On-the-record explanations of the May 14 firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times are gradually surfacing. Just days after the unexpected turn of events, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. issued a statement criticizing her management style, going so far as to say that she publicly mistreated her subordinates.
Dean Baquet, the former managing editor who rose to executive editor amid the calamity, hadn’t been heard from on the record, until an NPR interview with David Folkenflik surfaced last night. Baquet’s comments to Folkenflik essentially reinforced the gist of stories that have relied heavily on anonymous sources: Abramson had a stormy relationship with Baquet as well as other ranking officials at the New York Times.
“It’s hard to run an organization if you are at odds with the publisher, with your leadership team, including your number two,” Baquet told Folkenflik. “Obviously, there was a significant disagreement between Jill and the publisher, and Jill and me.”
Among the several mysteries in the story of Abramson’s departure has been a certain meeting that Baquet had with Sulzberger about his dissatisfaction with the executive editor. As various accounts have reported, Baquet was upset because Abramson allegedly failed to clue him in to her plan to hire Janine Gibson, then an editor for the Guardian’s digital coverage of the United States, into a job that would be roughly co-equal with Baquet’s position. He took his complaint to Sulzberger, an event that’s believed to have helped trigger Abramson’s dismissal.
But just how strongly did Baquet push things? He told Folkenflik: “I never said to anyone it’s me or Jill. I think that’s a simplistic calculation. I don’t think there’s any question that I made it known that I was a little unhappy.”
Baquet’s comments in the interview reinforce what many co-workers say about him — that he’s a gifted fellow when it comes to internal politics. In his comments to Folkenflik, Baquet carefully shores up existing accounts of the dysfunction that characterized Abramson’s tenure but avoids adding fresh details or storylines that could send this drama into June. “I don’t think it’s any secret that my rise to be executive editor was preceded by a period of turmoil,” Baquet said in the session.
The newly appointed executive editor also buttressed Sulzberger’s arguments about the circumstances leading up to the firing: “I do not believe, by the way, that Jill was fired because of gender.”
“For most of my relationship with Jill, the arguments we had were the debates that two very strong-willed people have when they’re running a big news organization. They weren’t nasty and I have tremendous respect for her,” Baquet stold Folkenflik. “I mean it when I say that three years from now nobody is going to remember this. What they’ll remember is she was a great journalist and a landmark editor.”
No word yet from Abramson.