The saga of Jill Abramson's abrupt firing from The New York Times continues — and it just got juicier. After releasing a series of press statements, New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger talked Jill Abramson in a Vanity Fair interview published Tuesday morning on the magazine's website. It's the first media interview for Sulzberger since Jill Abramson's termination from one of the world's leading newspapers, which sparked controversy, outrage and a whole array of conspiracy theories among journalists, editors and other media types.
The lengthy interview goes into detail about behind-the-scenes negotiations occurring at The Times between 2011 and 2014, including Abramson butting heads with Sulzberger and Baquet over the attempted recruitment of Guardian editor Janine Gibson. Here are the four main takeaways from the interview...
1. Why Sulzberger Broke The Silence
The fallout stemming from Abramson's firing hasn't been kind to Sulzberger and The New York Times. Most of the criticisms directed at the paper claim that Sulzberger and Co. created a hostile and unequal environment for women working at the newspaper. Sulzberger wanted to rewrite that narrative, telling writer Sarah Ellison: "You know a lot of what’s out there is untrue.”
He reiterated that sentiment throughout the interview, repeatedly denouncing much of the stories circulating on the Internet: “I’m not going to let lies like this lie," he said.
And according to Ellison, it truly does seem like being labeled as a sexist employer is on Sulzberger's mind.
On Sunday afternoon, Sulzberger appeared determined to try to change the narrative. He cast doubts on Abramson’s management and seemed forgiving of his own mistakes. “Am I happy we’re in this place?” he asked himself. “No. Did we lead us there? No.” Sulzberger’s use of “we” in that second question initially seemed strange, until I realized it must mean the Times’s executive leadership. If Sulzberger felt any vulnerability in his view of himself as a promoter of racial and gender diversity, he did not betray it. For him, the paramount message was that “This is not a place that penalizes women.”
2. Dean Baquet Has Always Been His Top Pick
Newly appointed executive editor Dean Baquet, who served as managing editor under Abramson, has long been Sulzberger's clear pick for the coveted top position. After Bill Keller stepped down from the executive editor position in 2011, Sulzberger admitted he had a difficult time choosing between Abramson and Baquet, who then served as assistant managing editor. However, between 2011 and 2014 it seems Sulzberger has always kept Baquet in mind:
Sulzberger told me that a number of people had come to him, saying that, “The one person we cannot lose is Dean Baquet,” that it was Baquet who was holding the newsroom together. ... The one aspect that seems clear is that in his own mind—and in his own telling—Sulzberger believed that he had to make a choice between Abramson and Baquet. There was no middle ground. Sulzberger chose Baquet. From the tenor of our conversation—and as he himself came close to saying—it felt as if he wished he had made that choice at the outset, in 2011.
3. There's No Such Thing As Unequal Pay (At The New York Times)
Sulzberger has been adamant over the last few days about Abramson's salary and the accusations that she was paid less than her male predecessor. Sulzberger again denied that Abramson was paid less than Keller, acknowledging that it's not always about salary when you're working in an executive position:
[H]ere is Sulzberger’s explanation. In his office, he told me that when the Times Company sold the Boston Globe, in August 2013, two years after Abramson had become executive editor, Abramson ... joined the executive committee of the company, a move that significantly increased her bonus. As a result, he said, “salary was a decreasing percentage of her overall compensation.” The increase in her bonus helped boost her overall compensation, according to the Times, to a level more than 10 percent higher than Keller’s had been during his last full year as executive editor, in 2010.
But because The New York Times won't release the private compensation of its employees, the whole salary conversation will remain a he-said, she-said for now.
4. Abramson Was Great, But...
The assertions that Abramson was too "difficult" or "pushy" ruffled the feathers of many who see Abramson as an inspiration and role model. Sulzberger stayed away from making any of these remarks, admitting that the newspaper soared while under Abramson's leadership.
But not for long, apparently. According to Sulzberger, Abramson alienated her colleagues on the masthead —reaffirming the narrative that she was too aloof and brusque to be in charge:
[H]e began to hear more and more concerns. Some reporters noted that she was often out of the newsroom—unlike Keller, who was an everyday presence. There were complaints that she made decisions without notifying colleagues. “Patterns in the newsroom were becoming more obvious, and colleagues were coming to me,” Sulzberger went on. ... The Times’s human-resources department helped her find an executive coach. “When you have someone who is talented and doing a good job journalistically, you try to keep them,” he said. But it eventually became clear to him, he said, that the situation had become “very frayed with Dean, and the rest of the masthead."