Sulzberger Speaks!

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times, speaks at the Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2010 Media Summit, Thursday, March 11, 2010 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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Okay, Arthur Sulzberger has now given his first interview about the firing of Jill Abramson. He shouldn’t have. It didn’t go well.

On Sunday afternoon Sulzberger sat down in his office with Sarah Ellison of Vanity Fair. Again, bad decision. In Sulzberger’s mild defense, this is one of those interviews where the interviewers voice has a much stronger presence than the subject, Sulzberger. Read the piece and tell me if you agree. But it reads like a not particularly sympathetic rundown of Sulzberger and the drama surrounding Abramson’s ouster with occasional set piece quotes from Sulzberger in the role of resiliently unselfaware doofus.

In Ellison’s defense, the quotes do make Sulzberger sound like something along the lines of an unselfaware doofus. And what he himself now says tends to confirm what I wrote a short while ago: that he got rolled or played or something’ed by Dean Baquet.

Baquet gave him an ultimatum to fire Abramson and he did. In his estimation, if Baquet left the paper would fall apart. So Abramson had to go.

Recounting the now notorious dinner where Baquet vented his feelings about Abramson’s attempt to hire Janine Gibson from The Guardian

At that dinner, “I learned the severity of his feelings,” Sulzberger said, which I took to mean that Baquet gave Sulzberger an ultimatum of sorts. Baquet himself had earlier been offered a job at Bloomberg News. Now, Sulzberger worried that Baquet might leave. “At that point, we risked losing Dean, and we risked losing more than Dean,” Sulzberger said. “It would have been a flood, and a flood of some of our best digital people.” Sulzberger went into the office the next day and relayed to Abramson that his meeting with Baquet had not gone well. He gave himself 24 hours to make sure he was doing the right thing, he said. Then he offered the executive-editor job to Baquet.

Sulzberger later told Ellison numerous people came to him saying “The one person we cannot lose is Dean Baquet.”

The entire interview is frankly brutal.

There are some people and some times where someone says things that aren’t that surprising or strange but manage to say them in a way that just makes things worse with each new sentence. And in this interview Sulzberger is that guy in spades.

I should hasten to note, as I’ve said before, that for all I know Baquet really is holding the newsroom together. He has a very strong reputation and he’s known as a deft manager of people. And Sulzberger may be right that the future of the paper rested on retaining Baquet. These are not just throwaway lines. He has been seen for some time as a star and future leader of the newsroom.

But all that aside this is an interview he should not have given.

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