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JILL’S TIME: Jill Abramson’s feud with Howell Raines nine years ago was so intense that she was prepared to leave The New York Times before she found help from the paper’s top two executives, reports Ken Auletta in The New Yorker profile of Abramson published today.
Auletta writes that Abramson, then Washington bureau chief, was so fed up with Raines, the executive editor of the Times from 2001 to 2003, that she took the unusual step of telling publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. about a job offer from The Washington Post. New York Times Company ceo Janet Robinson intervened as well.
“I said to her, ‘Over my dead body do you leave this paper!,’” Robinson told Auletta. “If I don’t support people in this organization, women in this organization, I’m not doing my job.” Robinson subsequently spoke to Raines and described herself as a “peacemaker” — a surprising development considering business executives are rarely involved in newsroom politics, particularly at the Times.
Abramson was convinced to stay, and before long, Raines was crippled by the Jayson Blair scandal and forced to step down. In the eight years since his resignation, Raines has long been a source of intense ridicule by Times executives and editors, and uses Auletta’s piece as an opportunity to lash back.
Raines questions why there is a “vendetta” against him and “why [Abramson] has such a bee in her bonnet.” He also said he didn’t understand “why the new leaders continue a war of personal retribution.”
In the piece, current assistant managing editor Susan Chira claims that Raines allowed for Judy Miller’s much-maligned reporting on WMDs in Iraq to make its way into the paper since they “bypassed the normal editing structures,” she told Auletta.
Raines slammed back, saying, “Her statements are made up and false.”
Raines’ comeback aside — which should cause a stir at the Times’ Eighth Avenue offices on Monday — Robinson and Sulzberger’s relationship with Abramson is also closely addressed. Auletta reports, “Some also complained that, as managing editor, Abramson was too close to Sulzberger and Janet Robinson. In interviews, she would go out of her way to praise them.”
Sulzberger also went to Abramson when he wanted career advice for his son, A.G. Sulzberger, and Sam Dolnick, a member of the Sulzberger-Ochs family (both are now reporters for the Times).
Auletta also explores the greatest irony of them all — that despite Abramson’s notorious feud with Raines, she has been described in the last five months by Times editors as “Howell-like.” This was, unquestionably, the biggest concern within the Times newsroom about Abramson’s appointment: She, too, could be alarmingly short-tempered.
In the piece, Abramson says repeatedly that she’s aware of that perception and that she is making efforts to be less feared. She said she learned a valuable lesson about this when raising her dog.
“In one’s relationship with dogs and with a newsroom, a generous amount of praise and encouragement goes much better than criticism,” she tells Auletta.
One last interesting detail: When Abramson got the job of executive editor, it was long assumed that Dean Baquet and editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal were the other candidates for the job. Not exactly. Auletta reports that Sulzberger interviewed Abramson, Baquet and Martin Baron, the editor of The Boston Globe, a person that was on almost no one’s short list for the job. Rosenthal was apparently not a candidate.