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.