In the hullabaloo over Jill Abramson’s abrupt departure from her position as executive editor of The New York Times, with rumors and frustrations flying — and Instagram photos kicking the hornet’s nest — one voice has been mysteriously absent from the conversation: the new Times executive editor, Dean Baquet.
Baquet gave his first public comments to NPR’s David Folkenflik. In an interview from this morning’s All Things Considered, he elaborated on his perspective during Abramson’s firing. “I don’t think it’s any secret that my rise to be executive editor was proceeded by a period of turmoil,” he said. He did not comment about Abramson’s management or relationship with the newsroom.
While the first details that leaked out about Abramson’s departure focused on gender, with The New Yorker‘s Ken Auletta reporting that Abramson realized she was making less than her predecessors, and getting lawyers in order to rectify the situation, the truth is probably somewhere in between, a cocktail of all sorts of workplace issues. Baquet says that she was fired due to “failed relationships,” also noting that “there was a significant disagreement between Jill and the publisher, and Jill and me.”
He also discussed his temper, saying, “I should have a lawyer with me for this part, shouldn’t I?” Perhaps that was a joke, but it rings a bit hollow. He mentions that sometimes he has punched a wall when he’s had frustrations with his superiors. (Abramson has been one of his superiors.) “It’s not an excuse,” he noted.
It does seem like a major factor in Abramson’s firing was her hiring of another managing editor for the paper’s digital end. Baquet was open about his feelings regarding this hiring, as Folkenflik reports: “[he] confided to other editors that Abramson’s new hire could marginalize him, and he shared his frustration with Sulzberger. The publisher feared losing a future executive editor, believing in the promise of Baquet more than the friction-laden present of Abramson. On May 14, Sulzberger announced his decision.”
If the takeaway from Baquet’s interview is that Abramson wasn’t fired for gender, per se, perhaps that is enough. Folkenflik tweeted, interestingly, that Abramson did sign a non-disparagement agreement, contradicting Auletta’s reporting and further muddying the waters. But despite the protestations from the Times and their generally inept PR following the firing, it is increasingly clear that gender played a role, and a significant one, in Abramson’s perceived disconnect from the Times and the upper brass. Maybe it can’t be quantified, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted. But it’s just one element in what is, correctly, a time of turmoil for the paper, and whether it can change with the era remains to be seen. Baquet’s got a lot of work to do.