In one of his first public appearances as the New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet told a group of several dozen subscribers to Times Premier that he has not watched the videos that showed the beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
"Maybe I should have watched them, to be honest," Baquet said, according to Capital New York. "But I'm a human being, too. Those are painful things to watch." He discussed the paper’s editorial decisions to run stills from the videos and asserted that news – even the most disturbing elements of it – must be shared.
The comments were made at a “private and intimate” event on the 15th floor of the Times building which was nonetheless attended by some media, including Capital New York reporter Joe Pompeo and the Times’ own chief media reporter, David Carr.
One item Baquet was not willing to expand upon was his relationship with Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s former executive editor who was fired on May 14. Baquet, who was the paper’s managing editor at the time, replaced Abramson, giving him the highest-ranking position in the newsroom.
"Jill was and is a friend," Baquet said. "This is the only thing you’re not going to get me to be chatty about. It was a difficult day in my life."
At the time of Abramson’s firing, anonymous sources reported the pair had a tumultuous working relationship. In one instance, the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta claimed Baquet complained to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about Abramson, saying she failed to notify him of a new hire – a move that is believed to have triggered her sudden firing.
When NPR’s David Folkenflik interviewed Baquet on May 29, his words seemed to confirm some of the claims.
“It’s hard to run an organization if you are at odds with the publisher, with your leadership team, including your No. 2,” Baquet told Folkenflik. “Obviously, there was a significant disagreement between Jill and the publisher, and Jill and me.”
Since Abramson’s sudden firing nearly four months ago, she has spoken a handful of times on her dismissal. Less than a week after the event, Abramson spoke at Wake Forest University’s commencement ceremony.
“What’s next for me? I don’t know. So I’m in exactly the same boat as many of you. And like you, I’m a little scared but also excited,” Abramson said. Her next scheduled public appearance will be at an event hosted by technology news website Recode on Thursday.
One of Abramson’s most recent interviews was with Cosmopolitan Magazine in July, where she spoke candidly about her reaction to the news.
“Is it hard to say I was fired? No. I've said it about 20 times, and it's not. I was in fact insistent that that be publicly clear because I was not ashamed of that,” Abramson said. “Especially in this economy people are fired right and left for arbitrary reasons, and there are sometimes forces beyond your control.”
While the true nature of the dynamic between Abramson and Baquet may never be known, the new executive editor understands the job is tough.
"For most of my relationship with Jill, the arguments we had were the debates that two very strong-willed people have when they're running a big news organization. They weren't nasty, and I have tremendous respect for her," Baquet said in the NPR interview. "I mean it when I say that three years from now nobody is going to remember this. What they'll remember is she was a great journalist and a landmark editor."