Gaze on the soul of our world: Did somebody call Jill Abramson “pushy?”
We have no idea, though you’d certainly think so from reading Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon.
Here’s the way Williams started her piece, exciting headlines included:
WILLIAMS (5/15/14): Don’t call Jill Abramson “pushy”Does that mean that somebody called Abramson “pushy?”
A single adjective shows how workplace sexism is alive and well
When the New York Times abruptly announced Wednesday afternoon that editor Jill Abramson was out – and offered the remarkably tight-lipped explanation that it was due to “an issue with management in the newsroom” – the mediasphere couldn’t scramble fast enough to get to the root of the tumult. And by Wednesday evening, the most buzzed about piece of reporting on the matter was Ken Auletta’s New Yorker take, and in particular, a “close associate’s” assertion that when Abramson learned she had been paid less than her predecessor Bill Keller, “She confronted the top brass” in a move that furthered management’s narrative that she was “pushy.”
According to that second headline, that single adjective says it all. That single world is very important. But did anyone actually use it?
Did someone call Jill Abramson “pushy?” To see what slick journalism looks like, let’s consider Auletta’s fuller text:
AULETTA (5/14/14): As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. 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...There was more to the discussion of pay. But did somebody call Jill Abramson “pushy?” Let’s try to figure it out!
Auletta’s text is remarkably hard to decipher. For current purposes, we’ll assume it includes no lies.
Based on that assumption, it’s clear that Auletta spoke to a close associate of Abramson. Plainly, the close associate spoke these words: “She confronted the top brass.”
From that point on, it’s hard to tell what Auletta is saying. He seems to be speculating when he writes this: “and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy.’ ”
Auletta seems to be speculating there. Or is he actually paraphrasing what the close associate said? It’s hard to be sure. This makes it hard to tell if someone in management has actually called Abramson “pushy.”
(And of course, if someone actually said that, we aren’t told who that person is.)
Here’s a second possibility:
Is the magic word in question just Auletta’s characterization of “management’s [overall] narrative?” Is that a form of scare quotes around the word “pushy,” signaling us that this is Auletta’s take on what is being said?
It’s hard to know what’s going on in the passage in question. Let’s put that a different way: this is terrible journalism.
Auletta is using a magic word—a word which was sure to create excitement and set off disputes in this particular context.
But how odd! When Auletta used that magic word, he did so in an extremely slippery way. His writing makes it very hard to know what is being said.
The magic word “pushy” appears inside quotes—but we have no idea if anyone said it. If that passage was composed in good faith, that means that Ken Auletta is a terrible writer.
But Auletta isn’t a terrible writer. You can deduce the rest.
This is the way our gossip journalism works as our former nation heads toward the fall. Auletta throws out the shiny bait. All others gulp it down whole.
In this particular instance, Williams opened wide and swallowed the offering. Salon’s excitable headline writers then swung into action.
Bingo! Instant excitement! Get Lemon ready to roll!
Ken Auletta played a game, perhaps as a favor to a pal. At Salon, the children leaped.
Gaze on the soul on our world.
A primer in Salonist headline technique: In a more recent post at Salon, Katie McDonough mcdonoughsplained the Abramson firing.
She didn’t use the word “pushy” at all. But so what? Her piece ran beneath these headlines:
Jill Abramson was right to get a lawyer: “Pushy” women get paid“Pushy” is a magic word. Aside from the slippery Auletta, has anyone actually used it?
NYT editor's bringing a lawyer into a pay dispute may have ended her career. But she made the exact right choice