NYT media critic calls gender issue a ‘sideshow’ in Jill Abramson dismissal


The New York Times building in New York. (AP)

The media critic at the New York Times says he has done his own reporting on the dismissal of former executive editor Jill Abramson and concluded that the issue of pay discrimination is a “sideshow.”

David Carr, one of the country’s most senior media critics, writes that based on his interviews with “senior people in the newsroom, some of them women,” he agrees with New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger that Abramson had “‘lost the support’” of colleagues at the Times, including Dean Baquet, her deputy and now her replacement as executive editor.

But he faults Sulzberger as well, saying his “real failing has been picking two editors who ended up not being right for the job.”

Sulzberger dismissed executive editor Howell Raines in 2003 amid a scandal over plagiarized articles by Jayson Blair and questions over the Times’s coverage of the Bush administration’s claims before the war in Iraq.

Carr’s article was posted Sunday night on the homepage of the Times’s Web site:

Jill did a six-month tour of The Times’s digital endeavors before assuming the editorship, and was publicly supportive of a recent groundbreaking report on innovation at The New York Times. But the report plainly stated that the paper was lagging in that area, and according to several executives in the newsroom she took some of its findings personally.

Perhaps that is part of the reason she tried to bring in Janine Gibson, a senior editor at The Guardian, as a co-managing editor for digital. That was a big tactical mistake, at least in terms of office management. Dean was not aware that Jill had made an offer to Ms. Gibson, and he was furious and worried about how it would affect not only him but the rest of the news operation as well. (All the talk about pay inequity and her lawyering up to get her due was a sideshow in my estimation.)

When Dean let Arthur know that he would leave the paper because he found the situation untenable, it was clear that an important insurance policy for the newspaper’s future was going to leave the building.

Carr’s article will not still the controversy that has exploded in media circles and beyond since Abramson’s dismissal became public on May 14.

Abramson has said nothing publicly beyond an initial formal statement. She had reportedly complained privately to Times executives about her salary being lower than her predecessors’ in several jobs at the Times, which set off accusations that her dismissal was retaliatory, a charge denied by Sulzberger, who also denied there was any discrimination in her compensation.

But the pay issue is only part of the critique being put forward by some commentators, particularly women. The other part — the “pushiness” theme — stems from suggestions that she was punished for behavior that is routinely tolerated or even praised in men but often used against women.

Carr compared the Times, at the moment, to a “piñata that hangs itself and then hands you a stick. The candy has spilled out for everyone to grab at. Jill’s firing provided proof that the paper was, depending on the agenda, too liberal, not liberal enough, a hotbed of feminism, rife with patriarchy, drunk on affirmative action, ignorant of its own traditions and clueless on digital matters.”

Abramson might have more to say Monday, when she delivers a commencement address at Wake Forest University.

Eric Wemple, blogging in the Post, reports:

About 30 news organizations are set to converge at Wake Forest University early Monday morning to hear ousted New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson give a commencement address that has suddenly assumed a national profile. Katie Neal, a spokeswoman for the university, said that everyone from local news outlets to the Associated Press, Reuters, major TV networks and Politico has requested media credentials for the event. Oh, the New York Times, too.

Not to mention C-Span (at 1 p.m. EDT) and livestreaming of the event by Wake Forest at 9 a.m.

 

 

 

 

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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