NYT's Arthur Sulzberger Reveals Regrets Over Jill Abramson's Firing, Denies 'Lies' About Her Pay

8:26 AM PST 05/20/2014 by THR Staff
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Jill Abramson and Arthur Sulzberger Jr .

"It wasn't as though we went out to hurt her. We didn't," he tells Vanity Fair. "It was my hope for Jill that we could make this go away as peacefully as possible."

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times and chairman of The New York Times Co., says people shouldn’t believe everything they read about Jill Abramson's sudden ouster last week.

Sulzberger on Wednesday announced to the Times newsroom that he'd fired the paper's executive editor, who had held the position since 2011, and was replacing her with managing editor Dean Baquet.

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Since then, various media outlets from The New Yorker to Politico have speculated about the real reason Abramson was let go. Sulzberger, meanwhile, been forced to fend off accusations of sexism, denying in a staff memo that Abramson, the first woman to serve as executive editor of the paper, was being paid significantly less than her predecessors. On Sunday, Times columnist David Carr wrote that the event had turned into a "grinding spectacle."

In his first interview since firing Abramson, Sulzberger was asked if, knowing how things would end with Abramson, he'd have made a different decision back in 2011 when he was deciding whether to promote Abramson or Baquet to the top editor position.

"Of course I would have done it differently," he told Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison on Sunday in his Manhattan office.

He also explained why he agreed to do the interview.

"I really would love to make sure…that you know a lot of what’s out there is untrue," he told Ellison, adding later: "I'm not going to let lies like this lie."

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He also addressed Ken Auletta's highly cited report in The New Yorker that Abramson was being paid "considerably less" than her male predecessor, Bill Keller. "There is no truth to the charge," Sulzberger said.

Asked about his track record in choosing people for top roles -- he dismissed Howell Raines over the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal in 2003 and fired president and CEO Janet Robinson in 2011 -- he replied: "The question is, am I doing a bad job of picking leaders for The New York Times? I don't think so. Everyone who pretends they have a 100 percent success rate isn't trying hard enough."

And while Abramson said in a commencement address Monday that she was "hurt" by the firing, Sulzberger insisted, "It wasn’t as though we went out to hurt her. We didn’t.... It was my hope for Jill that we could make this go away as peacefully as possible."

In his piece, Carr noted that one "big tactical mistake" Abramson made was in failing to notify Baquet that she had hired The Guardian senior editor Janice Gibson as co-managing editor for digital. Sulzberger admitted to Vanity Fair that he was worried that Baquet might leave as a result.

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"We risked losing Dean, and we risked losing more than Dean,” Sulzberger said. “It would have been a flood, and a flood of some of our best digital people.”

Within a week, Abramson was fired.

“When you are making a decision to do this, you do it," Sulzberger said of the quick decision. "You don’t cut off one arm and then wait and cut off the other.”

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