Game of Thrones at the New York Times

Kingslayer

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Game of Thrones at the New York Times has claimed another victim: Jill Abramson, the paper’s first female managing editor, was tossed yesterday by Arthur “Kingslayer” Sulzberger Jr. and replaced by the Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American journalist and editor Dean Baquet.

Almost nobody has complaints about Baquet; he is as impressive as he is well-liked and seems to be a good choice. He does occasionally punch walls, but who doesn’t? The process, though, made heads spin. As Rebecca Traister at the New Republic puts it:

the cold glee with which Abramson was tossed on her ass today made me hope that eventually we will learn that she was stealing from the company cash register. Because that’s pretty much the only crime I can think of that would merit as swift and brutal an exit for a woman who—good or bad at her job, or, more likely, like most bosses in the world, some combination of the two—represented an undeniably historic first in journalism and at The New York Times.

On Monday Abramson was in charge. Wednesday afternoon, Baquet was. What happened in between is unclear — and since the Internet, even more than nature, abhors a vacuum, everyone online is stepping in to tell a story. The most buzzy version is Ken Auletta’s at the New Yorker, which could be titled “Paging Lily Ledbetter!”

Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson, who spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, had been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, which accounted for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained.

Well now that’s a cautionary tale about asking for a raise while female if I’ve ever heard one. Maybe she should have written to us first! “WWYD — I found out my (male) predecessor made way more than me — but my bosses already think I’m pushy.”

In any event, I’m glad we’re having a conversation as a culture about how we treat/view/discuss women leaders, and about how pay equity works in practice, not merely as theory or in law.

 

Related:

Ken Auletta’s 2011 profile in the New Yorker of Jill Abramson

Emily Bell’s 2013 takedown in the Guardian of the anti-Abramson Politico piece

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