Jill Abramson's firing from the New York Times may be dredging up a lot of complaints about her management style and strategic thinking, but it is also shining an uncomfortable spotlight on the man who dismissed her: publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.
Sulzberger, who succeeded his father as Times publisher 1992, has long been dogged by bad press; even his nickname, "Pinch," sprang up in mocking contrast to that of his father, "Punch" Sulzberger.
His handling of the Abramson saga struck many as inexplicably brutal. Her name was immediately scrubbed from the masthead, she was not in the building when her firing was announced, and she will not work at the paper in any capacity going forward — a contrast to several past editors, such as Bill Keller and Abe Rosenthal, who have landed cushy op-ed columns when they finish their tenure. Moreover, Sulzberger reportedly warned top executives not to discuss the circumstances of Abramson's firing with anyone.
Though Abramson had clearly made her share of enemies, and though her relationship with Sulzberger and Times Company CEO Mark Thompson seemed to have soured beyond the point of repair, the consensus in much of the reaction to her firing was that she deserved better.
"This is incredibly un-Timesian," a Times staffer told New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman. “It's an undignified, unceremonious way to handle this. There's many people who feel that.”
In a widely circulated analogy, BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur, a former Times employee, wrote that Abramson "got fired with less dignity than Judith Miller, who practically started the Iraq war."
Furthermore, some of the details of the behind-the-scenes clashes between editor and publisher struck many as petty and—especially when coupled with Abramson's reported complaints about the gap between her pay and that of her predecessor Keller—shot through with gender issues:
If male editors ever got fired for being “mercurial and brusque” I would have had a lot more female editors over the last ten years.
— Andrea Grimes (@andreagrimes) May 15, 2014
NOT PANELS?!? RT @abeaujon: Sulzberger was irked Abramson had “taken to… appearing on panels without consulting the company”
— Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) May 15, 2014
Of all the @davidfolkenflik tweets, the most chilling: that Sulzberger didn't like Abramson's rising profile. She was doing too good a job?
— Heidi N. Moore (@moorehn) May 14, 2014
— Felix Salmon (@felixsalmon) May 15, 2014
Sulzberger's handling of the PR side of the firing story also came under criticism:
Sulzberger's "I have my reasons but I'm not telling" handling of Abramson's dismissal was a gift to media reporters http://t.co/3bTSG86s6c
— Gabriel Snyder (@gabrielsnyder) May 14, 2014
'Just let it be," Sulzberger tells entire room of professional reporters. 'Don't go speculating or trying to find out what happened.'
— Jessica Pressler (@jpressler) May 14, 2014
Buddy, you run THE MOST FAMOUS NEWSPAPER IN THE WORLD. You can't go with the silent treatment after shit-canning the editor.
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 14, 2014
For now, Sulzberger has remained publicly silent. But it has not been lost on observers that he has abruptly fired two executive editors at the Times in 11 years:
Arthur Sulzberger Jr. just keeps having terrible luck with the executive editors Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has hired, huh?
— Tom Scocca (@tomscocca) May 14, 2014