Boy, that Jill Abramson sounds like a real piece of work, huh?

Shock news: female boss of the New York Times is bossy.

 

There's an incredible story on Politico today about "turbulence" over the New York Times's executive editor, Jill Abramson. It's fascinating because it sets out to prove that Abramson's juniors have a problem with her, that's she cold and condescending, but all the evidence it brings to attempt to convict her just seems . . . well . . . meh.

Behold:

In one meeting, Abramson was upset with a photograph that was on the homepage. Rather than asking for a change to be made after the meeting, she turned to the relevant editor and, according to sources with knowledge of the meeting, said bluntly, “I don’t know why you’re still here. If I were you, I would leave now and change the photo.”

Heady stuff. I've literally never worked in a newsroom where an editor has been unhappy with something and has said so in front of everyone. 

In another meeting, an editor asked about The Times Company’s recent decision to rename the International Herald Tribune as “The International New York Times.” Abramson reportedly snapped: That issue has been settled, she said. Why would we even bother getting into that?

Ouch. What kind of monster doesn't just let employees rehash old discussions?

There's an intriguing comparison throughout with Abramson's managing editor, Dean Baquet. In the opening of the piece, he steams out of her office in an episode he himself calls a "tantrum". And yet:

Where Abramson’s approach has caused anxiety, Baquet’s ability to march forward has provided reassurance.

Reading the piece, you can't help but feel that what might get read as "strength" or "not suffering fools gladly" in a male boss, becomes "cold" and "brusque" in a woman.

As Poynter notes, even the NYT's own staff are aware of this angle:

A darker undercurrent runs through the piece, though, one that Managing Editor Dean Baquet attempts to pierce at the beginning. (He and Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy are the only Times sources who spoke on the record.)

“I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer,” Baquet told [Politico writer] Dylan Byers. “That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”

Update: As Tom Phillips points out, Apple's Tim Cook has a similarly "no nonsense" reputation, except he gets praised for being terse

"[Cook] convened a meeting with his team, and the discussion turned to a particular problem in Asia. 'This is really bad,' Cook told the group. 'Someone should be in China driving this.' Thirty minutes into that meeting Cook looked at Sabih Khan, a key operations executive, and abruptly asked, with a trace of emotion, 'Why are you still here?'"

Yeah. He didn't just send someone out to change the homepage photo. He sent them to China

Politico's story.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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