Spin Cycle

04.24.13

A Hatchet Job on Jill Abramson

Politico rips New York Times editor based mainly on anonymous quotes

Man, that Jill Abramson is one tough customer.

There are occasions when the New York Times executive editor has “blown up in a meeting,” an unnamed staffer tells Politico.

She travels a lot.

Oh, and she once told an editor when she wanted a new picture for the home page: “I don’t know why you’re still here. If I were you, I would leave now and change the photo.”

What a reign of terror!

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times, via Redux

Find me a male executive who’d be trashed over such minor incidents. Newsrooms are by their nature a collection of chronic complainers. Alpha males are expected to act that way.

You want someone who terrorized the Times, try Howell Raines, who I reported on extensively after breaking the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal. He was a brilliant but mercurial leader. Whatever shortcomings the sometimes brusque Abramson has as a manager, she just led the paper to four Pulitzers.

Here is Columbia University’s Emily Bell, writing in the Guardian about the Politico story:

“The lame nature of the reporting suggests it might be better just to ignore the piece entirely, but it deserves attention, as it fuels an exasperating and wholly sexist narrative about women in power. “The souls of the New York Times who found themselves describing Abramson's shortcomings in terms of her manner and mood should be sentenced to read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In as punishment.” 

It does seem that hard-driving women are too often portrayed as harridans.

Politico’s Dylan Byers is an aggressive reporter, and he has a great anecdote about Managing Editor Dean Baquet bursting out of Abramson’s office and slamming his hand into a wall. He also has Baquet on the record as defending his boss, saying: “I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer. That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”

What’s unfair is all the cheap shots that Byers allows by anonymous Times sources, even given the difficulty of getting staffers to talk on the record.

If you’re going to portray the New York Times’ top editor as “impossible,” as one of the don’t-use-my-name people said, you have to prove it. And Politico didn’t.