Coverage of the firing of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson has been less than illuminating, often showing little understanding of big companies, separation agreements and other relevant information.
Those clamoring to know exactly why Abramson was fired seem to think the New York Times has an obligation to spill all its dirt. They are bound to be disappointed. Media company or not, an employer who fires an employee and then settles (as we know from reports the Times did) does so to, among other things, avoid litigation and airing of dirty laundry. I would be shocked if both the Times and Abramson were not bound by a provision that allows only agreed-upon language explaining her termination to be used. Even if they wanted to, Times management isn’t about to violate the terms of their deal.
Other critics have insisted that there is a contradiction between touting the Times’ awards during Abramson’s tenure and citing her management issues as the reason for her departure. Sorry, but there is nothing in the least bit contradictory about saying that while the product now meets their expectations they can’t take the drama. No employer can withstand internal dissection, defections and defiance of established ground rules without undermining the long-term health of the venture. At any rate, a publisher, like any owner, has every right to have someone who doesn’t drive him to distraction.
Right about now you might be wondering why there has been such intense coverage in print, online, radio and TV media. The assumption seems to be that the Times and Abramson owe fellow journalists an explanation. But why? Two private parties decided to settle the matter by a separation agreement. Lots of high-powered female execs have done the same. But, you can hear them chant, “It is the New York Times!” Ah, journalists’ obsession with themselves, transformed into earth-shaking, wall-to-wall news. It’s a little, well, like high-schoolers dying to know why a couple broke up.
I say all this not because I have affection for the Times. But for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to criticize the Times, at least do so for the right reasons. The Times, after all, is a business, and its actions don’t take place in a legal or business vacuum. Besides, this is not, contrary to the media’s insistence, nearly the most important thing going on in the world these days. Journalists are much more determined to get to the bottom of the Abramson firing than figure out precisely what occurred in Benghazi. Some perspective would be in order about now.