Bonfire of the inanities: The New York Times’ crisis of faith

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By Matthew Continetti, The Washington Free Beacon

Reading the New York Times’ report on the defenestration of the paper’s executive editor, Jill Abramson, and the coronation, at a hastily arranged meeting Wednesday, of her replacement Dean Baquet, I could not escape the feeling that the Soviet press must have covered the comings and goings of Politburo members in much the same way.

Ousted N.Y. Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. / Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg
Ousted N.Y. Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. / Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

There was the strange construction of the headline, “Times Ousts Jill Abramson as Executive Editor, Elevating Dean Baquet,” in which the identity of the man behind the ouster, Times owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr., was masked by his institutional affiliation, and in which Baquet was not promoted but — and here the metaphysical tone is intentional — “elevated” to his new position. There were the plodding, ceremonial, and forced statements for public consumption: “I will listen hard, I will be hands on, I will be engaged,” Baquet was quoted as telling his new underlings. “I’ve loved my run at the Times,” Abramson was allowed to reveal in a prepared statement.

There was political criticism of the outgoing commissar, made by anonymous sources using the passive voice: “As a leader of the newsroom, she was accused by some of divisiveness and criticized for several of her personnel choices.” And there was a hint of samizdat irony smuggled into the article via the closing sentences: “An annual meeting for senior executives at the newspaper had been planned for Thursday and Friday. Ms. Abramson was scheduled to be one its leaders and to deliver a talk Thursday morning, titled ‘Our Evolving Newsroom.’ The meeting has been canceled.” With that Jill Abramson joined the ranks of Zinoviev and Kamenev, becoming, as far as the New York Times is concerned, a nonperson.

But still a dangerous one. For on Wednesday evening Abramson’s allies, under cover of anonymous quotations in a report by the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, accused the Times of not paying its former editor an equal wage. Leveling the charge of sexism at a bastion of liberalism such as the Times is an incendiary act, and Sulzberger, in a memo to staff obtained by Politico, said, “It is simply not true.” … What makes the story so enjoyable, on the most superficial level, is its lurid combination of identity politics — Abramson was the first female editor of the Times, and Baquet is its first African-American editor — and liberal hypocrisy. …

Why was Jill Abramson fired? … “It was just a lot of accumulated backbiting,” a source [said]. And Abramson seems to have done as much of the biting as Baquet or Sulzberger or any number of Times staffers. It is hard to have much sympathy for her: A native of the Upper West Side whose parents were devoted supporters of Adlai Stevenson (better Stevenson, I suppose, than Henry Wallace), Abramson liked to say that, growing up, the Times “was our religion.” Now comes the crisis of faith.


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