It was "a week of tumult" and "invective" at the New York Times, the former Timeser felt, gazing over all the shattered dishware left in the wake of publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger's abrupt and controversial ouster of executive editor Jill Abramson. But there were also lessons to be learned, and hugs and pats on the back to be handed out.
"[T]hose of us who consider the paper our professional home," wrote Jane Gross, who worked for the Times in various capacities from 1979 until 2008, "had a rare opportunity to mull what the Times means to us and why."
The letter, initially intended for the newspaper's letters page, wound up getting published on Jim Romenesko's media news site. It was a treacly paean to the "tribe" of Times colleagues who, Gross wrote, "are like family even if they aren't."
Privately, though, Gross had some invective of her own for the elders of the tribe. "Question re Pinch," she wrote in a May 18 email, five days after Abramson was sent packing, "is he a moron (yes) and/or mentally disturbed (???)."
That email comes to us via the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, which has revealed a host of embarrassing missives between the movie studio's executives, many of them involving Amy Pascal, the chair of Sony's Motion Pictures Group. And because Pascal is married to Bernie Weinraub, a playwright and former theater reporter at the New York Times, the hacks have also given us a glimpse under the Gray Lady's hoopskirt, revealing the startling degree of influence Sony wields at the Times, as well as simply showing us how Times people talk to one another when they think nobody's listening.
Take Gross, founder of the Times's New Old Age blog, where she's still an occasional contributor. In an email exchange with Weinraub, she was impatient with the coverage of Abramson's firing, particularly with the idea that it was related to her gender.
This question was prominent in the media, for good reason: Abramson hadn't been accused of professional incompetence, but was called "brusque," "difficult," and "condescending" by anonymous staffers in a Politico profile before she was fired, and Sulzberger said her departure was due to "an issue of management in the newsroom." As was widely pointed out at the time, plenty of male editors are famously "difficult," and yet manage to keep their jobs. Abramson's salary was also lower than her male predecessors. (Sulzberger answered these criticisms with a statement reiterating that her firing "had nothing to do with pay or gender.")
Gross and Weinraub agreed that newsroom gossip showed that Abramson wasn't fired because of sexism. (The exchange was forwarded to Pascal, who clearly took a keen interest in the internal politics of the Times.) From Weinraub:
my sense is:
1-jill was warned several times that she was losing control of the newsroom. she actually sounds far more out-of -control than Howell.
2-she did this weird end run to hire this Guardian type—and baquet, pinch et al, went nuts. How could she do that?
3-the feminist issue is bullshit. (is the anyone more politically correct than the boy genius publisher?)
the last Politico piece was goo [sic]
("Howell" is Howell Raines, a previous executive editor at the Times. "Baquet" is Dean Baquet, who replaced Abramson. The "boy genius publisher" refers to the 63-year-old Sulzberger.)
Gross agreed, and then some, adding that any discussion about it took away from more important feminist issues and was "lazy-minded." (The "innovation report" she refers to was an internal document leaked from the Times.)
Read Ben McGrath in NYer. Read 96 pg innovation report. See her daughter's Instagram pix of Jill in boxing gloves. I'm so sick of it I could puke. But yes yes and yes. And I've been a most unpopular woman on FB making the un-PC argument that it has nothing to do w gender and any woman who is lazy minded enuf to think so shud worry instead abt states w no abortion clinics, clinical trials w no female mice, Nigerian school girls snatched fr their classrooms etc. But bet your friend Maureen doesn't agree :-). I'm at a friend's kids softball game is more later. Question re Pinch is is he a moron (yes) and/or mentally disturbed (???). Addictive, that's for sure.
It's a bummer to see a longtime female Times writer pushing the suggestion—privately, of course—that people lack the intellectual bandwith to care about both the gender dynamics of Abramson's firing and "states w no abortion clinics." But Gross was right about one thing, and gap between her shit-talking emails and her simpering letter to the editor confirms it. The Times really is like a family.
Abramson in 2010. Image via AP