New York Times pushes back on Jill Abramson narrative

Since she was fired, former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has not told her side of the story. That may come Monday when she gives a commencement address.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times/AP
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, former executive editor Jill Abramson, and former executive editor Bill Keller at the newspaper’s New York office in 2011. Abramson, the newspaper’s first female executive editor, was abruptly replaced by Baquet after two and a half years on the job.
Gonzalo Fuentes/REUTERS/File
New York Times Company Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr attends the eG8 forum in Paris in this file photo taken May 25, 2011.

So far, the principal character in the New York Times drama has remained silent.

Since she was fired last week by publisher Arthur Sulzberger, former Times executive editor Jill Abramson hasn’t uttered a public word about the circumstances of her abrupt and awkward departure. Nothing about the sexism many others say must have been involved in the two major issues being discussed: her pay level relative to male counterparts and her management style or personality.

That may change Monday when she’s scheduled to give the commencement address at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.

But in a 475-word statement Saturday evening, Mr. Sulzberger pushed back against what he called “a shallow and factually incorrect storyline” involving Abramson’s compensation as executive editor – reported by the New Yorker,, and other media sources to have been less than her immediate predecessor, Bill Keller.

Still, as Bloomberg’s Steven Brill points out, that’s difficult to know for sure without more specific information about pay, bonuses (which may involve stock or stock options), and pension contributions.

Sulzberger’s most recent statement adds nothing here. He’s insisted from the start that Abramson’s pay package was comparable with Mr. Keller's and that by her last full year as executive editor, it was more than 10 percent higher than his.

Instead, Sulzberger focuses on Abramson’s newsroom management, which some of the staff – including Dean Baquet, the managing editor who replaced Abramson as executive editor – had complained about. And here, he addresses not just “style” – to many, a code word for sexism – but substance:

“During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues. I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. We all wanted her to succeed. It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.”

Politico’s media reporter, Dylan Byers, who’s followed Abramson’s career closely, describes this example:

“In conversations and emails, Abramson led both Sulzberger and [Times chief executive Mark] Thompson to believe that she had consulted with other newsroom leaders about her decision to offer The Guardian’s Janine Gibson a job as co-managing editor…. Specifically, they said she implied that both Dean Baquet, her managing editor, and Janet Elder, the deputy managing editor responsible for newsroom resources and staff development, had been informed and were on board with the plan.

“In fact ... Abramson had not consulted Baquet or Elder about her decision. Baquet did not learn about the offer until he was informed by Gibson herself at a lunch meeting – at which point the offer had already been made…. When Baquet voiced his frustration to Sulzberger the following day, the publisher concluded that his executive editor had misled him, and moved to fire her later that week.”

So far, there’s a “more in sorrow than in anger” aspect to the story – possibly because both sides have agreed to a “non-disparagement clause” as part of the separation.

Meanwhile, Times staffers have begun speaking up on social media.

Deputy foreign editor Lydia Polgreen tweeted: "the women of the Times would revolt en masse if they thought gender played any role at all in Abramson's firing. ... There has been no revolt. There have been many searching conversations, but no women's revolt over Jill Abramson's firing ... Are women at the NYT afraid of losing their jobs if they speak up? I don't think so. I know I am not. ... The women of the NYT aren't shrinking violets. They more or less run the joint. ... The media has a woman problem ... It existed before Jill & persists."

The Times, like much of the media, may have “a woman problem,” as Ms. Polgreen says, but women do hold many of the most senior positions there.

Politico’s Dylan Byers points out: “Of the top-ten ranking editors at The Times, four are women: Janet Elder, Susan Chira, Rebecca Corbett, and Michele McNally. The Washington bureau chief is Carolyn Ryan; the culture editor is Danielle Mattoon; the national editor is Alison Mitchell; and the book review editor is Pamela Paul.”

One thing is for certain. As Abramson’s daughter, Boston physician Cornelia Griggs, posted on Instagram, “The story isn't over, not even close.”

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