The question of why, exactly, Jill Abramson was fired as the top editor of the New York Times has been dominating media circles since the paper announced her departure on Wednesday. While the news was initially steeped in mystery, several reports have painted a picture of continual clashes between Abramson and the two other key players in the Times hierarchy: publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. and Mark Thompson, the CEO of the New York Times company.
The most explosive charge came from the New Yorker's Ken Auletta, who reported that Abramson had recently complained to her bosses after finding out that she was being paid "considerably less" than her male predecessor, Bill Keller:
“She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to be believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, has had to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for many fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. (I was also told by another friend of hers that the pay gap with Keller has since been closed.) But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy.
NPR's David Folkenflik soon confirmed that Abramson had raised the issue of her pay with her superiors.
The Times soon struck back, telling Politico, "Jill's total compensation as executive editor was not less than Bill Keller's, so that is just incorrect. Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009."
The reports set off a firestorm:
Capital New York's Joe Pompeo reported that one Times staffer, Alison Mitchell, told Sulzberger that Abramson's ouster "wouldn't sit well with a broad swath of female Times journalists who saw her as a role model."
More broadly, Abramson had been at loggerheads with Thompson, who has spearheaded an ambitious strategy for the paper's business side that sometimes left her feeling isolated and uncomfortable. Folkenflik pointed to this as a key reason behind Abramson's ouster:
Bloomberg's Edmund Lee also shed some light on Abramson and Sulzberger's relationship:
Sulzberger and Abramson hadn’t been getting along for at least the past few months, according to the people, who cited a fundamental conflict of personalities.
Sulzberger had never felt fully comfortable with Abramson, despite appointing her the top editor three years ago, the people said. He had reservations about her loyalty, as he had seen her as part of the earlier editorial regime headed by Bill Keller, who left the paper this year.
The Times itself reported that the two had clashed over hiring issues:
In recent weeks, people briefed on the situation said, Mr. Baquet had become angered over a decision by Ms. Abramson to try to hire an editor from The Guardian, Janine Gibson, and install her alongside Mr. Baquet in a co-managing editor position without consulting him. It escalated the conflict between them and rose to the attention of Mr. Sulzberger, who was already concerned about her style of newsroom management.
Though she had recently engaged a consultant to help her with this aspect of her job, Mr. Sulzberger made the decision to dismiss her earlier this month, and last week informed Mr. Baquet, according to people briefed on the situation.
There was also the issue of Dean Baquet, Abramson's deputy and an extremely popular force in the newsroom. As HuffPost's Michael Calderone reported recently, Baquet had just been offered a job with Bloomberg News. This could certainly have given Sulzberger the impetus to pull the trigger on Abramson's firing.
Through all the back-and-forth, there appeared to be a rough consensus about one thing: Sulzberger had not handled the firing well. Abramson is the second editor he has fired in 11 years; he dismissed Howell Raines in 2003 in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.
Twitter was vicious:
Sulzberger's "I have my reasons but I'm not telling" handling of Abramson's dismissal was a gift to media reporters http://t.co/3bTSG86s6c
— Gabriel Snyder (@gabrielsnyder) May 14, 2014