Thanks to a damaging story that appeared in the New Yorker under the byline of Ken Auletta, the New York Times has had to make its separation from former executive editor Jill Abramson a painful, detailed and public matter. Last week, New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. issued a staff memo and a press release rebutting allegations in that story.
And he wasn’t done.
On Sunday, he sat down in his Times office with Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair. The result is here. For those who’ve been following the May 14 firing of Abramson, much of Ellison’s piece will sound familiar. Sulzberger, for starters, says there’s “no truth” to the charge that Abramson was paid less than her male peers at the New York Times, as Abramson appeared to believe; Auletta had reported that she sought out a lawyer to pursue pay-equity matters.
“I’m not going to let lies like this lie,” Sulzberger said.
Also familiar: Abramson turned down an offer from Times leadership to engineer a happy-face exit. “Jill said no,” Sulzberger told Ellison.
Ellison’s interview ends the reign of anonymous sourcing over the much-discussed Janine Gibson episode. She is the Guardian talent who’d interviewed at the Times for a job as co-managing editor with responsibility for the paper’s digital side. According to reports, Abramson was planning to install Gibson but had failed to apprise her managing editor, Dean Baquet, on the full extent of Gibson’s portfolio — especially the fact that Gibson would come aboard as a co-equal of Baquet’s. Another allegation is that Sulzberger felt deceived by Abramson over the question of whether Baquet knew all about the plans.
It appears that while Baquet outwardly expressed enthusiasm about Gibson, he did not know that she was being recruited for a job equal to his own. Looking back on the effort, Sulzberger recalled, “We said to Jill, ‘You have to bring Dean in on this.’ It was clear Jill needed to bring her leadership team in.” Gibson and Baquet had lunch, and Gibson reportedly revealed to him the title of the job she had been offered: co-managing editor, on equal par with Baquet himself. “When Janine told Dean that she’d been offered the job of co-managing editor, he didn’t have a clue,” Sulzberger said.
Sulzberger refers to the commotion caused by the Gibson episode as “the wave.” After Baquet complained to Sulzberger about the Gibson thing, Sulzberger acted. As he noted to Ellison, people at the newspaper had counseled him, “The one person we cannot lose is Dean Baquet.” Ellison: “The one aspect that seems clear is that in his own mind—and in his own telling—Sulzberger believed that he had to make a choice between Abramson and Baquet. There was no middle ground. Sulzberger chose Baquet. From the tenor of our conversation—and as he himself came close to saying—it felt as if he wished he had made that choice at the outset, in 2011,” when he elevated Abramson to the paper’s top spot.
Sulzberger acknowledged as much: “Of course I would have done it differently,” he said when asked if he would have made a different choice.