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There is a lesson for women in this

I’ve been reading about the shocking dismissal of Jill Abramson, executive editor at the New York Times. It says so much about what is going wrong here: if there is any paper that personifies journalism in the US, it’s the NY Times, and at the same time we’ve been witnessing the decay in journalism as an institution, we can see the rot blooming all over the flagship. I’m not a media insider by any means, but when you see the deck sagging and one of the masts falling off, even us outsiders can see something is seriously amiss.

One of the problems is simple corporate sexism.

There are two intertwining narratives of Abramson’s downfall, and both probably have some truth to them. The story that’s gotten the most attention, of course, is about sexism. “Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs,” Ken Auletta reported in The New Yorker. “’She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.”

She got paid less than Bill Keller? Ethically challenged, insensitive, entitled Bill Keller? Say it ain’t so. And then she dared to actually point out this problem to the corporate executives? How dare she.

I don’t think that if a man did exactly the same thing, that his pay was not equivalent to that of his predecessor, that he’d get called “pushy”. That would be a case of pointing out an unfairness, whereas women are supposed to simply accept an unfairness. She was clearly a bad woman.

She broke the clubhouse rules. She never became that mythical female boss who is assertive but not aggressive, nurturing but not mothering, not so strong that it bothers the men, but never weak like a woman.

The top quote mentions that there were two factors contributing to her firing. One was sexism. The other was independence and ethics. She was for ‘em, clearly something that put her at odds with NYT management, the newspaper that allowed Judith Miller to work until she retired.

But if Abramson’s demise is about gender, it’s also about newsroom values—and here, the implications are almost as troubling. At NYMag.com, Gabriel Sherman describes how she clashed with Thompson over native advertising or ads designed to look like editorial content. He writes about how she resisted Thompson’s push for a greater emphasis on online video, and about how she enraged him by sending a journalist to investigate his role in the unfolding Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal at the BBC, which he led before going to the Times. In all of these conflicts, she was right, and in two of them, she was defending fundamental journalist principles.

Mark Thompson is the NYT’s CEO, formerly of the BBC, where he was in charge when a documentary on Jimmy Savile, long in preparation, was squelched as just too embarrassing for management (hey, who knew the BBC and the Catholic Church would have something in common?). He’s keeping his job. The woman who thought it was newsworthy to investigate a cover up is fired.

So clearly, the lesson from this story is that if you are a woman in journalism, you must be submissive and you must abandon any sense of what is right. I guess working while female at the NYT is a bit like having a role in Fifty Shades of Gray.

Comments

  1. minxatlarge says

    Women often already know this message:

    “Jessica Kennedy of Wharton and Laura Kray of Berkeley report on three studies in a paper forthcoming in Social Psychology and Personality Science. In the first study, subjects read 14 vignettes describing ethical compromises in a business context. Values seen as sacred, such as honesty, loyalty, or the well-being of others, were traded off for the secular values of money or status. An executive secures a big bonus by using a cheap ingredient in a cancer drug, knowing it will kill some people. A project manager takes credit for the work of a subordinate who stayed late at the office. Subjects rated how objectionable the behavior was, and how much business sense it made. Compared with men, women found the acts more offensive, and said they made less business sense. “I have certainly experienced multiple situations,” Kray says, “where I have seen male colleagues turn a blind eye to ethically questionable situations in the workplace, whereas women leaned in by either reporting it or questioning it.”

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/04/03/do_women_think_working_in_business_is_immoral.html

    It’s not simply that certain behavior is unethical. Even when there’s massive proof that unethical behavior is at baseline more costly (yes, even without legal costs), I’ve heard people claim that ‘we must be Tough, that touchy-feely stuff doesn’t work (code for being unethical)’. I’ve seen organizations follow psychopaths right off cliffs because ‘He/She is Mean and Loud so must be competent.’ As long as business culture continues to admire unethical behavior, outsiders who insist on ethical behavior (such as women) will be denigrated for it.

  2. kurczaki3 says

    I am not surprised at all to read about the “Abramson’s Downfall.” It actually seems the norm instead the exception to the rule. It is ugly reality that every women faces in her work place. I worked in a health organization where it was much easier to see the merit of advancement yet over and over again the member of the boy club gets the advancement regardless of merit, abilities or interpersonal skills.

  3. says

    It looks to me like the Big Boys in Charge were working in the background for some time to undermine Abramson. They told her, for example, that they wanted her to stay on as executive editor for years — and they told her that right before they fired her. Also sounds like the Big Boys made an effort to keep her off the scent of the trail leading to her ouster, “she buys that.”

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/nyt-asked-jill-abramson-serve-more-time

    The CEO of the New York Times told Jill Abramson that he hoped she’d stay on as executive editor “for some more years” just before tensions between her and management imploded.

    The Daily Beast obtained an email from Times CEO Mark Thompson to Abramson, dated April 28, that discussed recruiting Janine Gibson, a senior editor for The Guardian, to the newspaper as a managing editor. […]

    “I told her there really was a new spirit in the newsroom and she buys that and has been impressed by what’s been achieved recently,” Thompson wrote, as quoted by the Daily Beast. “She reveres you and will need convincing that you’re going to sign up for some more years as Editor. I told her I was doing my best to persuade you that you should!” […]

    […] Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. learned Abramson “had hired a labor and compensation attorney” to investigate a potential pay disparity between her and her male predecessors the same day Thompson sent the email about wanting Abramson to extend her tenure.

    Sulzberger and the Times have argued that Abramson’s inquiries about compensation did not factor into the publisher’s decision to replace her. However, a Times spokeswoman has reportedly said the hiring of a lawyer was “part of a pattern that caused frustration.”

    Let’s change the description of Abramson to “decisive” or “commanding” or “bold.”

  4. Nentuaby says

    “Pushy” sure does sound like an unflattering framing for a CHIEF EDITOR’S most important qualification.

  5. ranmore says

    Jesuit educated Mark Thompson is traditionalist Catholic BTW. Just so you know.

  6. mikeyb says

    So rampant sexism occurs in the bowels of the so-called liberal elite called the NY Times (as big a myth as any). A newspaper that can employ the likes of Ross Douthat and David Brooks or columns by Peggy Noonan and consider itself the elite newspaper of the world puts me beside myself. And we’re talking about a newspaper which was a leading cheerleader and enabler for all of the Iraq wars.So go ol’ boy sexism comes as no surprise to me. Really sad when the NY times is supposedly the elite voice to counteract the insanity of the right, how can they do that when they don’t even bother to report news evenhandedly, or do effectively the same sort of things that a right wing sexist like Erick Erickson spew out all the time. One wonders at some level what is the difference?

  7. says

    minxatlarge

    It’s not simply that certain behavior is unethical. Even when there’s massive proof that unethical behavior is at baseline more costly (yes, even without legal costs), I’ve heard people claim that ‘we must be Tough, that touchy-feely stuff doesn’t work (code for being unethical)’. I’ve seen organizations follow psychopaths right off cliffs because ‘He/She is Mean and Loud so must be competent.’ As long as business culture continues to admire unethical behavior, outsiders who insist on ethical behavior (such as women) will be denigrated for it.

    It’s not just business culture, all kinds of aspects of American culture are infected with that bullshit. You see it all the time with the people who are obsessed with combating welfare fraud and whine anytime anyone tries to spend money on any other infrastructure but champion our fiendishly wasteful and massively expensive military, and also shooting foreigners for laughs. Because America has to be tough and manly and all that macho bullshit.

  8. David Chapman says

    5
    ranmore

    Jesuit educated Mark Thompson is traditionalist Catholic BTW. Just so you know.

    That’s fairly sinister. :(

    Also, the 65th most powerful man in the World 2009, according to Forbes magazine. ( Via Wikipedia. ) Oh World!!

  9. Frenzie says

    @1
    “Values seen as sacred, such as honesty, loyalty, or the well-being of others, were traded off for the secular values of money or status” (emphasis added).

    O_o

    That oddity aside, fuck those cultural norms.

  10. Thorne says

    I understand that there are other issues involved, but I’m just wondering about the pay scale. Ms. Abramson replaced Keller in 2011. He had been in that position for more than eight years. Why should she get the same pay, when starting, as he had when he left? While she was obviously qualified, she did not have the experience he’d accumulated.

    Now granted, after three years she should have been making much closer to his final pay, but other than adjusting for CofL, why would someone with only three years experience be paid the same as someone with eight years experience? Unless she was that much better than him!

    I do understand that the inequality in pay between men and women is deeply entrenched and needs addressing, and from the sound of it (“her pay and her pension benefits … were considerably less”) there was a real problem here, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily as large as implied. If I were a businessman and hired someone, anyone, to replace a qualified and experienced manager, unless that person had equivalent qualifications and experience elsewhere, I wouldn’t be inclined to pay her the same as her predecessor. At least, not to start with.

    I don’t know how much of this would apply in this situation, but it should at least be considered as a part of the general discussion of these kinds of issues, I should think.

  11. Kimpatsu says

    Mark Thompson is the NYT’s CEO, formerly of the BBC, where he was in charge when a documentary on Jimmy Savile, long in preparation, was squelched as just too embarrassing for management (hey, who knew the BBC and the Catholic Church would have something in common?).
    FYI, PZ, Mark Thompson IS a Roman Catholic. That’s why he refused to allow the national Secular Society to participate in the Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4.

  12. says

    Thorne @ 11 – I saw mention somewhere on Twitter about the numbers. It didn’t sound like she was asking for the *same* pay as her predecessor, but rather equivalent. There was something like a hundred thousand dollar difference. It was a difference much too large to be explained by simply a few years of raises in the position. As well as the same pattern in the prior job where she didn’t ‘catch up’ in salary, by a long shot, as she caught up in experience.

  13. samihawkins says

    “’She confronted the top brass,’ one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was ‘pushy,’ a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect.”

    This is infuriating all on it’s own, but it’s doubly so when I think of all the time’s I’ve heard someone argue that the pay gap only exists because women don’t stand up for themselves and demand a raise the way men do.

  14. says

    A man demands a higher salary, he’s a go-getter. A woman demands a higher salary, she’s a shrew.

    But of course, there’s no such thing as sexism. It’s all in the past, dontchanow.

  15. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    She got paid less than Bill Keller?

    Ummm.

    In his note to the staff, Mr. Sulzberger rebutted this suggestion. “It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors,″ he wrote. “Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors. In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10 percent higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as executive editor, which was 2010. It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.”

    I’ll confess I haven’t gone through the NYT’s EDGAR filings, but to put that out there without it being true would take some serious chutzpah, and would risk a SarbOx prosecution if false.

    (Note: pay and compensation are two completely different things.)

  16. Suido says

    Speaking of sociopathic/psychopathic workplaces, I have a friend who was excited to finish their chef apprenticeship and score a job in one of Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants. That excitement faded as they realised that from top to bottom, it was a systemically high-stress and abusive work environment, where every mistake was met with a barrage of verbal obscenities from any/everyone. It’s a culture that very obviously is derived from the owner’s personal management style.

  17. specduckular says

    Whine, whine. Boo hoo.

    One rich person gets screwed over by another rich person.

    Kids are still starving to death in Africa.

  18. specduckular says

    This is what you get when you listen to assholes like Milton Friedman.

  19. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    So clearly, the lesson from this story is that if you are a woman in journalism, you must be submissive and you must abandon any sense of what is right.

    FTFY. Said in a world-weary and exasperated voice utterly devoid of all hope and any remaining belief in human decency.

  20. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    And here comes specduckular at #18 to destroy what little faith in humanity I had left with the utterly vacuous yet oft-repeated argument that the presence of starving children in Africa somehow means that all other injustices are not things we should be worrying about, much less trying to fix.

    Fuck you, speckduckular. Stupidity of that level violates the 3 post rule all on it’s own.

  21. says

    Another woman gets shafted when it comes to equal pay, and this time a court upholds the shafting. Yeah, according to the jury, it’s okay for Anheuser-Busch to routinely pay women less.

    Francine Katz, formerly the highest-ranking woman executive at the company, claimed that while she made $1 million after being promoted to vice president of communications and consumer affairs, she was unfairly paid less than the man who had the job before her, John Jacob, who earned $4.5 million. She said she had hoped that gap would close, but after six years she still made less than half of his compensation. For its part, the company contended that Jacob was paid more because he had more substantive responsibilities and Katz’s job was simply public relations. She argued that she did more than that, lobbying lawmakers, testifying before Congress, and helping to create influential anti-drunk driving campaigns.

    Beyond the alleged discrepancy in Katz’s pay, evidence during the trial also showed that there were two tiers on the strategy committee, which Katz belonged to. All the male executives were paid on tier one, while the only two women were on tier two. President Dave Peacock testified that system only had to do with a person’s market rate. […]

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/05/19/3439078/anheuser-busch-discrimination-case/

  22. scienceavenger says

    … her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs…

    Foxblonde 1C3-A (Martha MacCallum) of their morning show actually said that liberals cannot claim there is systemic discrimination against women in American society if said discrimination is happening at a liberal paper like the NY Times. The only thing more ridiculous was that the token leftie didn’t call her on it.

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