New York Times Columnist Offers Insight Into Jill Abramson's Firing

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Commenting on the "surreal" meeting at which the newsroom learned of her ouster, David Carr writes: "The lack of decorum was stunning."

The New York Times columnist and reporter David Carr on Sunday offered some behind-the-scenes reporting into the firing of executive editor Jill Abramson.

The Times on Wednesday announced it was replacing Abramson, who had held the position since 2011, with managing editor Dean Baquet.

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the paper and the chairman of The New York Times Co., told what a Times report called a "stunned newsroom" the news during a "quickly assembled" meeting. Sulzberger said the decision was due to "an issue with management in the newsroom."

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Since then, various media outlets from the New Yorker to Politico have speculated about the real reason she was let go. The latter, for example, noted that Sulzberger fired her "after concluding that she had misled both him and chief executive Mark Thompson during her effort to hire a new co-managing editor, according to two sources with knowledge of the reason for her termination."

The New Yorker, meanwhile, noted the "difficult relations" between Abramson and Sulzberger, who also reportedly told her in a review "that the way she was said to treat colleagues could not continue."

On Saturday, Sulzberger issued a statement saying that his decision was due to Abramson's "arbitrary decision-making, a failure to consult and bring colleagues with her, inadequate communication and the public mistreatment of colleagues."

On Sunday, Carr -- one of the reporters who wrote the story announcing Abramson's ouster -- published a column on the Times website titled "Editor’s Exit at The Times Puts Tensions on Display" that offers insight into the "surreal" meeting at The Times' offices last week.

"When The Times’ publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., stood up at a hastily called meeting in the soaring open newsroom where we usually gather to celebrate the Pulitzers and said that Jill was out, we all just looked at one another," Carr writes. "How did our workplace suddenly become a particularly bloody episode of Game of Thrones? It is one thing to gossip or complain about your boss, but quite another to watch her head get chopped off in the cold light of day. The lack of decorum was stunning."

Carr also agrees with Sulzberger's assertion that "she had lost the support of her masthead colleagues and could not win it back."

He writes: "I like Jill and the version of The Times she made. But my reporting, including interviews with senior people in the newsroom, some of them women, backs up his conclusion."

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He notes that one "big tactical mistake" she made was in failing to notify Baquet that she had hired The Guardian senior editor Janice Gibson as co-managing editor for digital.

"Dean was not aware that Jill had made an offer to Ms. Gibson, and he was furious and worried about how it would affect not only him but the rest of the news operation as well," he writes, adding: "When Dean let Arthur know that he would leave the paper because he found the situation untenable, it was clear that an important insurance policy for the newspaper's future was going to leave the building."

Calling it a "grinding spectacle," Carr adds that Sulzberger was likely not prepared to handle the media storm that followed Abramson's firing, even though people close to him say he was aware that "his decision would create an uproar."

"Mr. Sulzberger, working with Mr. Baquet and Mr. Thompson, may have failed to understand the impact Ms. Abramson’s firing would have, both internally and with the public," he writes. "Planning went into immediately erasing her name from the masthead, but not so much into the splatter it would create. A meeting of executives scheduled for last Thursday, which Jill could no longer lead, created a false deadline that forced management into what seemed like a hurried, ill-considered announcement."

Last week, following Abramson's ouster, her daughter Cornelia Griggs posted a photo to Instagram of the former New York Times executive editor seen wearing boxing gloves and working out with a punching bag.

The caption reads, "Mom's badass new hobby," followed by the hashtags #girls and #pushy. The photo appeared to be a response to Ken Auletta's highly cited report in The New Yorker that Abramson was let go because of her "pushy" behavior.

Sulzberger, meanwhile, also has fended off accusations of sexism, denying that Abramson, the first woman to serve as executive editor of the paper, was being paid significantly less than her predecessors.

As for the future of The Times, Carr writes, everything will "probably be OK."

"We have a talented executive editor, a stable if challenged business outlook and a very dedicated audience," he writes. "To the extent that The New York Times does anything remarkable, it emerges from collaboration and shared enterprise. It’s worth remembering that its legacy begets an excellence that surpasses the particulars of who produces it."