Monday, May 19, 2014

Oh, Jill Abramson, why’d you have to go and do that for? (If, in fact, you actually did…)

I must admit that, until this weekend, when I ended up in a hay-fever induced stupor watching Charlie Rose and 24/7 pundits on MSNBC, I had barely given a moment’s thought to Jill Abramson, the recently dethroned executive editor of The New York Times.

I knew, of course, that she was the first woman to hold that position at The Grey Lady, and one of the first women in the country in that job at a major newspaper.

So, good for her!

Now, like everyone else who spent the weekend in a hay-fever induced stupor watching Charlie Rose and 24/7 pundits on MSNBC, I know what her salary was. I knew that she chose to get fired rather than slink out under some euphemistic face-saver about “leaving to pursue a new venture.” And I knew that some of those under here loved working for her, while others despised her. As happens, when you play the game of thrones…

Since Ms. Abramson got the heave-ho last week, both sides – friend and foe – have been leaking e-mails, talking off the record, and staging whisper campaigns, behavior entirely reminiscent of what might have happened in a John Hughes film in the 1980’s if the handsome football captain broke up with the homecoming queen to pick up with the nerd girl with the heart of gold (and stunning good looks behind those nerd-girl glasses.) High school confidential, all right.

Anyway, like most of the punditry, I don’t feel I have to actually know anything about what really went on to offer my two-cents on L’Affaire Abramson. So here goes.

  • Salary Disparity: Much has been made that Abramson made less than her male predecessor, both in her most recent position and in an earlier position at The Times. Some are calling this blatant sex discrimination, but from my point of view, she got what she negotiated for. In these top positions, it’s not like there’s fixed hourly rate that a lot of people work for. It’s pretty much a one-off, and it’s up to you to get the best deal for yourself. So Jill Abramson left some money on the table. Big deal. Maybe this is more a “girl thing” than a boy thing, but it doesn’t mean the sexists at The Times were out to screw her. Still, one might have hoped that The Times would have entered into salary negotiations with their First Woman Executive Editor with an inkling that, if this info leaked out, they could look bad. (Bet that the incoming executive editor, who’ll be the first African-American to hold the post at The Times, won’t be making less than Bill Keller (who preceded Abramson). Betcha he’ll even be making more. Easier to negotiate when you know the facts, isn’t it. Which, thanks to Jill Abramson, Dean Baquet does.)
  • Quit, I’m fired! Personally, I’m just as happy that Abramson made her boss, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger – wonder how he got his job? – fire her, rather than let them do the mealy-mouth thing that everyone in the industry would have recognized as the mealy-mouth thing within less than a New York minute. Her making it clear that she was fired is helping get a lot of valuable conversations moving along, on a lot of fronts: equal pay for equal work, why assertive women are as often as not viewed as pushy broads, as bitches. These are, in fact, real issues that, 40+ years after MS. Magazine hit the stands are still out there.
  • The lunchtime surprise: Before his recent elevation, Mr. Baquet was The Times’ managing editor. A few weeks ago, Abramson apparently decided to bring in another person – digital media expert Janine Gibson – to work as a co-managing editor alongside Baquet. Somehow, she failed to let Baquet know this, and he had an embarrassing lunch with Ms. Gibson, in which she asked his advice on becoming the co-managing editor. I don’t blame Baquet at all for being ticked off about this. Just bad form! But if managers all got fired when they did insensitive, neglectful, stupid-ass things, well, there’d be no managers. (Whether this would be a good or a bad thing is a discussion for another day.)

    My favorite personal happening along related lines occurred when the president of a small software company told me that I no longer reported to him, but that I reported to “T”. I would not have received this with particular joy and equanimity under any circumstances, but the fact that “T” was sitting there smirking didn’t help any.

    But sometimes you have to deal with managers who do really bad things.

    Sure, if it’s their regular way of managing, off with their head! As happened in my little company, when the investors brought in a turnaround guy who ousted that president immediately. And eventually got rid of “T” as well.
  • Lies of omission vs. lies of commission vs. white lies vs. no lies: The Sulzberger camp released information saying that Abramson had led Sulzberger to believe that Abramson had deliberately misled him by leading him to believe that she had discussed Gibson’s coming in as co-managing director with Baquet, and that Baquet was fine with it.

    I’m sure that the he-say-she-say-hear-say-what-you-say will all come out, but if Abramson really did lie to Mr. Sulzberger, well, you can’t blame him for firing her.

    If she did, well, Jill, how could you? This was a really dumb thing to do.

    But I suspect there’s quite another way of reading the e-mail tea-leaves than the one that the Sulzberger camp’s come up with. Maybe she said she was going to. Maybe she meant to, but didn’t get around to it. Maybe it didn’t occur to her that Gibson would spill those particular beans.

All America wants to know!

Or at least the portion of the population that sat around all weekend in a hay-fever induced stupor watching the pundits have at it.

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