The New York Times’s Unlucky Number: 475,000

by Jim Geraghty

Also in today’s Jolt:

Disastrous Numbers for the New York Times: The Salary Numbers Leaked

Yeah, the New York Times is in for a world of trouble. Did they pay recently dismissed executive editor Jill Abramson less than her male predecessors? The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta obtains some salary numbers that say . . . yeah, pretty much:

On Thursday, though, Sulzberger said, in a memo to the staff, that this was “misinformation”:

It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors. Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors. In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010. It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.

Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and — only after she protested — was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her predecessor in that position, Phil Taubman. (Murphy would say only that Abramson’s compensation was “broadly comparable” to that of Taubman and Geddes.)

[Insert from Jim: Everyone in America just said, "I'm vastly underpaid."]

Murphy cautioned that one shouldn’t look at salary but, rather, at total compensation, which includes, she said, any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives. This distinction appears to be the basis of Sulzberger’s comment that Abramson was not earning “significantly less.” But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times.

So she started out getting 84 percent of what Keller made; that was raised to 89 percent and eventually 93 percent.

Hey, is 77 cents “significantly less” than a dollar?

Fred Savage, best remembered at the kid from The Wonder Years, did an office-based sitcom for two years called Working. I remember one commercial depicting some co-worker yelling at Savage’s character, “you just accidentally e-mailed the salary figures for every employee at this company to everyone who works here!” Savage looks deeply concerned, and then in the background we see two other suit-clad men suddenly break into a fistfight.

Ramesh sent us to this thought from John Hayward . . . 

After enjoying a frothy mug of schadenfreude over the pickle the New York Times finds itself in, we might reflect that this is really a story about cloistered liberals growing up, and learning how their ideology is a poor fit for the real world, where complex situations cannot easily be reduced to cartoons about patriarchy, sexism, and racism. Can you blame Abramson for wanting to be paid as much as her male predecessor? Was it utterly unreasonable for the top brass at the New York Times to offer valid reasons why he was paid more, or to say that they needed to control payroll costs in a time of financial crisis? Was it out of line for Abramson’s superiors to decide her abrasive manner was alienating the people beneath her, or that her plans for the newsroom were inconsistent with theirs?

Perhaps we see cloistered liberals growing up so rarely that we’re not quite sure how to react. But then he adds:

The fun part will be when the folks at the Times and other liberal writers currently stepping forward to defend them, forget how complicated these decisions are and giddily assault some private-sector operation outside of the sainted media-government axis for violating liberal dogma. It’ll probably happen before the last personal items have been cleared from Jill Abramson’s office.

No, that’s not the fun part. That’s the really infuriating part, because this is the big “teachable moment” and our well-founded cynicism is telling us that those cloistered liberals aren’t actually going to grow up, and they won’t learn anything from the teachable moment.

A wise veteran of presidential campaigns asked me last night, “What fourth-generation large company is run well? Hard to think of many . . .”