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The Abramson Firing


There has been a lot of good writing on it; see Friedman, Traister, Echidne, Khazan, Dean.

I particularly wanted to recommend Michelle Goldberg’s piece. It makes several points I agree with that I haven’t seen being made elsewhere. First of all, to the extent that Abramson was unwilling to embrace the “have reporters talk on video about pieces you could read in two minutes” model of journamalism, she was on the side of the angels. And I especially endorse this:

And then there’s the investigation into Thompson’s history at BBC. “After Thompson had been hired for the job but before he’d started, Abramson sent Matthew Purdy, a hard-charging investigative reporter, to London to examine Thompson’s role in the Jimmy Savile scandal at the BBC,” writes Sherman. “Abramson’s relationship with the two executives never recovered. ‘Mark Thompson was fucking pissed,’ a source explained. ‘He was really angry with the Purdy stuff.’ So was Sulzberger. ‘He was livid, in a very passive-aggressive way. These were a set of headaches Jill had created for Arthur.’”

They may have been pissed, but they were wrong. This was a major story about a powerful executive and a sexual abuse coverup, and Abramson was proving her editorial independence by covering it. ‘[T]rust in the BBC has plummeted because of a scandal set off in part by the network’s decision to halt a reporting project on decades-old accusations of child sexual abuse against Jimmy Savile, the network’s longtime host of children’s and pop music shows,” wrote Matthew Purdy in a resulting piece. “Controversy over the canceled investigation was already brewing [the previous March]. It fully erupted in early October, just after he left and began preparing for his new job as president and chief executive of The New York Times Company.” The suggestion Abramson should have ignored this story because it embarrassed a powerful Times hire says something troubling about the paper’s priorities.

So, to summarize, the man who was the director-general of the BBC when a story about a serial rapist of children who operated in part on BBC premises was being suppressed still has his position. The woman who courageously and correctly investigated this story has lost hers, for no reason that seems remotely convincing. This…does not seem right. It certainly wasn’t about profitability, and while this is a matter of judgment, as a longtime dead tree subscriber I’d say that the quality is substantially improved from the Raines era.

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