A lament on the axing of Jill Abramson
Yesterday, the three-year tenure of the New York Timesâ€™ first female executive editor, Jill Abramson, abruptly came to an end. No one is quite sure why it happened, but it seems pretty clear that being a woman had something to do with it.
It was either her pay (she found out it was less than her male predecessor, like most female editors, and asked for a raise), her management style (pushy, brusque, a lot of other words that only seem to be attributed to women in leadership roles), her (failed) attempt to appoint Janine Gibson as co-managing editor (which didnâ€™t sit well with the now executive editor Dean Baquet), her proclivity toward giving interviews (as a young female journalist very interested in the Timesâ€™ first female editor, Iâ€™m offended), or some combination of the four.
What is clear is that the Timesâ€™ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., didnâ€™t just fire Abramson, he humiliated her (and not for the first time, Gabriel Sherman notes). This comes at a time when, whatever her faults navigating the paperâ€™s internal politics, the paper is doing well. While at the helm, Abramson didnâ€™t start any wars or harbor any plagiarists, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson points out. Yet she was kicked to the curb with less dignity than any of her predecessors, seemingly because of… her personality? Her personality! Youâ€™d think the top brass knew something about her personality before she was given the job. (Thereâ€™s also the Timesâ€™ poor digital performance, though Sulzberger has not said the two were related.)
Being well-liked isnâ€™t traditionally a necessary condition for being an effective manager. But for whatever reason, conflicts with female managers have a tendency to become personal in a way that conflicts with male managers do not. People are annoyed, even enraged, by the actions of men who make decisions they donâ€™t like. But they take personal offense, even show visceral hatred toward, female managers they do not agree with.
Itâ€™s hard to see a way in which this wasnâ€™t the case with Abramson, based on the less-than-convincing evidence given that she deserved to be unceremoniously shoved out the door. Her predecessor, Bill Keller, is still a columnist at the Times. Howell Raines, who was fired after Jayson Blair was caught fabricating stories, left â€świth an address to the staff; his wife was presentâ€ť, notes Rebecca Traister.
The New York Times appears to have wanted a woman at the top, without actually letting her be in charge. The message here is that women â€” even the most powerful woman in media â€” are meant to fall in line. When they donâ€™t, they are dumped. End of story. Please donâ€™t ask questions. Letâ€™s move on.