More details are emerging about the circumstances surrounding Jill Abramson's dismissal as executive editor of The New York Times, which elaborate on the speculation that it was caused by her "brusque" management style and a pay dispute with publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
According to Ken Auletta, a writer for The New Yorker who has spoken to numerous sources at the Times and profiled Abramson in 2011
, a mix of ongoing issues coupled with a number of specific episodes between April 28 and May 14 triggered Sulzberger's sudden decision
to fire her.
"In the gossipy world of New York journalism, the firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the executive editor of the Times provoked a veritable explosion of talk, posts, and Instagram pictures of the objects of interest," Auletta wrote.
"And a day after her dismissal, even more details are emerging about why Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the paper's publisher, felt compelled to dismiss yet another executive editor whom he himself had anointed."
Auletta frames the situation in a context of what he calls a "fraught" relationship between Sulzberger and Abramson almost from the start of her tenure as executive editor almost three years ago.
Sulzberger, he said, considered her "difficult, high-handed, and lacking in finesse in her management of people at the paper," something Sulzberger was concerned about even at the time he was making the decision to hire her.
Abramson, in turn, "was increasingly resentful of his intrusions into her command of editorial operations," as well as Sulzberger's closeness with the new Times CEO Mark Thompson.
"It is always hard to say what causes a final break — a firing, a divorce — but, clearly, a last straw came a few weeks ago, when Abramson, who made little secret of her displeasure with Sulzberger, decided to hire a lawyer to complain that her salary was not equal to that of her predecessor, Bill Keller," Auletta said.
"Abramson's attempt to raise the salary issue at a time when tempers were already frayed seemed wrongheaded to Sulzberger and Thompson, both on its merits and in terms of her approach. Bringing in a lawyer, in particular, seems to have struck them as especially combative."
But a second episode around the same time inflamed the situation when Abramson made a decision to offer a position to the Guardian's Janine Gibson as a second managing editor, without consulting or notifying Dean Baquet
, then-managing editor and now Abramson's successor. Baquet only learned of the offer when Gibson told him at a lunch.
"There was a dinner meeting between Baquet and Sulzberger on Wednesday, May 7th — two days after Baquet's lunch with Gibson," Auletta wrote.
"But, at the dinner, Baquet, an unfailingly polite and popular editor, did something unusual for him: He complained to Sulzberger. He conveyed to him, I'm told, that he felt undermined by Abramson's failure to let him know where Gibson would be in the Times hierarchy. He also said that Abramson's management style was too abrupt and belligerent."
According to Auletta, "The uncharacteristic eruption by Baquet reinforced an image of Abramson that had always troubled Sulzberger." Other sources told Auletta that there was a widespread sense on the staff for some time that she was a polarizing figure.
Still, Auletta pointed out, "Abrasiveness has never been a firing offense at the Times," he said. "And so there is a reason that gender has been widely discussed in relation to Abramson's firing and how she was judged, even if it was not the decisive factor."
Meanwhile, even though the Times has disputed there were pay disparities with Keller and other former colleagues cited by Abramson in her complaint, figures seen by Auletta suggest the issue is murky at best.
"What is a fact is that Abramson believed she was being treated unequally. After learning, recently, that her salary was not equal to her male counterparts', she visited with Sulzberger to complain. And she hired a lawyer because she believed she was not treated fairly."
Auletta said that it is still unclear what exactly transpired in less than two weeks between the job offer to Gibson and Abramson's "brutal" termination, but suggests there may be more events in the story than the numerous details he has already outlined.
He concluded by saying, "No one is served well by this story — not Sulzberger, Abramson, or Baquet, who cannot have wanted his elevation to come with controversy. Nor is it good for the institution of the Times.
"One indication of how swiftly events moved at the paper is that Janine Gibson, who as recently as last week was pondering whether to join the staff, has told friends, 'No way I would have had conversations with Jill Abramson about coming to The New York Times if I thought she would be leaving.'"
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