New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. has given his first interview about the controversy that erupted after he fired executive editor Jill Abramson.
In the interview, which was published by Vanity Fair in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Sulzberger gave the most detailed explanation yet of why he claims reports Abramson left the paper after discovering she made less than the man who had the executive editor job before her were “lies.”
The allegation Abramson was fired after confronting management about a gap between her pay and that of her male predecessor, Bill Keller, first appeared in stories written by the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta hours after her firing was announced Wednesday. Auletta subsequently reported detailed numbers to back up his story. Sulzberger and Times spokespeople have repeatedly denied Auletta’s story and argued Abramson’s “total compensation” was actually higher than Keller’s. In his discussion with Vanity Fair, Sulzberger attempted to explain exactly what that meant.
Here’s Sulzberger’s explanation for the salary gap as recounted by Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison:
“In his office, [Sulzberger] told me that when the Times Company sold the Boston Globe, in August 2013, two years after Abramson had become executive editor, Abramson and her counterpart on the editorial page, Andrew Rosenthal, joined the executive committee of the company, a move that significantly increased her bonus. As a result, he said, ‘salary was a decreasing percentage of her overall compensation.’ The increase in her bonus helped boost her overall compensation, according to the Times, to a level more than 10 per cent higher than Keller’s had been during his last full year as executive editor, in 2010.”
However, Ellison noted Sulzberger didn’t completely prove his claims about Abramson’s salary.
“No full set of hard data on the pay of top Times editors has been made publicly available; spreadsheets and a few accountants could probably settle the matter in relatively short order,” wrote Ellison, adding, “A Times spokeswoman told me that the paper wasn’t going to make public the private compensation of its employees.”
Rather than a dispute over pay, Sulzberger argued Abramson’s failure to notify her managing editor of her decision to hire another person to share that job title was the main factor behind her firing. Auletta has also come to adopt that narrative in recent stories.
Hours before the interview with Vanity Fair was released, Sulzberger also referenced Abramson during a speech at a dinner held by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Monday night wherein he called her “a powerful and outspoken advocate for a free press.”
“She has been one of the most forceful voices in challenging the secrecy of the Obama White House and the initiation of criminal leak investigations. I will always admire Jill’s commitment to this issue and be grateful to her many contributions to the journalism of the New York Times,” Sulzberger said.
Abramson, who has not responded to a request for comment from Business Insider, gave a speech of her own on Monday at commencement exercises for Wake Forest University. In her address, Abramson didn’t discuss the pay gap allegations and said she doesn’t know what her next career move will be.