Gray Lady Up: Jill Abramson’s Reign Begins at the Times

Abramson has also “tried to navigate between goals that sometimes collided -- seeking more diversity and trying to promote a new generation of editors, yet not depriving the paper of those with experience and wisdom.” Yes, this is an either/or situation: you either hire and promote based purely on merit, or you don’t. There can be little doubt about which method currently is in favor at the Times. One male correspondent told Auletta, “She plays favorites, it is said. Especially for women.” Hope you didn’t use the company email system to say so, fella! Twenty newsroom jobs are about to be axed.

Ah, but noticing the sharp edges of a woman is itself sexist, a sure sign of a double standard, is it not? Not really. Howell Raines, the editor from 2001-2003, was fired, in part because of his insistently obnoxious personality and in part because of his disastrous decision to hire and prominently place an inexperienced and not obviously qualified young reporter, Jayson Blair, whose name is now synonymous with fictitious reportage. Abramson’s role in publishing some stories whose veracity has also been questioned -- the Judith Miller WMD reports on Iraq -- is disputed. She says that Miller, though a member of the Washington bureau Abramson managed, was allowed to operate outside normal channels.

One member of the chipper, sunny family that is the New York Times compared Raines and Abramson this way: “Unlike Howell, she is not mean. Jill is a nice, caring person. ... She doesn’t enjoy torturing people. So much of her negativity is unintended.” So she tortures people only by accident, or with regret.

Another victim of torture at the Times is fact, which increasingly gets thrown in the iron maiden so that more space can be given to opinion. In an essay on recent campaign books such as Game Change, Abramson derides what she calls the “attitude-driven ‘reports’ on cable TV,” meaning Fox News. But Auletta drily remarks that “The Times today offers opinion on its editorial page, in business-section columns, in political stories only sometimes marked ‘News Analysis,’ and in the Sunday Review, which falls under the editorial-page editor” but used to be part of the news department. The editorial-page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, openly worries that “the news report can be undermined, particularly in the highly partisan, accusatory time we live in, if we mingle news and opinion.” Abramson’s predecessor, Bill Keller, suggests a solution: Even more opinion! Keller says the paper should “get beyond commodity news ... to add meaning to it. To help readers organize the information into understanding.”

As for whether Abramson agrees with this view, Auletta drops a hint that the critique of liberal bias “will not be lessened by the elevation of a woman brought up in a liberal-Democratic household on the West Side of Manhattan who worked for liberal Southern Democrats and wrote a book asserting that Clarence Thomas probably lied.” In other words, what Abramson called “attitude-driven ‘reports’” are here to stay.