Times Sources: Miscommunication, Not Sexism Led to Jill Abramson’s Firing

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Jill Abramson and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for the New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times' incredibly inept handling of executive editor Jill Abramson's firing, the storyline that got the most play last week was Abramson's belief that she was paid less than her male predecessors, and how her attempt to resolve the issue by hiring a lawyer angered her bosses. Over the weekend, another element took center stage. In his third installment on Abramson's dismissal, The New Yorker's Ken Auletta said he agrees with yesterday's report from Dylan Byers of Politico: The real straw that broke the camel's back was publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s belief that Abramson lied to him about her failure to consult with colleagues on her plan to offer The Guardian’s Janine Gibson a job as co-managing editor.

As Politico reported, Abramson "implied — both in direct conversations and in emails" that Dean Baquet, her managing editor and eventual replacement, as well as other top Times editors, were aware of efforts to recruit Gibson. However, sources said Baquet had only been told Gibson might be brought on board "to help boost the digital product." Baquet was shocked when Gibson mentioned over lunch on May 5 that she'd been offered the co-managing editor position. He complained to Sulzberger that he could not continue to work with Abramson, and suggested one of them would have to go.

On Sunday, Auletta said "extremely well-informed sources at the paper" told him the same thing: "Abramson was, essentially, fired for cause, for lying to Sulzberger that she had squared Gibson’s rank and arrival with Baquet when, in fact, she had not." Supposedly, when confronted by Sulzberger, Abramson insisted she had told Baquet everything. 

In her first public comments on the matter, Gibson told Auletta that she felt everyone was on the same page. Per The New Yorker:

“I can’t speak to Dean’s understanding, but it was made clear to me that everybody knew everything about what was being discussed,” she told me. “Jill was explicit in our initial conversation when she told me, ‘The first thing I have to do is talk to Dean.’ I’m mortified that these discussions are in public and feel very strongly that Jill should not have been hung out to dry when she behaved honorably and was trying to do what she thought was best for the New York Times.” Gibson has told friends that, not only did she meet with Baquet for lunch on Monday May 5th, she met that morning with him and Abramson together for more than an hour. She had a separate meeting with Sulzberger and Thompson.

While what Baquet knew remains unclear, Times sources tell Auletta that if Sulzberger and Abramson had a better relationship, the situation might have been seen as "a matter of unfortunate miscommunication — not a lie, not the cause for a final break."

On Sunday night, the New York Times' David Carr shared his assessment of the situation, saying that while he likes Abramson "and the version of The Times she made," his conversations with colleagues at the paper back up Sulzberger's conclusion that she had "lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back." He dismisses the discussion of pay inequity as "a sideshow in my estimation," and says the dispute over Gibson's hiring was Abramson's "big tactical mistake."

Carr also puts part of the blame on Sulzberger. He compares Abramson's firing to "a particularly bloody episode of Game of Thrones," and comments, "It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day." Aside from putting no planning into "the splatter" her firing would create, he says Sulzberger's "real failing" was selecting two editors – Abramson and Howell Raines, who was at the helm during the Jayson Blair scandal – "who ended up not being right for the job."