important First Amendment issues in this case, including the government’s highly inappropriate seizure of reporter communications.”

Rosie Gray, a White House correspondent for The Atlantic, expressed disappointment in the Times’ decision to move Watkins.

“[J]ust can’t get over how much it sucks that the NYT chose to participate in the shaming of @AliWatkins rather than focus on the real, pressing issues raised by the government’s actions in this case,” she said.

The Daily Beast’s editor-in-chief, Noah Schachtman, also added his praise to the chorus.

“So the DOJ goes after @AliWatkins and the Times… airs out her romantic life in a 3,000-word expose, and then reassigns her? SMDH,” he wrote.

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