Why didn’t Columbia Journalism Review’s Elizabeth Spayd just call me? Journalism 101, right? I would have told Spayd.
Criticism of me in her article? That’s ok – that goes with the territory.
But criticize Jill Abramson as Spayd does? (see excerpt below and link.)
Spayd criticizes in a column in the CJR that Abramson embarked on a “cheery campaign …about her ousting.”
Spayd is wrong.
I confess I hesitated to post this since I think it can look unseemly when women get into a strong public disagreement. And while I know that Columbia Journalism Review is not widely read, the column is unfair to Abramson and I suspect her peers read it. So…since I know the facts, and since it is wrong, it is my job to fix, correct the record.
So here goes….
Here is what Spayd would have learned had she simply called me:
It was not Abramson’s idea to talk about her firing in my interview (transcript below.) It was my idea.
For months Abramson was pitched by my producer to come on ON THE RECORD at 7pm to discuss transparency in the Obama Administration. It was in response to something Abramson had said publicly months ago about secrecy at the White House.
Frankly, with all due respect to Spayd and Abramson and all women at the top of management in the news, I think transparency in the government is more important than their firings although the firings do have an impact on women, especially young women, so firings are important, just less so.
After Abramson agreed to do OTR on the topic of transparency, I then told my booker / producer that I also wanted to talk to Abramson about her firing from the New York Times and to inform her of that fact.
My producer talked to Abramson and told me that Abramson was hesitant to talk about her firing, but we pushed Abramson and she agreed. She told us she did not want to make that the whole interview. Neither did I. Abramson was interested in the bigger picture issue: transparency in the White House. I was too.
So Abramson talked about her New York Times firing on our cable news show — because I wanted her to, asked her, and not as part of some “cheery campaign” as Spayd has convinced herself. It was my idea, not Abramson’s idea. I assume others wanted to likewise ask her but CJR may want to call them and find out. And, if you read the transcript below, my interview about her firing and her answers were hardly “cheery.”
Snooty journalism magazines – the ones who think they might be the gold standard – might want to do some basics — like first call — before they pontificate.
Here is the excerpt:
“….[Jill Abramson] is now engaged in a cheery campaign to bend public opinion her way. Her strategy, in case it’s not obvious, is to seek out prominent female journalists for a congenial discussion of her ousting, so long as there’s no serious discussion of her ousting...
….I’m beginning to think the details may never come out. Abramson has mainly dodged male reporters. And the male reporters I know would just as soon stay clear of the whole matter anyway. Most men don’t go rushing to cover tempestuous stories of sex discrimination.
That means it’s probably up to female journalists to seek complete answers to an event that’s still of no small importance in some quarters, particularly the quarters containing the young female journalists Abramson says she cares about most.
If female journalists want to be treated equitably, they should abide by their own principles of fairness. That means not giving your own a slide because you think they deserve it. Behaving otherwise is convenient, but it’s not journalism.” CLICK HERE to read entire article.
I am not sure what prompted CJR’s Spayd column to take a slap at Abramson without calling me. I do know they were newspaper competitors (she was Managing Editor at the Washington Post) and Abramson was at the New York Times as Executive Editor.
One other thing. Spayd also criticized Abramson for doing her interviews with women. What’s wrong with us? :) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rolled out her new book starting with lots of women interviewers. Did Spayd object? Write about Secretary Clinton’s choices? And is there a problem with doing interviews with women? Frankly, I think women do a good job. So do men.
And now I will tongue in cheek raise this issue with Spayd. Spayd’s article is entitled “Are female journalists up to the job of a Jill Abramson interview?” She might want to scroll back up and read her article again and see how she characterizes it. Spayd might want to explain that “cheery” comment. “Cheery?” Is that like “perky?” Is that how she describes men when they do interviews with topics she doesn’t like? Cheery?
July 16, 2014
VAN SUSTEREN: And joining us, Jill Abramson.
Nice to see you, Jill.
JILL ABRAMSON, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES EXECUTIVE EDITOR: It’s great to be here, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I say “fired,” because that’s the term you want. I would have used “former” but I read that you like “fired.”
ABRAMSON: That’s what happened to me. And I have devoted my career to truth-telling, so why hide that. And there are an awful lot of people in this country who, like me, have been fired from there job so –
VAN SUSTEREN: Fired it is then.
I want to talk about the whole issue of President Obama and transparency.
VAN SUSTEREN: How many presidential administrations have you covered?
ABRAMSON: I’m going to date myself. I have been covering politics back to the Carter administration which was when I was starting out in journalism, so a long time.
VAN SUSTEREN: You said have this administration is the most is the secretive. What is your support? Why do you say that?
ABRAMSON: I think it’s easy to demonstrate that that’s true, starting with — I love the name of your show, “ON THE RECORD.” I have never dealt with an administration where more officials — some of whom are actually paid to be the spokesmen for various federal agencies –demand that everything be off the record. So that’s secretive and not transparent.
But the most serious thing is the Obama administration has launched eight criminal leak investigations against sources and whistleblowers. And they have tried to sweep in journalists, including – it’s almost the one- year anniversary exactly that your college, James Rosen, had his record secretly looked at by the government in a leak investigation.
ABRAMSON: These are like really have put a freeze and have interrupted the normal flow of journalists who want to cover Washington, and national security especially.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is it profoundly different thought than the other administrations?
ABRAMSON: It is profoundly different. Before these cases, these eight cases, and all of history, there have been fewer than half of those.
And so it is different.
VAN SUSTEREN: We listen to Josh Ernest, the current White House press secretary. And just the other day, he said that this is the most transparent. The president also said that.
VAN SUSTEREN: He said he, quote, “absolutely sticks by President Obama’s line about having the most transparent administration.” Are they also delusional then?
ABRAMSON: No. You know, in certain ways they have declassified some documents. They have done something that weigh on the side of transparency. But I just think that these criminal cases, these criminal leak investigations outweigh all of the good that they have done and all of the efforts they have made to try to be transparent.
You said, in the lead in to the show, I’m not alone in pointing out how closed and difficult this administration is for reporters. Everyone from Bob Schaffer to Lynn Downy, who was top editor at “The Washington Post,” have commented at how secretive this White House is.
VAN SUSTEREN: We’ve got now, just recently 38 journalist organizations –
ABRAMSON: Right, protests.
VAN SUSTEREN: — protesting in a letter. You have the White House photographers, who have been objecting because they don’t have access.
Instead, the White House photographer, the official photographer is taking the pictures and handing it to them.
ABRAMSON: Part of this is this arc of politics, as you and I have covered it. Politicians all want to control their image and control the messaging down to the photographs. But the president’s day is a public thing. And to only have the White House itself documenting what he does is not the way the country deserves to have the president covered.
VAN SUSTEREN: I suppose it becomes, quote, “dangerous.” It’s one thing to control the message, but it becomes dangerous when you have a situation where are it chills the media, it chills journalism. Does is have — have you seen a manifestation of that, that this administration –
ABRAMSON: I mean, all I can tell you is, until I was fired, I spoke every day almost to our national security team in Washington. Almost all of the reporters said to me that there’s never been a more difficult atmosphere in which to do the work that they do than now.
VAN SUSTEREN: James Risen is an author. He worked at “The New York Times” when you were an editor.
ABRAMSON: Yeah. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes. He’s a fantastic reporter and a colleague that I loved working with. And the fact — he’s been subpoenaed in one of the leak cases. And he has said himself that faced with having to testify and name a source, who he promised to keep confidential and to protect, that he would go to jail rather than name the source. And to criminalize just the work of journalists, I think, is not living up to what the founders, Thomas Jefferson — not to get heavy on you
– but the founders wanted a free press. They thought that you and I and our colleagues do, whether it’s for FOX or “The New York Times,” which couldn’t be more different, that the work actually serves a purpose in holding the government accountable to the people. That’s what we do.
VAN SUSTEREN: Where it stands now with James Risen is that there’s a criminal trial of a former CIA agent and they want him to testify. And he’s refused. It’s gone through the whole court system.
ABRAMSON: It went to the Supreme Court.
VAN SUSTEREN: So now there’s a choice, either testifies or goes to jail unless President Obama or Eric Holder intervenes in some way. Eric Holder said he that he doesn’t want journalist to go to jail for doing his job.
ABRAMSON: Doing their job.
VAN SUSTEREN: And the president say that he thinks whistleblowers are courageous and heroic, but if he rules against — they side on the side of “The New York Times” and not the CIA, the intelligence community will be furious. So where are we on this?
ABRAMSON: In a tough place. And we don’t know whether Jim Risen is actually going to be called to testify, put on the witness list of that trial. The trial hasn’t started yet. But he’s in a perilous situation that I don’t think reporters doing their jobs should be in.
VAN SUSTEREN: When you were executive editor — and I know you have been, quote, “fired” — you got calls from DNI Clapper. And he said — and I may be misquoting you — but that you have blood on your hands –
ABRAMSON: I would have blood on them.
VAN SUSTEREN: You would have blood on your hands. What was that in connection with?
ABRAMSON: That was in connection with a story that we were doing about an intercepted communication between two al Qaeda leaders that had triggered a lot of worry are and, in fact, the evacuation of several embassies abroad.
VAN SUSTEREN: How do you determine whether or not to publish in that circumstance? Frankly, I’ve got a little bit of a rub with Clapper because he testified, I believe, falsely to Senator Wyden’s question at the Senate Intelligence Committee –
ABRAMSON: About whether eavesdropping and monitoring was as widespread as it is.
VAN SUSTEREN: Right. That was March of 2013. So now you get a call and he tells you this. How do you make your decision? How do you decide what to print?
ABRAMSON: Well, you know, even though I agree that the testimony is certainly troubling, I never felt, either with this administration or with the Bush administration before it, when a top official would call me and express concern that a story would jeopardize national security, I never felt that that was a dishonest request or a disingenuous request. And it always caused me to pause, hear the argument, you know, think it through.
And then you have to balance the news worthiness of the story and the benefit to the public of having the information versus the potential harm.
And those are definitely the toughest calls I can think of for an editor to make.
VAN SUSTEREN: Now I want to ask about your firing. You suddenly went from reporting the news to being the news.
ABRAMSON: Being the news.
VAN SUSTEREN: What happened? You got fired.
ABRAMSON: I did. That’s true.
VAN SUSTEREN: Did you see it coming?
ABRAMSON: No, but I would say that I had my bumps. You know, some difficult situations with some of the people who I work for, which is normal.
VAN SUSTEREN: Tough? It’s tough? Tough to get fired?
ABRAMSON: Yeah. I mean, of course. It’s like a hurtful situation.
And my firing was so public, as you just pointed out. It’s mighty strange from going one day from being an editor of stories to being the story.
But, you know, I think actually it’s healthy for journalists to know what it feels like on the opposite end of the probing and questioning.
And, you know, the bottom line of the situation is that when I was executive editor, I loved “The New York Times” and so believe that it’s the best publication there is. And after I was fired, I believe exactly the same thing. I spend more time reading it now than I could when I worked there.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why did you get fired?
ABRAMSON: It was said, because of my management style. And a hard- charging editor and I’m sure people worked for me that didn’t like that style. I think for a lot of people, they like that. They like the fact that I was kind of a stand-up editor and –
VAN SUSTEREN: Anything to do with — if a guy had been the same way, do you think a guy would have gotten the boot?
ABRAMSON: I have no idea.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you think?
ABRAMSON: Plenty of guys get fired. Plenty of editors and news executives that I think were distinguished have lost their jobs. In this media environment, a lot of people get fired or.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you know –
ABRAMSON: And what I do think broadly is that definitely, you know, women in leadership roles are scrutinized constantly and sometimes differently than men. And qualities seen as showing leadership or being assertive in men are seen, you know, there are certain code words, strident, too tough, whatever. And you know, that’s just the world we live in. You know that, Greta.
ABRAMSON: Well, I’ll tell you what I thought was troubling to me when reading some of the stories. I mean, there were descriptions of you — I don’t know if they were fair or not — but they weren’t named. It was like “people say.” And that’s an expansion to the broader question of journalism. It used to be, I think, that if someone had something to say, you identified the person. But I don’t know if this is the Internet age or whatever, but all these “people say” or “senior officials in the administration,” whatever, we don’t identify them.
ABRAMSON: I think — I mean, one of the things that I think was an accomplishment I’m proud of at “The Times,” and this began when Bill Keller was executive editor and I was his managing editor, we really tried to cut down on the number of anonymous sources. And Bill actually had a great word for the sources. He called them anonymice.
VAN SUSTEREN: But it’s — but it is, it’s troubling, sort of –
ABRAMSON: Well, you don’t know how to assign credibility to a source that’s a just a senior official or someone in the newsroom or whatever.
It’s impossible to evaluate the credibility of the information when the source is anonymous.
VAN SUSTEREN: I assume you’re aware –
ABRAMSON: But sometimes you can’t get anyone to talk to you, especially my first point in our interview in the administration in Washington. It’s hard to get people to tell you they will put their name behind what they say.
VAN SUSTEREN: I’m sure you’ve seen the criticism from a lot of my colleagues here that “The New York Times” is a left-liberal, left-leaning newspaper. Fair or are they dead wrong or what?
ABRAMSON: I think that isn’t the right way to look at “The Times.”
“The Times” is a cosmopolitan newspaper published, hence “The New York Times.” But there are many stories where I think that characterization is just dead wrong. And I spent a lot of time — I was the Washington bureau chief. And that job is like right on the front lines of politics. And I know that “The Times” plays it straight. It just does. I know many of your viewers probably will send you many messages saying, well, that’s just baloney. But I have known you a long time and I’m telling you it’s true.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK. There is one other thing, the tattoo. You have a “New York Times” tattoo?
ABRAMSON: I have “The Times” “T.”
VAN SUSTEREN: Where is it?
ABRAMSON: On my back.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK.
I won’t ask you to show us.
ABRAMSON: I also have the Harvard “H.” I will be teaching there in the fall. And that was where I went to college, so.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you have a boxing picture?
ABRAMSON: I do.
VAN SUSTEREN: What’s the story on that picture? I mean, we’ve all seen — there it is right now.
ABRAMSON: Yeah. Not my — I didn’t have the benefit of hair and makeup in that picture. But I — that picture was taken by my trainer and
VAN SUSTEREN: Ex-trainer or current trainer?
ABRAMSON: No, he’s my current trainer. I only regret that the “New York Post” ended up putting that on the cover but didn’t give him a photo credit.
VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe I can help out next time.
Anyway, all right, you’re off to Harvard. I will call you “fired” and instead of “former.” But the first woman, and you had a lot of Pulitzer Prizes, I should say, while you were at the helm.
Nice to see you. Good luck at Harvard.
ABRAMSON: It’s great to see you. Thank you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: I hope you come back.
ABRAMSON: Thank you