Interlude—Two letter writers explain: We're having connectivity issues today. Thanks to a special arrangement with Kinko's, we're able to bring you this post.
What explains Jill Abramson's plight? In this morning's New York Times, two readers fall back on a familiar old story.
This story has often been right in the past. It could even be right in this case! The first letter writer, from West Newton, Mass., feels sure about what she's been hearing:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I’ve been a reader of The New York Times for a very long time now, and this is the first time that I am really angry with its management. I know that the publisher has the right to fire anyone on the staff, but it should be for poor performance.Has this reader heard the term "pushy" applied to Abramson? Actually yes, she has.
The part of Jill Abramson’s performance as executive editor that I care about is providing full and accurate news, which she has done; witness the eight Pulitzers during her tenure. The rest seems to be issues of poor communication, the fault for which may lie on either side, or both.
When adjectives like “pushy” and “mercurial” are widely used in discussions of the firing of the first female executive editor of The Times, I know what I’m hearing.
Prove to me and other faithful female readers that The Times is not an old boys’ club underneath it all.
Last week, Abramson's daughter used the term in an Instagram bearing that hashtag. At the same time, The New Yorker's Ken Auletta put the word "pushy" in quotes, without identifying anyone who has actually said it. Auletta seemed to be presenting Team Abramson's account of Abramson's plight.
The magic word "pushy" jumped straight to Salon and into millions of hearts. The term has been thrown around quite a bit. But has anyone actually said the word, other than Abramson's team?
The second letter writer tells a version of this same story. The story has often been true in the past. Is it true in this case?
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I couldn’t help but notice the simultaneous ousters of The New York Times’s executive editor and Le Monde’s editor in chief, both women, reported on the same day...According to this standard story, no man could ever get in trouble for a brusque management style. Tomorrow, we'll show you the way Howell Raines was described in 2003, when he was booted from the same job Abramson has now lost.
Despite cultural differences in French and American journalism, the reasons given for both women’s expulsion demonstrate a remarkable parallel: a “mercurial” and brusque management style in the case of Jill Abramson at The Times, and a “top-down management style” for Natalie Nougayrède at Le Monde. When have such management styles been a liability for male editors?
Ms. Abramson and Ms. Nougayrède, whose competence was never in question, were both the first women to occupy these top roles in their papers. It’s a sad day for journalism when the female leaders of two of the world’s foremost newspapers are told to be less demanding in order to win the backing of their senior editors and publishers.
It's easy to fall back on standard old stories to explain new events. Such stories have often been right in the past. The story told by these letter writers may be right in this case.
On the other hand, standard old stories may sometimes blind us to the realities of the present. That may be happening in this case. We think it did happen with regard to the plight of D'Leisha Dent.
Dent's plight has been explained through use of a familiar old story about segregation in the South. Some elements of that story seem to obtain in Dent's case. But we think the old story served to obscure a much more important plight.
Connectivity willing, we'll discuss Howell Raines tomorrow. We'll discuss Dent's plight all next week.
For what it's worth, the New York Times has done an abysmal job discussing the plight of kids like Dent, both under Abramson's leadership and before. All the flash off those Pulitzer Prizes can't obscure that fact.
Each writer feel certain of Abramson's competence. Her newspaper's treatment of kids like Dent tells us they shouldn't feel sure.