July 23, 2014

COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: Are Female Journalists Softballing Jill Abramson Because She’s A Woman?

Here’s the thing. I don’t begrudge Abramson the right to pick the journalists she believes will give her the warmest embrace, or will accept her terms for an interview. Why shouldn’t she do that? In this case, she’s not in the role of “journalist,” she’s the newsmaker trying to spin her version of events. And on that score Abramson has a deft touch. She is not only brilliant at overseeing the news, she is also brilliant at managing the news, particularly when it’s about her. In the weeks since her firing, the public relations skirmish looks something like: Abramson 7, The New York Times 0.

But it is an absurd display of credulity and clubbiness on the part of her interviewers to take dictation on whatever Abramson says, to accept her version of highly controversial events surrounding her firing at The Times and then call it a day.

There are plenty of questions still to be asked: What about Abramson’s compensation battles with her bosses and, if true, her extraordinary decision to hire a lawyer when she was the executive editor? What warnings was she given that she might be fired? What did she tell then-managing editor Dean Baquet about the prospect of another managing editor coming in? Is his version of events complete?

I happen to be one who thinks there indeed was a double standard operating in the executive suite at The Times, and that a man would not be dismissed for his management style when his performance as a journalist was unsurpassed. But I was hoping for some better understanding of this issue when Abramson finally started speaking.

I’m beginning to think the details may never come out. Abramson has mainly dodged male reporters. And the male reporters I know would just as soon stay clear of the whole matter anyway. Most men don’t go rushing to cover tempestuous stories of sex discrimination.

That means it’s probably up to female journalists to seek complete answers to an event that’s still of no small importance in some quarters, particularly the quarters containing the young female journalists Abramson says she cares about most.

If female journalists want to be treated equitably, they should abide by their own principles of fairness. That means not giving your own a slide because you think they deserve it. Behaving otherwise is convenient, but it’s not journalism.

If it weren’t for clubby double standards, today’s journalism wouldn’t have any standards at all.