Has Jill Abramson lost the newsroom, as Politico’s headlines suggest? Read Politico’s piece entitled “Turbulence at The New York Times” and you will discover the plain, indisputable fact that Jill Abramson is the worst boss ever.
Things have gotten contentious under previous bosses. They have shouted. They have cut people off at the knees. They have ruled with iron fists. But unlike previous editors at the New York Times, Jill Abramson is…a lady.
In case you think I’m making this up, here is how the story starts:
One Monday morning in April, Jill Abramson called Dean Baquet into her office to complain. The executive editor of The New York Times was upset about the paper’s recent news coverage — she felt it wasn’t “buzzy” enough, a source there said — and placed blame on Baquet, her managing editor. A debate ensued, which gave way to an argument.
Minutes later, Baquet burst out of Abramson’s office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom. He would be gone for the rest of the day, absent from the editors’ daily 4 p.m. meeting, at which he is a fixture.
“I feel bad about that,” Baquet told POLITICO in a recent interview. “The newsroom doesn’t need to see one of its leaders have a tantrum.”
The episode electrified the newsroom, and details of what staffers described as “the altercation” — Baquet called it “a disagreement” — spread to other Times bureaus. But once the story had made the rounds, it wasn’t Baquet the staffers were griping about. It was Abramson.
The story goes on to describe a traumatic occasion when “In one meeting, Abramson was upset with a photograph that was on the homepage. Rather than asking for a change to be made after the meeting, she turned to the relevant editor and, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting, said bluntly, “I don’t know why you’re still here. If I were you, I would leave now and change the photo.”
My favorite part of the article was how the Managing Editor — a man who (in what everyone apparently agrees are fun and charming stories) punched several walls and stormed out of a meeting — notes that “I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer. That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”
Oh yeah. So unfair. That’s why he brought it up, to point out how unfair it was.
(“That was the calmest punch I’ve ever received,” the wall noted. “I really felt that it was temperate and showed great professionalism.” Several battered walls immediately leaped up to reassure Politico that they had tripped, dizzy from loss of circulation in their extremities. The Times’ paywall expressed support for Abramson, but very quietly.)
Women are bitchy. Guys are sort of calmer. That is why women say ‘brusque’ things and guys punch — er, hang on, I’ll get this.
Here is my reconstruction of how the article sounded:
“One time, Jill Abramson brought fewer than the expected number of cookies to a meeting,” an anonymous writer complained, “and we just felt that she was so disengaged.”
One time, she frowned at someone, and that writer still has stress nightmares.
“Her eyes flickered briefly away from me to the window while I spoke to her,” added another equally anonymous writer. “That would not have happened with a man.”
“Once, while talking to her, I sensed that she had two X chromosomes instead of the X and Y to which the newsroom was long accustomed,” another anonymous writer added, “and I thought, ‘This is going to be Howell Raines all over again.’”
“I just thought the excess amount of estrogen she brought to every meeting showed great disrespect to the newsroom and Times tradition,” added another.
The anonymous staffers added that although initially they had found her tattoo and the fact that she had been hit by a truck reassuring, they now took these as signs that she was a witch. Furthermore, Abramson had been notoriously uncooperative with fun newsroom “bonding” efforts to see if she weighed as much as a duck or very small rocks. “Why are we even talking about this?” she asked, in her characteristically brusque style.
An unnamed staffer, not a newt at the time of interviewing, insisted that nevertheless she had turned him into a newt.
When someone coughed quietly and pointed to the four Pulitzers the Times had picked up, everyone shuddered and muttered something about “witchcraft” and “glamours.”
And once a month, the staffers mumblingly implied, she turns into a werewolf. Or something. Something bad.
Fear! Humiliation! Once, she didn’t say hi to someone in the elevator because she was on the telephone at the time. It made the whole newsroom nostalgic for the Managing Editor’s fun bonding exercises where he showed how much he cared by dragging home entire mammoths that he had slain with his bare hands in layout disputes, pounding his chest, and bellowing. “That’s the friendly, welcoming Times we know so well.”
“The best part of how approachable he was was when he stood on the fire escape shouting ‘STELLA! STELLA!’ with his chest hair visible,” another of the anonymous voices added. “I just felt – that’s the kind of charisma the Times needs.”
Several other anonymous voices started to wax lyrical about the “Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite” days of papers past, when women didn’t try to boss the men when they were working.
It is possible, of course, that these anonymous writers are just as leaderless and demoralized and unmoored as they say. But – is this really all Politico has? Because this just sounds like sexist griping against someone who is just doing her job in difficult times for any newspaper, as a HuffingtonPost headline implied.
Or am I missing something?