A Gilded Lilly

Jill Abramson attends commencement at Wake Forest University. (Photo: Chris Keane/Getty Images)



It is time for Harry Reid to move out of the Ritz-Carlton: The Senate majority leader is pointing to the case of Jill Abramson, the recently deposed editor of the New York Times, whose compensation ran to well more than a half-million dollars a year, as the latest example of why Washington should be micromanaging businesses’ compensation decisions in the name of “equal pay.” One suspects that many American women, and men, too, would sign up for invidious discrimination resulting in their pocketing more than a million dollars every two years. Of course the typical U.S. family would be thrilled if its regular paychecks amounted to the $3,300 Senator Reid tips his doormen at the Ritz, so, from his point of view, Ms. Abramson no doubt looks like Norma Rae or a gold-plated Lilly Ledbetter, a true working-class hero.

Ms. Abramson, who once received a raise nearly equal to the median annual household income, complained to her superiors at the struggling New York Times Company that she was paid substantially less than her male predecessor had been in both of the jobs — managing editor and executive editor — in which she had succeeded him, while her male successor was paid substantially more than she had been in the position of Washington bureau chief. Apparently unhappy with the turn that conversation took, Ms. Abramson lawyered up. Some of her Times colleagues, meanwhile, complained that the boss was bossy, while the corporate brass has suggested that she was fired not because of the salary dispute but because she misled her superiors in the matter of hiring a new high-level editor, perhaps intending to undermine the standing of her up-and-coming No. 2, Dean Baquet, who was seen as a likely successor and who has in fact succeeded her.

As succession dramas go, the saga of the New York Times is not exactly Macbeth. But it will do: It involves a clash of diversity totems — Ms. Abramson was the most high-profile female editor in American newspapers, and her successor is the first black editor of the Times — along with equal-pay concerns and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s hand-wringing about negative perceptions of assertive women, which culminated in the demand that corporate America “ban ‘bossy.’” That this is happening among the very people who produce the daily missal of self-satisfied American liberalism makes this a crisis of conscience for Democrats everywhere, and thus we have the Senate majority leader weighing in.

Everybody should have Ms. Abramson’s million-dollar problems, or for that matter those of Ms. Sandberg, whose net worth is approximately $1 billion. If the Times drama tells us anything, it should be how difficult it is to draw conclusions about public policy from a single data point, or even from a relatively large aggregation. The typical male newspaper editor and the typical female newspaper editor would be doing well to make much more than a tenth of what Ms. Abramson was paid, but it is the case that America’s newspapers pay female editors substantially less on average than they do male editors — about 15 percent less, in fact. That may be invidious discrimination, or it may represent a combination of factors such as time in the profession, hours worked, position within the organization, etc., that when applied to the so-called pay gap generally reduces those differences to statistical noise. None of this cries out for the intervention of the federal government.

Ms. Abramson delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University today, ousted Times editors apparently being acceptable where former secretaries of state and university chancellors are not, and for the most part she had the good taste not to make the afternoon about her own troubles, such as they are — and they are not much like those of ordinary people. Her story illuminates no aspect of public life save the weakness of journalists for stories about their own tribe.


Meme Watch: Jill Abramson
The ouster of New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson on Wednesday sent a tsunami through the Twitter-verse as observers weighed in on the Grey Lady’s official explanation, speculated on the real reasons, and indulged in more than a little schadenfreude over what may turn out to be a gender-based pay-gap flap. Here’s a sampling of the commentary, illustrated by NR.
“The NY Times started the "war on women" looks like they have thier own war--ppl in glass houses shouldnt throw stones” (@Raffiwilliams)
“While Jill Abramson was checking her cisgender privilege, the patriarchy snuck up on her with a sexist atomic wedgie” (@ScooperMexican)
“Meanwhile, @JillAbramson is boxing, wearing a #SubwaySeries cap.” (@mylesmill)
“The Jill Abramson situation is getting out of control” (@AndrewStilesUSA)
“BREAKING: Tomorrow’s NYT front page” (@Slublog)
“Good news, the Times can re-use a past headline” (@jimgeragthy)
“Saw a kid on the playground say “Last one to write a Jill Abramson think piece is a rotten egg” to a bunch of other kids and then run off.” (@mattthomas)
“Pretty sure the trending of Jill Abramson is due to all the journalists. Bacon donut burgers on the other hand, I got nothin.” (@lbeNEB)
“I made a Venn diagram about jill abramson” (@Timodc)
”Spare me your flimsy 'iceberg' excuses. I demand a state room as big as Bill Keller's. NOW."- Jill Abramson, Titanic passenger” (@iowahawkblog)
“I wonder what the NYT editorial board's stance on paying women less for equal work is.” (@guypbenson)
“Leaked photo from Sulzberger's last New York Times meeting with Jill Abramson surfaces.” (@Popehat)
“Did Arthur Sulzberger, like, just find out that Jill Abramson has a difficult personality? Kind of seems like a mgmt failure on his part.” (@elianayjohnson)
“No wonder NYT thinks so poorly of corporate America. If Sulzberger were your top boss, so would you.” (@EdWhelanEPPC)
“RIGHT WING MEDIA CONUNDRUM: Do we attack Jill Abramson for seeking 'equal pay,' or ignore it because it's the New York Times??” (@Death2FalseMeta)
“Just read Jill Abramson's own daughter tweet from 2013 that her mother isn't a hugger, is intimidating, and is hard to read. Wow.” (@jpodhoretz)
“Shinseki still has a job. Jill Abramson does not.” (@GPollowitz)
“Where's the Downfall clip about Jill Abramson's firing?” (@jpohoretz)
“Look, the Times couldn't pay Jill Abramson the same as Bill Keller because it needed the money to pay for more articles about Ronan Farrow.” (@podhoretz)
“The inevitable Jill Abramson biopic will give Meryl Streep one of her toughest accent challenges yet” (@daveweigel)
NYT says Jill Abramson hired a consultant to help her with management issues. Unfortunately, it was Donald Sterling.” (@jpodhoretz)
“Wait, Jill Abramson was at the center of the Jay-Z-Solange argument, too?” (@GarrettQuinn)
“Ousted Jill Abramson reportedly has a NY Times tattoo on her back” (@nypost)
“Looking for that groupon for tattoo removal for you, Jill Abramson.” (@elianayjohnson)
“Jill Abramson should have to sign up for a Obamacare now.” (@GPollowitz)
Times urged WH to admit equal pay 'problem persists even in workplaces committed to equal treatment.' No kidding.” (@ByronYork)
“Did #NYT fire #JillAbramson because she wanted equal pay or because she criticized obama admin? Bad either way” (@ktmcfarland)
“She got fired with less dignity than Judith Miller, who practically started the Iraq war," notes @KateAurthur.” (@ABArnardNYT)
“Amazing how when Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina were fired, liberal writers weren't devastated.” (@jpodhoretz)
“Lesson: Jill Abramson was the one woman Nicholas Kristof couldn't rescue” (@lehmannchris)
“Release Jill Abramson's tax returns!” (@jpodhoretz)
Updated: May. 15, 2014