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New York Times firing spurs debate on pay equity, sexism

After the firing of the first female executive editor, a broader conversation about women, money and power.
Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson poses for a photo during an interview in New York, Sept. 21, 2011.
Former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson poses for a photo during an interview in New York, Sept. 21, 2011.

The abrupt firing of Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, has spurred a broader national debate about pay equity and women’s leadership.

The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta reported this week that before Abramson’s firing, she learned her base salary was lower than her predecessor as executive editor, and that in earlier roles, she had earned less than her co-managing editor and her successor as Washington bureau chief. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, has repeatedly denied this account without outright denying that there was ever a pay gap, saying Abramson’s “pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors.” Sulzberger has also denied that Abramson’s hiring a lawyer to look into her pay played a role in her dismissal, which he attributed to management issues. Her successor is Dean Baquet, the first black executive editor at the newspaper. 

Each of the network Sunday political talk shows devoted time to the topic, with NBC News’ Maria Shriver calling Abramson’s firing a “teachable moment."

"We don't know the facts of Jill Abramson's situation," Shriver told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory. "But pay discrimination, pay inequity, does exist. It's like global warming, only a fringe few deny its existence. And it particularly affects women in low-income jobs, women of color, [who earn] 57 cents on the dollar” compared to white men. She cited the Paycheck Fairness Act, currently stalled in Congress, as one remedy.

A recent survey by Indiana University found that for all journalism jobs, the median income for women was 83% of what male journalists earn. An analysis by the Poynter Institute noted that was exactly the gap between what Abramson made in her first year in the job and what her predecessor Bill Keller made in his last. 

And Media Matters pointed out that with Abramson's departure, none of the ten largest-circulation newspapers in the United States are run by women. 

On ABC’s "This Week," Congressman Keith Ellison compared criticisms of Abramson’s leadership style to similar ones leveled at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “When women are assertive in commanding and leadership, people call them names like pushy,” Ellison said. His co-panelist, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said, “This is a systemic issue. Look at the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies, there are only five women who are governors in this country.” 

"When women are assertive in commanding and leadership, people call them names like pushy."'

Meanwhile, conservative pundits used the story as a cudgel against The New York Times, which they’re more accustomed to attacking for being too liberal. “Who is the they who is treating her that way? Arthur Sulzberger, Mr. Liberal, Mr. Democrat, Mr. Politically Correctness,” said Bill Kristol on ABC’s "This Week." On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace asked Karl Rove, “The Times writes a lot about equal pay and the GOP war on women, are they living in a glass house?”

And on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Carly Fiorina said, “No more lectures, please, from The New York Times about the treatment of women.”

She added, “May I just say that politics is part of the problem here. When liberals use women as a political cudgel, when they basically say, ‘If you don't support our liberal orthodoxy on all of these issues, you're waging a war on women,’ that's disrespectful to women.” Among the issues that lead Democrats to claim Republicans are waging a war against women: Their refusal to advance legislation on pay equity.