If Jill
Had Been Jack, Would It Be On the Front Page?

By

Leonard
Zwelling

       On May 14 Jill Abramson was fired as the
Executive Editor of the NY Times. She was the first woman to hold this
position.

       Editors come and go and in the coverage by
the newspaper itself of the firing it was pretty clear that this was a true
firing. She didn’t want to go or to spend more time with her family, but publisher
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. wanted her gone and he’s the boss. Here’s the link to
the Times’ own story and one from Politico:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/15/business/media/jill-abramson-being-replaced-as-top-editor-at-times.html?hp

http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/05/jill-abramson-to-exit-new-york-times-188533.html

       What struck me as strange is that what
seemed like a routine firing due to legitimate differences in substance and
style between the hired and the hirer, has been transformed into a feminist
rant on MS-NBC’s Morning Joe and on the web site of MS-NBC. This story is being
billed as exhibit A in the on-going battle for feminine equality above the
glass ceiling. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t, but when are we going to really
treat women equally and admit that Ms. Abramson was a talented editor who did
some great things while at the Times, but had run afoul of her boss and some of
her co-workers and the boss thought a change in the newsroom was in order? Can’t
we wait at least 24 hours before making this a cause celebre of feminism by
having 4 high-powered women CEOs on cable news with Mika Brzezinski defending the fired editor? (This is another in a series of Mika hypocrisies as she has now turned
Twinkies, McDonald’s and Coke into true evil while coddling Chris Christie who
based on his shape, must be the devil incarnate).

       True equality among the sexes in the
business world will not exist until both bad and good things can happen to both
men and women and elicit a similar response. I have no idea why Ms. Abramson
was let go beyond what I will read in many news outlets, some of which are
likely being manipulated. I have to include the NY Times in that for the paper
obviously has a vested interest in appearing unbiased even if the trauma of the
change is likely to percolate through its newsroom. In the end, it is a
personal setback for Ms. Abramson, but I suspect that the NY Times will go on.
That being said, if other news outlets wish to follow this story and unearth
evidence that the firing was gender-based, can we at least give the reporters
who might do that investigation time to do it?

       There should be no presumption of guilt
or innocence in this case. The publisher is the boss and the editor serves at
his pleasure, just like an academic department chair in medicine. If the boss
wants you gone, you’re gone and I ought to know. It sounds to me like this action
by the NY Times was done deliberately, carefully, with respect for those
involved and with consideration for the work atmosphere the leadership deemed needed a change. All
good. If subsequently it turns out that Ms. Abramson was being underpaid or was
unduly and inappropriately dealt with, then she has recourse. But let’s not jump
to conclusions about what happened here. And here’s why.

       By attributing motivations other than
those that guide normal business decisions, we are short-changing Ms.
Abramson’s considerable accomplishments while she was leading the Times. She
was a good editor and now she’s not the editor. That’s all. Until there is some
demonstrable proof that her dismissal was motivated by factors related to her
sex, why not assume that she was fired like all the other editors the Times who
had been fired before her? Why diminish her excellence in any way by assuming
she was treated differently? Maybe she really had broken through the glass
ceiling and thus became equally likely to fall back through it. Just like a
man. Just like the one who replaced her and the many journalists of both sexes who
will follow them.

             

Leonard Zwelling