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The NYT and the NSA: Abramson and Baquet have different journalistic values

Israel/Palestine
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Portrait of Jill Abramson, hitting sack post sacking, tweeted by her daughter yesterday

Portrait of a resilient Jill Abramson, hitting sack after her sacking, posted on Instagram by her daughter yesterday. Thanks to Annie Robbins

Lots of folks have sent along links to the New York Times’s new executive editor Dean Baquet’s backstory, spiking an important revelation about national surveillance when he was editor of the LA Times. At Huffington Post, David Bromwich, author of a new book about the political imagination, offers his own deep analysis of the abrupt change in command at the Times in the context of coverage of the national security state. His story is titled After 9/11: The Stories We Tell and the Stories We Don’t.

Consider… the headlines about the sacking of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times. The publisher of the Times, A.O. Sulzberger, said that the reason she was dropped had to do with Abramson’s bad management of the newsroom; and supporting statements adequately testify to her “condescension,” “brusque manner,” and so on — all of which seems credible enough — and yet the same qualities were compatible with a longer run for some of her predecessors.

Meanwhile, there has emerged a rival account, which points out that Abramson recently asked for a salary raise after learning that the male editor who preceded her had received higher pay. This is said to have been the more serious cause of discord; and this, too, sounds credible — but again not really sufficient. There is one clue however, possibly no more telling than the above, which has been oddly neglected in the first round of journalistic motive-hunting.

The national and international stories that loom largest today have emerged from documents supplied to the news media by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. These documents have turned up facts concerning the ambition and the immense resources deployed by the NSA for the secret surveillance of governments, companies, and private persons. The New York Times has had an increasing connection to those stories, after some documents were transferred to it by the Guardian; and Jill Abramson strongly endorsed the Times connection to the NSA stories. In an interview in January on Al Jazeera, asked whether Snowden was a traitor or a hero, she replied: “I view him, as I did Julian Assange and Wikileaks, as a very good source of extremely newsworthy information.” The Times under Abramson, in short, was not first on the story and it was not second or third, but it did not avoid the controversy the NSA revelations might bring. So much for Abramson; what about her successor, the managing editor Dean Baquet? Forget for a moment the clichés and the public-relations “narratives,” the PC alarm at the sacking the first female editor, muffled by the cool vibe of hiring in her place the first African-American editor. Has Baquet had any relationship to the NSA stories at the New York Times or elsewhere?

In fact, he had an intimate involvement in such a story early in the War on Terror. Documents supplied to the Los Angeles Times by Mark Klein, an AT&T employee troubled by violations of civil liberties, showed that the NSA had constructed a building within the company building and was monitoring internet transactions. Klein and the Los Angeles Times reporter who worked on the story, Joe Menn, were given to understand that theirs was front-page material. Two months passed. The editor of the Los Angeles Times agreed to meet with Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, and John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence; and after speaking with those officials, the editor killed the story. The editor who did that was Dean Baquet. He said afterward that his choice not to publish had nothing to do with his prior consultation with the highest officials in charge of government surveillance; rather, Baquet just could not see the story in the story — “we did not have a story…we could not figure out what was going on.”

The New York Times disagreed; and in April 2006 Mark Klein’s facts were published, in a story by John Markoff and Scott Shane; four days later, a Times editorial backed the paper’s commitment by posing questions about the legal limits of secret surveillance. After his meeting with Hayden and Negroponte, the facts appeared to Baquet too abstruse for an ordinary mind to digest. Yet a summary by Matthew Guariglia, at an unpretentious site called Heavy.com, made the necessary point in a short sentence yesterday: Klein had discovered “at AT&T, where he worked, that the NSA was installing surveillance rooms and equipment where they could monitor and copy internet traffic.” Markoff and Shane also made a comprehensible summary of the facts Baquet had found mysterious and perplexing. The story was this: the NSA installed at AT&T special surveillance rooms and equipment to capture everyday traffic on the internet. A source and a reporter told it; an editor in Los Angeles seemed to like it and then talked to two government officials and then killed it; an editor in New York found it newsworthy after all and printed it.

As usual, there is a second layer. Abramson, in the months before being sacked, had sought to hire as a second managing editor, alongside Baquet, the editor of the American Guardian, Janine Gibson. Gibson’s sense of the public importance of secret surveillance, to judge by the evidence thus far, is of a different order from Baquet’s.

According to the version we are asked to believe, the initiative by Abramson to hire Gibson enraged Sulzberger and Baquet, because it amounted to an unauthorized reorganization of the managerial hierarchy. So far, so plausible. But was this about nothing but personal pique and a failure of proper consultation? Anyway Baquet is in command at the New York Times now — the paper that ran the NSA story which he killed at the Los Angeles Times — and if Abramson’s sacking was in no way related to her connection with the Snowden stories or a fear of controversy and harassment by government, this can be proved by the courage Baquet displays in following the NSA trail he once helped the government to obscure.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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24 Responses

  1. lysias
    lysias
    May 16, 2014, 11:34 am

    Janine Gibson appears repeatedly — and is treated most favorably — in Glenn Greenwald’s new book.

  2. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    May 16, 2014, 11:45 am

    Excellent report, lifting us away from the easy answers of sexism (asking for a raise), sexism (women are abrasive, men are assertive?) into a more cogent answer — kowtowing to NSA.

    So NYT likely to kowtow — as of now — to NSA, USA.
    And NYT kowtows — long standing — to AIPAC.

    Lotta filters out there. Are all the vitamins going to be missing from NYT?

  3. lysias
    lysias
    May 16, 2014, 11:59 am

    As the Washington Post notes, they didn’t even give her a going-away ceremony (unlike other departing editors), and they didn’t publish any complimentary quotes about her in their article about her departure. It was apparently quite a nasty firing.

    Post also gives another angle on her firing:

    People at the paper said Abramson and Sulzberger had clashed recently, too, but it was unclear what their differences were. Another factor, they said, was Abramson’s souring relationship with Mark Thompson, the chief executive of the New York Times Co. and a former journalist at the BBC whom Sulzberger recruited to the company in 2012.

    The relationship with Thompson got off to a rocky start, said a former Times executive, when the newspaper pursued allegations of widespread sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile, a longtime BBC TV presenter who died in 2011. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to alienate former colleagues.

    Thompson headed the BBC when the allegations came to light. A point of particular friction was when the Times published an article in November 2012 that raised questions about whether Thompson had been truthful about when he learned of the allegations.

  4. May 16, 2014, 12:08 pm

    Lest we forget, two gems from M. Sullivan’s (increasingly mediocre) column: Dean Baquet’s robust, if incredible, defense of the Times’s decision not to report that Israel, land of exploding headrests, was being given all the megadata collected by the NSA (along w demanding, and getting, a signed statement that it not be prosecuted for anything it does with that information (see exploding headrests)); and the whopper of whoppers: Baquet’s saying that the Times’s only concern was making sure every story it ran was as honest as possible. (Really. He said it.)

    Yes, dark days ahead. I give Baquet less time on the job than Abramson got. I believe within a year reporters will be deserting that ship like an Italian captain from a sinking cruise liner.

    And by the by, does anyone know: was Sulzburger at all involved with the purchase of the Boston Globe for $1.1 billion (later sold for a cool $75 million)? Whoever worked that deal for the Globe is the shrewdest businessman of all time. He or she did it in 1995 — just when all newspapers were going online. Maybe the worst business decision of the last 50 years. To be supplanted by the Times changing the name of the International Herald Tribune to the International New York Times.

    • seanmcbride
      seanmcbride
      May 16, 2014, 1:07 pm

      broadside,

      Yes, dark days ahead. I give Baquet less time on the job than Abramson got. I believe within a year reporters will be deserting that ship like an Italian captain from a sinking cruise liner.

      The New York Times is dead in the water and sinking fast — largely due to terrible management by neocon incompetent Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and his closest associates. Arthur Jr. has done as much damage to the Sulzberger brand as George W. has done to the Bush brand — the perils of nepotism.

      Few people will miss the New York Times — it has been drifting into irrelevance for nearly two decades now. It is difficult to remember the era in which it was once considered by many to be the greatest newspaper in the world.

      The current PBS Frontline documentary “United States of Secrets” paints a sad portrait of the paper — and especially of Bill Keller.

      • PeaceThroughJustice
        PeaceThroughJustice
        May 16, 2014, 2:48 pm

        Sulzberger was there with Keller at that meeting in the Oval Office when Bush got them to spike the Risen story.

  5. David Doppler
    David Doppler
    May 16, 2014, 12:15 pm

    I nominate this post for a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, although perhaps a new category is required. For investigative journalism focused on the filters and taboos practiced in the editorial rooms of important media institutions.

    Or for investigative journalism focused on government influence over media.

    Let’s hope Jill Abramson fights back with all the weapons at her disposal.

    But let me predict . . . . she’ll include a claim of unlawful discrimination based on gender, there will be a substantial – seven figure – settlement, and that settlement will impose a contractual obligation never to discuss the matter.

    • David Doppler
      David Doppler
      May 16, 2014, 1:41 pm

      Is there no concerned rich person among the readers of Mondoweiss who would step in to provide financial support to Jill Abramson to encourage her and make it possible for her to fight this without needing financially to settle it? A lawsuit fought tooth and nail would provide the opportunity for discovery and sworn testimony of everyone involved. What a treasure chest to get at the heart of government (or multi-government) influence over our media. Warren Buffet maybe? Bill Gates? Any of the Asian-American billionaires who want to help preserve the America they emigrated to? Any billionaire who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with those who are currently buying influence right and left. Does money only fall into the hands of those who want to protect Big Government so they can influence it?

      If so, just create a well-funded think tank – hire or otherwise engage Abramson with the support she needs to fight back with real punches. Make a lasting difference in preserving American values through the current round of corruption and incompetence. A couple other whistleblowers who’ve been destroyed for standing up for principle might also be worth your support, such as those profiled on Frontline this week, or that FBI translator, I’ve forgotten her name.

  6. Citizen
    Citizen
    May 16, 2014, 12:30 pm

    All of this is about who is guessed best to walk Israel’s line and make it seem they are not doing so, but rather reporting objectively. That’s the takeaway, not how much anyone got paid compared to who held the job before.

    • lysias
      lysias
      May 16, 2014, 1:57 pm

      A lot safer to have a black editor run interference for Israel. People will be afraid to criticize him.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        May 16, 2014, 10:37 pm

        Yep.

      • Denis
        Denis
        May 17, 2014, 12:40 am

        Yeah, who wants to be labeled racist and an anti-semite? You’d have Uncle Abe and Al Sharpton both chewing on your tush.

  7. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    May 16, 2014, 1:04 pm
    • lysias
      lysias
      May 16, 2014, 2:00 pm

      Apparently, Abramson has already reached a settlement with the NYT. I wonder how much this little brouhaha has ended up costing the NYT.

  8. bilal a
    bilal a
    May 16, 2014, 3:15 pm

    Sulzberger brought in a corrupt British government asset linked to an elite pedaphile coverup. Mr. Clinton is tied to another such coverup. Maybe Abrahamson could not be trusted , they had no video from the ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ parties.

    ……………………………………………

    Thompson’s handpicked successor to lead the BBC, George Entwistle, resigned within weeks of starting, followed by a series of scandals that rocked the BBC, which eventually led to parliamentary hearings into excessive severance payments to top BBC executives under Thompson and a roughly $150 million digital venture that Thompson said was crucial to the future of the BBC but that appeared to vaporize without consequence. Thompson, it appeared, had got out just in time.

    When he arrived in November, all people at the Times knew about him was his ambiguous role in an electric British news scandal over the network’s handling of the revelations that their star, Jimmy Savile, a comedian who died in 2011, was a raging pedophile. Journalists at the network planned a documentary about Savile’s behavior; it was squashed by higher-ups and a celebratory retrospective was aired. Thompson said he had no idea his own news organization was preparing a documentary on Savile until someone mentioned something oblique about it at a cocktail party. Some senior Times executives urged Sulzberger to reconsider or delay the hire, and the board of directors held a meeting to discuss what to do. Sulzberger, however, could ill afford to reverse course.
    http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/new-york-times-mark-thompson-2013-9/index1.html

    NYT Editor Fired for Investigating CEO’s Involvement in Child Sex Scandal Coverup?
    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Journalism/2014/05/15/First-Female-Editor-of-New-York-Times-Editor-Fired-in-Part-for-Investigating-Paper-s-CEO

    Bill Clinton identified in lawsuit against his former friend and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein who had ‘regular’ orgies at his Caribbean compound that the former president visited multiple times
    http://www.blacklistednews.com/Bill_Clinton_identified_in_lawsuit_against_his_former_friend_and_pedophile_Jeffrey_Epstein_who_had_%27regular%27_orgies_at_his_Caribbean_compound_that_the_former_president_visited_multiple_times/33917/0/38/38/Y/M.html

  9. eGuard
    eGuard
    May 16, 2014, 3:22 pm

    Can someone explain what the relation is between those two Timess?

  10. Shingo
    Shingo
    May 16, 2014, 6:17 pm

    An interesting comment from Greenwald and Abramson and the person in line to replace her.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/16/glenn-greenwald-new-york-times_n_5337486.html

  11. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr
    May 16, 2014, 7:34 pm

    >>the editor of the American Guardian, Janine Gibson. Gibson’s sense
    >>of the public importance of secret surveillance, to judge by the
    >>evidence thus far, is of a different order from Baquet’s.

    Possibly, but let’s not forget that Janine Gibson was also the editor who tried to hire the loathsome Joshua Treviño, a former Bush II speechwriter who wrote that the 2011 Gaza Freedom Flotilla was “not morally different from a Nazi convoy” and that it would be “cool” with him if the Israelis shot all of us who were taking part in it.

    http://mondoweiss.net/2012/08/guardian-sparks-uproar-by-hiring-writer-who-urged-murder-of-flotilla-participants.html

  12. Boomer
    Boomer
    May 17, 2014, 6:58 am

    RE:

    ” Gaza Freedom Flotilla was “not morally different from a Nazi convoy”

    That is just amazing. What kind of person would say such a thing? What values animate them?

  13. Walker
    Walker
    May 17, 2014, 1:44 pm

    Dean Baquet may not be great news, but neither was Abramson. She, after all, oversaw the egregious Times I/P coverage and was the ultimate supporter of its practically Israeli reporters.

    The last straw for me, though, came two weeks when the Times featured a front page story on, of all things, first person accounts of the aftereffects on pedestrians of being struck by vehicles. Abramson was the reporter for this story featuring herself.

  14. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    May 18, 2014, 8:44 am

    Anyone know about the pay difference between Jill and her predecessor? How much? Wonder if Jill will start working with Greenwald, Scahill Dr. Marcy Wheeler? Not enough pay

    The New York Bloody Times..”All the News that’s fit to print” You know like Judy “I was fucking right” Miller lies about Iraq.

    “The New York Times earnings sink 85%” Small price to pay for printing bloody lies about Iraq that were part and parcel to hundreds of thousands of deaths etc

  15. German Lefty
    German Lefty
    May 18, 2014, 10:05 am

    Phil, you need to be very careful. Questioning the character or the competence of a person who happens to be black gets you accused of racism.

    Abramson recently asked for a salary raise after learning that the male editor who preceded her had received higher pay.

    So what? The firing is not necessarily because of sexism. My father makes less than many of his less qualified colleagues. Since my father is a man and all his colleagues are male too, he can’t cry sexism.

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