Friday, May 16, 2014

Jill Abramson Invented The Polio Vacine

Maybe not, but some of the writing about Jill Abramson reminds me of Larry David's old stand up routine about having to live next to Jonas Salk's mother.

I've haven't been using this blog for a while because most of my efforts are still being directed at The Good Men Project (you should go read my stuff over there) but I did want to comment on the whole Jill Abramson situation and so I am going to do so here. Since everyone is talking about "what it takes to be a great editor" and all those Pulitzers she won single-handed I'm going to break the tyranny of newspaper form and get to it with a listicle on why the coverage of Abramsongate is a little annoying:
  • A self-obsessed press: I've always thought that the the national media, especially the national media in New York, was filled with self obsessed people, but I think I've been giving them too much credit. About 50 times more words have been written about one editor losing her job than the fact that the world's largest democracy quite possibly just went through it's biggest political earthquake in half a century, possibly even longer. Yes Abramson's dismissal touches on important issues, and yes the Times is an important newspaper but a nuclear power with 1.2 billion people undergoing a radical change in government due to the the largest election ever conducted in the history of the human race is also, uh, important.
  • Please say "I don't know" when you don't: Yes it's possible that Abramson was fired because of her complaints over equal pay, or because of sexism at the Times, or any number of other unfair and terrible reasons. It's also possible that she really was hated by the newsroom staff, or couldn't get along with publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. or any number of other reasons that while not being very fair result in people losing their jobs every single day. As Ezra Klein pointed out the other day since all the principles involved aren't talking nobody really knows what happened. If you don't know, say "I don't know", especially if you are writing about this in a professional capacity. Or don't, but please be aware that you are guessing at best and at worst are just churning out Derp.
  • Turning a manager into a god: Yes the Times is making money and wining Pulitzers while other newspapers are struggling to stay afloat. Abramson deserves her fair share of credit for this. But so do all the other thousands of people who also wrote those stories, and sold those ads, and made sure the website didn't explode. When conservatives talk about "job creators" and such we progressives point out how unfair it is to assign success to one person and devalue the fact that other people were involved too (sometimes we call this devaluing labor). As Uncle Brecht liked to put it: "Young Alexander conquered India. / He alone? / Caesar beat the Gauls. / Was there not even a cook in his army?" Jill Abramson didn't write those prize winning stories, reporters did. She wasn't the only one to pull an "all nighter" after the Boston bombing. And she did it making half a million dollars a year plus stock options plus pension benefits plus full bennies plus the exposure to snag a book deal or launch a solo project or get a nice gig teaching basically anywhere. Good for her, but she sure as hell didn't do any of this alone.
So yeah, she might have been fired because of sexism, or the fact that Sluzberger is a dunce. But then again she might not have. She might have been fired for failing to up manage the publisher and chairman of the board and keep him satisfied. Which is the type of thing most of us peasants have to deal with throughout our miserable lives. Indeed all these things could be true at the same time, but that's no excuse for people to dive to the lowest common denominator when it comes to writing about it.

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