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Times Says Firing Jill Abramson Not Part of 'Unequal Treatment of Women'

Attempt to Answer Concerns Could Give the Dispute More Oxygen

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Jill Abramson
Jill Abramson

New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. on Saturday released a statement defending his decision to dismiss Executive Editor Jill Abramson and denying reports that she earned less than her male predecessor.

The statement was an attempt to rebut concerns that the Times treated Ms. Abramson differently because of her gender, both in dismissing her over her management style and before that. By expanding on Mr. Sulzberger's dissatisfaction with Ms. Abramson, however, the effort might wind up escalating the dispute.

The Times reported last week that a settlement agreement between the paper and Ms. Abramson meant "neither side would go into detail about her firing."

But Mr. Sulzberger on Saturday at least sketched his perspective more fully than he had before:

"During her tenure, I heard repeatedly from her newsroom colleagues, women and men, about a series of issues, including arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues," Mr. Sulzberger said in the statement, which the Times distributed Saturday afternoon. "I discussed these issues with Jill herself several times and warned her that, unless they were addressed, she risked losing the trust of both masthead and newsroom. She acknowledged that there were issues and agreed to try to overcome them. We all wanted her to succeed. It became clear, however, that the gap was too big to bridge and ultimately I concluded that she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back."

Ms. Abramson could not be reached on Saturday for comment. She has not previously commented on her firing beyond an initial statement provided by the Times.

Asked about the settlement agreement and what each side could say, a Times spokeswoman said the company has not commented on the agreement and was comfortable with Saturday's statement.

Some observers, including The New Yorker's Ken Auletta, have argued that a brusque management style has not previously cost top Timesmen their jobs.

"Abrasiveness has never been a firing offense at the Times," Mr. Auletta wrote Thursday, a day after the paper announced Ms. Abramson's ouster. "Abe Rosenthal, an executive editor during the late seventies and eighties, was never considered a subtle personality, to say the least. And so there is a reason that gender has been widely discussed in relation to Abramson's firing and how she was judged, even if it was not the decisive factor."

It was Mr. Auletta, too, who reported that Ms. Abramson recently "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."

The Times said last week that Ms. Abramson's compensation was comparable to Mr. Keller's, but questions of sexism continued to arise in coverage.

"Perhaps the saddest outcome of my decision to replace Jill Abramson as executive editor of The New York Times is that it has been cast by many as an example of the unequal treatment of women in the workplace," Mr. Sulzberger said in the Saturday statement. "Rather than accepting that this was a situation involving a specific individual who, as we all do, has strengths and weaknesses, a shallow and factually incorrect storyline has emerged."

"Fueling this have been persistent but incorrect reports that Jill's compensation package was not comparable with her predecessor's," Mr. Sulzberger continued. "This is untrue. Jill's pay package was comparable with Bill Keller's; in fact, by her last full year as executive editor, it was more than 10% higher than his."

Ms. Abramson had only held the post since September 2011. Mr. Sulzberger has previously seen one other executive editor to the door against that editor's wishes. Howell Raines was forced out in 2003 after the revelation that Jayson Blair fabricated reporting opened the way for a newsroom revolt, partly over Mr. Raines' management style, which some found arrogant and abrasive.

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