In the wake of Jill Abramson’s abrupt dismissal as executive editor of the New York Times, Politico’s Mike Allen suggests people owe his colleague Dylan Byers an apology:
WOULD ANYONE LIKE TO APOLOGIZE to Dylan Byers for attacking his April 2013 story, "Turbulence at The Times," as sexist? In retrospect, it's clear that it was reporting (and even understating) the reality.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I stand by my criticism of Byers’ article, and find it laughable that anyone would suggest that Abramson’s firing negates the central complaints lodged against it.
Byers’ article was about alleged problems with Abramson’s “temperament,” yet it began and ended with anecdotes about two separate instances of Dean Baquet (then the Times’ managing editor and now Abramson’s replacement) punching newsroom walls in anger. In the opening anecdote, Baquet “burst out of Abramson’s office, slammed his hand against a wall and stormed out of the newsroom” and didn’t return for the rest of the day, skipping a daily editors’ meeting. Here’s how Byers concludes the opening anecdote:
[O]nce the story had made the rounds, it wasn’t Baquet the staffers were griping about. It was Abramson.
That tells you everything you need to know about Byers’ piece: From his reporting, he learned that some Times staffers didn’t like Abramson’s temperament and said she was “difficult to work with.” He also learned that Baquet had on multiple occasions punched newsroom walls in anger. And yet he chose to write an article about Jill Abramson’s alleged temperament problems, without addressing in any way the sexist double-standard that leads people to describe a woman as temperamental and difficult while they “fondly” recall examples of a man punching a wall.
That was the problem with Byers’ article: Nobody thought he made up his sources (though some, myself included, wondered how representative they were of the newsroom as a whole.) Instead, people criticized him for not recognizing that a key part of the story, if not the central focus, was the extent to which sexist attitudes played a role in the criticisms of Abramson he was hearing. (See examples here, here, here, here and here.)
In short, the criticism of Byers was that he failed to recognize and address the strong possibility of sexist attitudes driving complaints about Abramson, and that this kind of failure helps perpetuate those sexist attitudes (and likely demonstrates them.)
That hasn’t been undermined by this week’s news. (It’s hard to imagine how it even could be.) Just the opposite, in fact. While we don’t (and won’t) know the “true” or “full” story behind Abramson’s tenure and its sudden end, this week’s developments actually reinforce the critique that Byers missed a glaring question of sexist attitudes and double-standards.