The abrupt firing of Jill Abramson from her position as executive editor of the New York Times is noteworthy for several reasons – among them how stereotypical the scenario. From what we now know, Abramson was fired by publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. on grounds with which any student of women and leadership is familiar:
- She was long known for being “difficult.”
- Women as well as men found her brusque, bossy.
- Her leadership style was not only assertive and directive, it was the antitheses of communal. Comfy, cozy she was not.
- She was alone at the top, without a reliable network of powerful supporters.
- She was alone at the top, her peers and superiors all were men.
- When she discovered her paycheck was smaller than that of her predecessor, and perhaps even than one of her deputies, she demanded – her lawyer alongside – immediate and remedial equity.
The news of Abramson’s dismissal is not yet 24 hours old and it has already become a cause. Women in particular are climbing the ramparts, crying foul, calling Abramson a victim of gender stereotyping, even of out and out male oppression.
All of this may well be true. Whatever the facts that remain to come out, it’s unlikely the basics of the story will change. But it would be a disservice to Jill Abramson if she were to go out in a blaze of feminist outrage. For the important point about her tenure at the top of our most important newspaper by far, is how excellent it was. Abramson was a superlative leader. Under her extraordinarily talented direction, the New York Times was as good as it ever was. It was not only the nation’s paper of record, it was the nation’s investigative reporter. The Times dared to go where others did not because Abramson was willing to invest time, talent and, yes, money in stories that she believed had to be told.
Abramson will not go gently into the good night. Not only has she become in an instant a feminist icon, she herself is not likely to stay silent or still. But for those of us worried about the precarious state of American journalism, her disappearance from the masthead of the Times is less about rage than it is about grief.