Home / Blog / Article


May 19 2014

Is Jill Abramson a Victim of Sexism?

Charlotte Hays

It is so delicious to see the New York Times, bastion of political correctness, hoist on its own PC petard. The Grey Lady is suddenly reduced to publicly badmouthing its former editor in order to defend itself from charges of sexism.

Like “equal pay” icon Lily Ledbetter, the blue collar woman at the opposite end of the socio-economic and cultural spectrum from ousted New York Times editor and one per center Jill Abramson, Abramson apparently had some bad job performance reviews under her belt when she was let go. It may also be possible that Abramson's pillar of liberalism employer paid her less for other reasons.

Note: Prepare to encounter the word "maybe' frequently in what follows. It is difficult to know the internal considerations an employer uses to arrive at compensation for a particular employee. That is one reason "equal pay" legislation would lead to billions in legal fees for employers and employees. But here goes...

It may be that New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and the liberal institution he leads really are riddled with sexism. It may also be that Jill Abramson's pay reflected other factors. We don't know, though I tend to believe that feminists who cry discrimination may not be fully apprised of all relevant factors. Still, it would be both ironic and delicious if this liberal institution that has been so sympathetic to "equal pay" legislation for the rest of the world didn't have its own house in order.  

In a celebrated New Yorker piece headlined “Why Jill Abramson Was Fired,” Ken Auletta reported that a key factor in Abramson’s abrupt dismissal was that the “confronted the top brass” about what she saw as a sexist pay discrepancy between what she was paid and what former top editor Bill Keller (who, unlike Abramson lasted eight years in the top Times job and left it of his own accord) was paid.

Howard Kurtz later wrote:

The Abramson firing has played out amid allegations of sexism after leaks to the New Yorker that her $500,000 salary was less than that of her male predecessor, Bill Keller.

Sulzberger, who had already put out a statement saying that she was actually earning 10 percent more than Keller in her last year, issued a toughly worded second statement on Saturday.

Jim Geraghty also analyzes the numbers. It may be that Abramson started out earning 84 percent of what Keller earned but that this was raised to 89 percent and eventually she was earning 93 percent.

Maybe the great liberal institutions are just hypocrites. That’s certainly not impossible. But maybe the Times considered the number of years Keller had been at the company—while Keller was a Times lifer, Abramson had a career at the Wall Street Journal before joining the Times—and job performance in deciding his pay package. Such factors could explain a reported early discrepancy in the two editors’ early compensation.  If Abramson was paid less on the basis of gender, it was wrong.  Abramson’s gender may not have been the reason she was paid less than Keller, if indeed she was. We will know more as the story unfolds. 

Since the Times has covered "equal pay" legislation so sympathetically, it is pertinent to ask: Can you imagine how intrusive an “equal pay” law would have to be to take into account situations such as Jill Abramson’s? But it is amusing to see the liberal Times being forced to take cover behind the kinds of arguments about compensation more ordinary employers use.  When the White House was caught paying women less, it put forth an argument about the choices women make. These are arguments that other employers put forward but which fall on deaf, liberal ears. We might also consider that the Times' financial footing may be diminished from what it was when Keller was named editor.

But compensation wasn't the only matter on which Abramson and management reportedly clashed. Reports suggest that Abramson was the boss from Hell. Giving an unprecedented look inside the Times, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger put out a statement on her autocratic management style:

Sulzberger said he had “heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues. I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. We all wanted her to succeed. It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back.”

Jill’s aggrieved feminist supporters counter that the late Abe Rosenthal, one of the Times’ great editors, was also notoriously autocratic and hell to work for. But he was a man. This is true, but Abramson supporters should consider the possibility that Rosenthal may have been in management’s eyes a better editor (and not just because he was a man).

What I have found just as fascinating as Jill’s highhandedness and compensation is what this controversy reveals about the people who work at the Times. What kind of men and women are these who determine so much of what passes for news?

In a piece on the "Bon Fire of the Inanities," Matthew Continetti pointed out something very important about these men and women: they are children.

Equal pay has been one of the rallying cries of the American left, a category that very much includes the New York Times, and the possibility of sexism at the paper is rich indeed. But I have to say I am less interested in equal wages, in comparable worth, and in what the New Yorker calls the “inescapably gendered aspect” of the Times’ latest scandal than I am in how that scandal confirms one of my pet theories. The theory is this: The men and women who own and operate and produce every day the world’s most important newspaper are basically children.

This is the same New York Times that in 2003 admitted, in a multi-thousand-word correction, that it had been harboring, for reasons of political correctness, a serial fabulist who created tales and characters out of imaginative reverie and had seen these fictions published on the front page. This is the same New York Times that in 2005 fired its former Baghdad bureau chief after the paper’s management discovered that she had been emailing the wives of two foreign correspondents to say that they were having affairs.

This is the same New York Times whose staffers are engaged in a “semi-open revolt” against op-ed and editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, a “semi-open” rebellion in which propaganda by the deed consists of not sitting at Rosenthal’s lunch table. And yet this is the same New York Times that day after day, in article after article, instructs its readers, and the country, in how to think, how to vote, what to eat, what to wear, who is in, who is out, what is doubleplus, and what is crimethink. The gall.

Gossipy, catty, insular, cliquey, stressful, immature, cowardly, moody, underhanded, spiteful—the New York Times gives new meaning to the term “hostile workplace.” What has been said of the press—that it wields power without any sense of responsibility—is also a fair enough description of the young adult.

And it is to high school, I think, that the New York Times is most aptly compared. The coverage of the Abramson firing reads at times like the plot of an episode of Saved By the Bell minus the sex: Someone always has a crazy idea, everyone’s feelings are always hurt, apologies and reconciliations are made and quickly sundered, confrontations are the subject of intense planning and preparation, and authority figures are youth-oriented, well-intentioned, bumbling, and inept.

When it comes to determining what is regarded as important in public affairs, these catty, insular people who haven't outgrown high school have immense power. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who will chair a select committee on Benghazi, can get the truth about what happened before, during and after the attack in Behghazi, and, if these insular, cliquey Times men and women decide it’s not a story, they have immense power to kill it.

Timesman David Carr has penned a piece about Jillgate that is remarkable in so many ways: he managed to suck up to both Jill and her replacement Dean Baquet, the first African American in the top job. Baquet apparently quite understandably turned on Abramson when it became clear that she wanted to hire somebody to come in and be his equal.

Carr’s story contains this gem:

You can’t blame Dean for advocating on his own behalf — after all, life is short. And almost anybody at The Times will tell you that Dean will make a great leader. He is courageous and smart, and he makes newspapering seem like a grand endeavor.

David, "courageous" is the word for men and women who risk their lives in Afghanistan, not for veterans of newsroom infighting.

What silly, puffed up, shallow people we see creeping into the light in the Abramson saga.

But remember: these ridiculous people determine what is news for millions of Americans.

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us