NEW YORK -- New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. praised recently ousted executive editor Jill Abramson on Monday night as a “powerful and outspoken advocate for a free press.”
“She has been one of the most forceful voices in challenging the secrecy of the Obama White House and their initiation of a record number of criminal leak investigations,” Sulzberger said on stage at the Pierre Hotel. “I will always admire Jill’s commitment to this issue and be grateful for her many contributions to the journalism of The New York Times.”
Sulzberger’s comments came during his acceptance speech for an award given by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, five days after he abruptly fired Abramson and promoted Dean Baquet in the Times' biggest newsroom shakeup in more than a decade.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on Monday night also honored Washington public broadcasting station WETA president Sharon Percy Rockefeller, media attorney Bruce W. Sanford and Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has chronicled the military prison at Guantanamo Bay more closely than any other journalist.
Abramson was hounded by reporters Monday morning during her media-saturated commencement address at Wake Forest University. On Monday night, it was Sulzberger dodging journalists at The Pierre Hotel. He waved away questions when this reporter approached prior to the First Amendment dinner.
But Sulzberger did talk to one journalist on Sunday. In a Vanity Fair interview published Tuesday at midnight, Sulzberger said of promoting Abramson in 2011 over Baquet: "Of course I would have done it differently."
Sulzberger said that a lot of what had been reported on the Times fallout "is untrue" and told Ellison that he's "not going to let lies like this lie."
Sulzberger did not specifically address the firing during his brief speech, which also included praise for the new executive editor, Baquet, and Times journalists James Risen and David Sanger, each of whom have dealt with leak investigations in their national security reporting.
The initial media narrative surrounding Abramson’s dismissal largely focused on claims of pay disparity between Abramson and her male predecessor. But it appears Sulzberger’s relationship with Abramson had been fraying for some time and the “final straw” reportedly came after Sulzberger felt he was misled about Abramson's intentions to hire a co-managing editor and risked losing Baquet.
The Times' new top editor also had not spoken publicly since last week's shakeup. Before Monday night's dinner began, The Huffington Post asked Baquet if he wished the much-publicized transition of power had played out differently.
“It’s hard to have any regrets when you get such a great job,” Baquet said. “Of course, I wish it had played out differently. I wish it would have played out a little differently for Jill and for all of us.”
Baquet said that Abramson’s commencement address was “terrific” and exemplified “classy Jill.” He added that he's “looking forward to moving forward.”
There were a number of New York Times staffers on hand for the First Amendment dinner, including chief executive Mark Thompson, White House reporter Peter Baker and editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal.
Rosenthal described Baquet as "an old friend” and “a brilliant editor" when approached as he headed into the dining room. Rosenthal said he was “devastated” when Baquet left the paper for the Los Angeles Times, where he ascended to the top newsroom job, and now is “really glad he’s back."
“If anybody can make The New York Times move forward in a kind of a healthy and happy way, he can do it,” Rosenthal said.