The first woman to lead the New York Times as Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, was abruptly fired from her position last Wednesday. Although the New York Times officially denies the dismissal has to do with her gender or compensation, many feminist sources speculate that her dismissal had to do with her request for compensation equal to her male predecessors and point out that her abrupt firing, without any acknowledgment of her 17 years of service, indicates gross 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,” writes Ken Auletta 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.”
Abramson also referred to sexism in the newspaper industry during her commencement speech at Wake Forest University. She referenced her heroes who faced discrimination. “Nan Robinson, a groundbreaking reporter of the New York Times, and Katharine Graham, the publisher of Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story. They both faced discrimination in a much tougher more male dominated newspaper industry, and they went on to win Pulitzer prizes,” she said.
Abramson had worked for the New York Times for 17 years and took over the top position in September 2011. Her work as Executive Editor is viewed as largely successful. She led the paper to increase its online engagement and brought more women into leadership roles.
However, she has often been characterized as “pushy” and “mercurial” – terms considered to be gendered because a man in her position would likely not be described in such a way. She is also said to have clashed with the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other senior management. Her dismissal came as a surprise to staff at the paper, and she was not given a proper send-off, even though her predecessor, Howell Raines, who was believed to be let go because of a scandal, received a much more respectful dismissal.
Some outlets are using this news to call for a renewed interest in legislation around pay discrimination and efforts to break the glass ceiling. On average, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, and women of color make even less. Black women earn just 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latina earn only 54 cents. The pay gap costs women about $434,000 over the course of their careers – impacting the ability of women to provide for their families and care for their loved ones. The pay gap also cuts into women’s Social Security, pensions, and retirement. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help these issues, but Senate Republicans filibustered it last month.
Abramson will be replaced by Dean Baquet, previously the managing editor of the paper. He will be the first African-American to lead the paper.
Media Resources: Slate 5/14/14, 5/15/14; New Yorker 5/14/14, 5/15/14; New York Times 5/15/14; “Meet the Press” 5/18/14; ThinkProgress 5/19/14; New Republic 5/14/14; New York Magazine 5/14/14; Feminist Newswire 4/8/14, 4/9/14