When Jill Abramson was fired from her job as executive editor of the New York Times in the fall of 2014, my Twitter feed lit up. Accusations of institutional sexism (she was the first woman to hold the position) mingled with gossipy whispers about Abramson's management style. The incestuous New York media world was entirely consumed by the details — and fictions — of her exit. A picture of her emerged shortly thereafter on her daughter's Instagram of Abramson in boxing gloves, and it read like a war cry for women who were fucking over it.
While my tendency is and always has been to side with a damsel in any form of distress, I wanted to double-check my supportive reaction. After all, women can fuck things up too. And so I did what I always did, from March 2010, when we met, until his death five years later: I "pinged" David Carr (his word, not mine) with an email titled "how should I feel about this Jill Abramson thing?" David, the Times ' media columnist, was strong, fair, honest, remarkably free of prejudice, and incredibly focused on the quality of the work rather than the identity of the worker. And he was committed to the paper above all else, its health and well-being and integrity. I knew his answer would be both layered and clarifying. A few minutes later, I was pinged back:
"you should feel bad about it and a little scared for our shop. we always manage to mangle success.
even if you accept jill was a handful -- not to me and a lot of the people I like at the paper -- still doesn't scan.
ie … business was good, journalism was good, culture was tough.
all the editors of the paper … become monsters and she was an incredibly effective one. a great, forgive me, newsman.
and regardless, did she deserve to be dragged out into the public square and be stoned to death for being a bitch?
And there you have it.
But Jill, a veteran reporter and editor, a mother of three grown children, refused to have her success mangled. She refused to have her narrative bought and sold. She even refused to allow a narrative of misogyny to define her firing from the Times.
A few weeks ago we sat together in her Tribeca loft, drinking chai as Leonard Cohen blasted from her back bedroom. In the middle of snowstorm Stella she wore black rain boots so big they made her look like a child playing dress-up and a red sweatshirt bearing the words "Nevertheless, she persisted." Jill doesn't ask easy questions, and she doesn't offer simple answers. It was all you could hope for from the woman who shattered the glass ceiling then picked up the pieces with her bare hands.
Lena Dunham: I barely know where to start, because when I first thought about interviewing you it was all about your career as a journalist, and I'm now like, Can you make sense of the world for us, Jill? You've had so many different jobs, and you're now working as a teacher and political columnist for the Guardian. Will you describe your current life, day-to-day situation?
Jill Abramson: Sure. During the week, I'm a senior lecturer at Harvard, an actual faculty member. Since I went there as an undergraduate, it doesn't seem real to me that I am, but somehow I am. That's the base, work-wise. Life-wise, I'm in Boston Monday through Friday. I live with my daughter and her husband, who are both surgeons at [Massachusetts General]. I don't see much of them, because they work 80 hours a week, each of them. They have an adorable seventeen-month-old baby named Eloise, and our rooms are right next door to each other. I'm kind of her person during the week.