Friday, May 16, 2014

Jill Abramson firing long overdue and well deserved.

Almost overnight a small  cottage industry has cropped up complaining about the NY Times firing of Jill Abramson  as executive editor as some kind of "proof" of sexism in the workplace and how women are still being treated as second class and on unequal terms with men at the top of the corporate ladder.

The latest nonsense to buttress these claims as trumpted in headlines by the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report to name two strange bedfellows among others, and then picked up by a number of female columnists, was that Abramson was somehow fired because of her complaints that she was not being paid commensurate with her male predecessors, and that was the cause of her firing, something for which there is no proof and the Times publicly denies. And no one in a position to know, not even Abramson, has said otherwise.

There is an unassailable case to be made that Abramson never should have been given the job in the first place but more on that in a minute. 

It was common knowledge among those who were actually there as opposed to those who weren't but who have a political ax to grind and have been writing all the opinion peices,  that Jill Abramson was the cause of combustible dissent and friction in the Times news room from day one and on more than one occasion the newsroom was on the verge of a mutiny against her. That she lasted this long probably had more to do with the Times not wanting to have to admit they made a big mistake in the first place and was concerned about having to deal with some of the potential gender fallout they find themselves having to answer to now.

But the firing was more than justified. Abramson was repeatedly accused by Times reporters of killing important stories in favor of trivial ones, seemed more concerned about doing things for commercial success ( which failed) and attention than demanding high journalistic standards and engaged in shouting matches with subordinates. Which is fine if she was right and the subordinates wrong. But according to those who were there,  that wasn't the case. That the Times has fallen on hard times in terms of excellence has been true for more than ten years, but Abramson not only didn't help, she lowered the bar even further.

But the biggest and most valid complaint against Abramson might be that based on merit she never should have gotten the job in the first place.

While attacking the Times for sexism, a number of female journalists doing the attacking seem to forget Abramson's signature professional failure, displayed long before she was incredulously named executive editor at the Times,  in that  it was Jill Abramson, who as the New York Times Washington bureau chief, rubber stamped and gave the thumbs up to all of Judith Miller's bogus stories about Sadaam's WMD fed to her by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby which ended up on the front page of the NY Times.

Cheney used those spoon fed stories as "proof" of Sadaam's WMD, claiming that  even the NY Times has independently  confirmed the existence of Iraq's WMD and used the Times stories as leverage to get an affirmative vote for the war in Iraq in the senate.

Anyone who has ever watched All the President's Men knows that during Watergate  the Washington Post's executive editor Ben Bradlee insisted Woodward and Bernstein get corroboration from at least two independent sources before the Post would run the story. In Judith Miller's case,  Abramson didn't demand or even ask for any corroboration before okaying her  Cheney fed stories.  It was the "scoop" value over responsible journalism and it was enough. If Abramson had demanded Miller provide corroboration, there would have been more than enough sources who would have strenuously contradicted Cheney's claims including well respected UN weapons inspectors, the IAEA, and  even U.S. intelligence agencies which had no proof of WMD in Iraq and doubted their existence. 

It would have been more than enough for any responsible editor to have killed Miller's stories which claimed that it was beyond any doubt that  Iraq possessed WMD,  stories  that the Bush administration used to take the country to war. Any responsible editor would have refused to take the Bush administration's word for it and become nothing more than a PR arm of the Bush Adminstration. Instead of responsible journalism, the kind that demands proof, especially on an issue as dire as war, the Times published front page fabrications fed to Miller and Abramson by Cheney which the Bush administration used to take the country to war under false pretenses.

After the Libby trial and the truth behind Miller's front page stories were exposed, in an online Q&A on the Times web site to answer her critics about the false WMD stories Miller said in defending herself: " I'm sorry but if my source (singular) is wrong  then I'm going to be wrong".

Days later, obviously realizing the significance of the admission that she and  Times editor Abramson had no corroboration for Miller's stories, the  Times doctored the transcript of the Q&A and replaced the word " source" with "sources". I know. I saw the original online Q&A and noted Miller's use of the word "source" and its significance only to see it changed in the transcript to "sources" days later. There were no "sources". The source was Dick Cheny's fabrications passed to Miller through Scooter Libby and rubber stamped by Abramson.

Abramson deserves the credit, or blame,  along with Judith Miller and former executive editor Bill Keller for those stories, their violation of journalistic standards and it's subsequent dire consequences.

In a world of real accountability, Abramson would have been  terminated along with Judith Miller and Bill Keller once the truth came out.

How Abramson was ever chosen to replace Keller as executive editor in the first place defies any kind of standards of professionalism and accountability. But it helps explain the demise of the Times over the last decade and longer and the well documented ignorance and misstatement of facts by its editorial board shown on its opinion pages.

Whether her replacement, Dean Baquet with whom Abramson had her share of shouting matches, will improve the Times is yet to be seen.  But he has to be an improvement.

No comments: