Late Tuesday night, Politico published an expose on Jill Abramson’s “turbulent leadership” at the New York Times. The piece can be summed up like this: Either Politico is biased against females in editorial leadership roles, or New York Times reporters and editors don’t like working for a woman.
In other words, the piece twists itself into knots trying to figure out how to criticize her, even using contradictory criticisms to make her look bad.
To be fair, the article points out that Abramson has many things to tout recently: She led the Times to win four Pulitzers this year, established a paywall that helped shore up the Times’ digital revenue, embraced Web technology with innovative pieces like “Snow Fall,” and maintained the struggling newspaper's reputation as the “paper of record.”
On the other hand, the article claims that Times reporters find her “impossible” to work with and unapproachable, but somehow she isn’t available enough. It said employees find her "very unpopular right now," as if she has kept the Times "leaderless" -- yet, somehow, the article claims in the same breath that she is "very respected there."
My favorite bit from the article has to be this line:
"[Managing Editor Dean] Baquet, who spoke positively of Abramson and of their relationship, acknowledged these frustrations but didn’t lend them much credence."
“I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer,” he said. “That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”
Just a little bit? That’s rich, given how the piece opens with a Baquet temper tantrum:
"Minutes later, Baquet burst out of Abramson’s office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom. He would be gone for the rest of the day, absent from the editors’ daily 4 p.m. meeting, at which he is a fixture."
The article cites anonymous staff reporters who complain about her being condescending and make fun of the way she talks, calling it “the equivalent of a nasal car honk.” And while the piece acknowledges that “every New York Times executive editor has demonstrated the ability to cut someone off at the knees,” it also claims that Abramson does it “with a frequency that was demoralizing to almost everyone involved.”
“Every editor has a story about how she’s blown up in a meeting,” one reporter said. I bet every editor has a story about how every other editor has blown up at a meeting, but you don't see exposes on Politico about them.
Here’s an alternative explanation: Staffers notice when a woman criticizes them far more often than when a man does, so it feels like any woman who is even slightly critical does it more often than a man would.
But here’s the kicker: The article reported that Baquet, the guy who is "sort of calmer,” had another episode, where he punched his fist through the wall in the Washington bureau. However, “even this anecdote is recalled fondly.”
I think something insidious at work here. Baquet’s quote, which opened this blog post, is a description of how the newsroom views the two of them -- and from that point on, that viewpoint colors all the staffers’ descriptions of Abramson's behavior in the article.
Once you’ve bought into that dichotomy, she’ll always be the “bitchy woman character” and he’ll always be the "calmer man," regardless of the author's tortured attempts to be fair and gender-neutral.
There's really no getting out of it for her: Any time she criticizes someone, she'll be bitchy. Any time she chooses not to, she'll be aloof. She can't win. Is this the reality at the Times, or just Politico's take?
In my opinion, if Abramson were a man, Politico wouldn't try to play up Baquet’s niceties and Abramson’s brusqueness, the staffers wouldn’t necessarily be quoted as saying these things, and this piece would not have been written.
How many male news executives have behaved abominably without the accompanying Politico expose???politico.com/story/2013/04/…
â€” Simon Marks (@SimonMarksFSN) April 24, 2013
Follow James DiGioia on Twitter: @JamesDiGioia