Two days after New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. abruptly and vaguely announced he’d fired executive editor Jill Abramson, competing stories and details keep leaking out about the circumstances surrounding her ouster. There’s the tale of her unsuccessful recruitment of Guardian editor Janine Gibson (which supposedly threatened and infuriated Ambramson’s No. 2, Dean Baquet) and, more explosively, the allegation that Abramson had been paid less than her male colleagues, including the executive editor she replaced in 2011, Bill Keller.
Nobody—including and especially The New York Times—seems to know what’s going on. Ken Auletta of The New Yorker reported that Abramson’s salary concerns, and particularly her decision use to lawyers to press the Times on the issue, had helped bring about her dismissal. Auletta wrote that the Times had confirmed that point, the Times pushed back and denied any such confirmation, and as of this morning the official Times position was that Abramson’s lawyering up was “part of a pattern that led to frustration” but not (emphatically NOT) “part of a pattern that led to her firing.”
Meanwhile, the story the Times has pushed is that Abramson’s managerial style was simply unbearable, and that her underlings—notably Baquet—had found it impossible to go on with her in charge. There’s been no report of any malfeasance or malpractice; even in firing her, Sulzberger praised the journalism that was produced under her management. Yet it allegedly added up to a firing offense.
On the salary specifics, over the past 48 hours, top Times executives have claimed that Abramson was “not paid less,” “not paid meaningfully less,” “not paid considerably less,” and “not [paid] significantly less” than Keller. Her compensation, they insisted, was both “directly comparable” and“broadly comparable” to her male Times colleagues.
The actual compensation numbers, published last night by Auletta, tell a different story:
Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller's salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman.
There’s no apparent reason to doubt these numbers. For one, the Times has not challenged them. (When reached by phone last night, Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy repeatedly declined to comment on the compensation figures: “Salaries are proprietary, and are not something we discuss publicly.”) They also roughly match figures that we’d heard ourselves.
Other details (or purported details) have also been making the rounds. Along with the figures noted by Auletta, we’ve heard:
- That Keller received a salary bump of more than 40 percent when he became executive editor, while Abramson received a mere 25 percent increase for the same promotion.
- That Abramson brought in significant firepower during recent discussions over her salary. While Auletta doesn’t name Abramson’s lawyers, we’re told by multiple sources that she hired Michael Frankfurt of the Manhattan law firm Frankfurt Kurnit to deal with her pay equity issues, and Eric Seiler of Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman to guide her severance package and separation agreement. (Both attorneys did not respond to multiple calls, emails, and faxes for comment.)
- That Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. had initially wanted Abramson to put out a statement indicating that she had decided to retire, a request Abramson nearly accepted before deciding against it. In the end, she firmly refused to publish any statement suggesting that she had left the paper voluntarily.
- That the “settlement” between Abramson and her former employer, first noted by the Times, does not include a non-disparagement clause. (This could explain, in part, Sulzberger’s memo to staff on Thursday and the bevy of details leaking out from both camps.
When asked about these points, Eileen Murphy, the Times spokesperson, said “these are questions that you should ask Jill Abramson” and added, “In cases like this, there are often agreements that both parties will not discuss this publicly.” She also declined to address Auletta’s comparison between Abramson’s and Bill Keller’s compensation: “You think I’m going to discuss Bill Keller’s salary?”
Keller and Abramson did not acknowledge repeated requests for comment.
So again: What is going on? If you work at the New York Times, how bad was it over there, really? Or how good was it? Has anyone punched a wall lately? What’s on the missing pages of that leaked digital innovation report? If you have anything to add, please get a burner account and comment below, or send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.