By Julissa Catalan
After a three-year stint, the first female Executive Editor of The New York Times was abruptly fired last week. Since then, multiple media outlets have speculated it was due in part to wage discrimination.
The New York Times broke news of Jill Abramson’s dismissal itself, adding that she was being replaced by Managing Editor Dean Baquetwho is making history himself as the first Black Executive Editor of the paper.
Abramson was fired earlier this month, while Baquet was not promoted until two weeks after.
Chairman and Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger said the decision to fire Abramson was based on “an issue with management in the newsroom.”
The paper notes that there was tension between Abramson and Baquet, most recently because Abramson tried to hire Janine Gibson as Co-Managing Editor alongside Baquet, without consulting him. (Gibson declined the position.)
This was eventually brought to Sulzberger’s attentionafter he had already heard complaints of Abramson being “polarizing” and “mercurial” and after he had multiple disagreements with Abramson himself.
While the media industry initially credited the Times for outing its ownrather than covering up the dismissal as a “voluntary resignation”many outlets have been speculating that the real reason for Abramson’s dismissal was because she fought a pay disparity.
Ken Auletta was the first to make the claim unequal pay claim via an article in The New Yorker. He said:
“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. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as Executive Editor ‘was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s’though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, ‘She found out that a former Deputy Managing Editor’a man’made more money than she did’ while she was Managing Editor. ‘She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.'”
Soon after, the paper denied the report. “Jill’s total compensation as Executive Editor was not less than Bill Keller’s, so that is just incorrect. Her pension benefit, like all Times employees, is based on her years of service and compensation. The pension benefit was frozen in 2009,” Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Politico. “The reason for the departure was as we said earlier: Arthur’s concern over certain aspects of newsroom management.”
Auletta went on to write an even more incriminating article that was published in the The New Yorker on Thursday. He gave financial figures this time, claiming Abramson made $84,000 less than Keller, her predecessor, and said Abramson had also consulted with a lawyer regarding her unequal pay prior to being fired.
“Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, andonly after she protestedwas raised again to $525,000,” he wrote. “She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman. (Murphy would say only that Abramson’s compensation was ‘broadly comparable’ to that of Taubman and Geddes.)”
Sulzberger responded with his first public statement on Thursday, in which he insisted that the allegations are untrue.
Arthur Sulzberger’s note to New York Times staff: pic.twitter.com/uwZCeAXiuv
Daily Intelligencer (@intelligencer) May 15, 2014
He then released a second statement on Saturday.
Arthur Sulzberger just released new statement addressing growing controversy over Abramson’s firing. Story coming! pic.twitter.com/fwwIKxUu78
Ravi Somaiya (@ravisomaiya) May 17, 2014
Sulzberger’s second statement was released shortly after Abramson’s daughter Cornelia Griggs joined in the public debate by posting a photo on Instagram of a conversation between her and a friend, which read:
“Love to your mom we should all aspire to be so pushy.”
Griggs responded with “Couldn’t agree more,” and captioned the photo with, “Big thank you to all the #pushy #bossy #polarizing women and men who get it. This story isn’t over, not even close.”
Abramson finally responded herself over the weekend. “I’ve loved my run at The Times. I got to work with the best journalists in the world doing so much stand-up journalism,” she said.
She expanded on the situation on Monday while giving the commencement address at Wake Forest University. “It meant more to our father to see us deal with a setback and try to bounce back, than watch how we handled our successes. Show what you are made of, he would say,” Abramson said. “Sure, losing a job you love hurts, but the work I reverejournalism that holds powerful institutions and people accountableis what makes our democracy so resilient. This is the work I will remain very much a part of.”