Let’s say you’re the publisher at the New York Times and you know that an executive editor is slamming her fist into the newsroom walls so hard that holes appear in the plaster. These holes are so unsightly that other employees have placed wall maps over them to cover the damage.
It’s not a rumor — the editor is known for this behavior, and you know it keeps happening. The company has a Workplace Violence Prevention Program* that states even the threat of violence can be grounds for dismissal, so of course you, the head of the New York Times, are gravely concerned.
*Note to reader: These days just about every major company has this kind of policy. I’m assuming the Times does, too, but don’t know for sure.
So: to the question: Should you fire this person?
Let’s add that you call this editor into your office and say, “Your admirable work here means nothing now! Don’t you realize we have a policy against any violence in the workplace, and that this policy leaves me no choice? Personally, I can’t believe you’ve been slamming your fists in the walls here, at America’s newspaper of record! People here are dedicated to the power of words (not fists).”
I bring this up because as we know, it isn’t a woman who’s been slamming her fist in the walls at the New York Times — it’s Dean Baquet, the former managing editor who worked for Jill Abramson, and who’s now replaced Jill as top editor.
Of course, nothing was said about Dean’s fist-slamming when publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. fired Jill a few weeks ago. No, most of the talk (some of it by Arthur) concerned Jill’s behavior — she consulted a lawyer over salary matters; she hired a co-managing editor without checking with Dean; she was “difficult,” “stubborn and condescending,” and so forth.
When people questioned whether Jill was fired because she was a woman, Dean came forward. He granted an interview to National Public Radio to assure listeners that this was not so. The “turmoil” surrounding his promotion was over, he said. And he wanted to make an unequivocal statement.
“I do not believe Jill was fired over gender,” he said.
So there you have it, and thank you, Dean.
More important, here’s what he really meant:
“I get to stay because I’m a man.”
Oh, excuse me, did my finger slip on the font-size key? Well, let’s leave that statement as big as it is, because what other reason could there be? Dean admitted he’s been throwing fits as well as fists in the newsroom for some time now, and everybody knew about it.
Am I going out on a limb here to say out loud what we all know is true? That a woman would never have been able to get away with actions like that? Shoving your fist through a wall because your boss overruled you? And doing it a LOT? And not being embarrassed by a newsroom covered with wall maps to hide behavior that’s in direct contradiction to workplace policy?
Oh, all right, Dean says. Now that punching walls is out in the open, he’s going to be a good guy and open up about it.
“I feel bad about that,” he told Politico magazine. “The newsroom doesn’t need to see one of its leaders have a tantrum.” Gee, ya think?
Then, coming to Jill’s defense like the fair-minded man he sees himself to be, Dean said: “I think there’s a really easy caricature that some people have bought into, of the bitchy woman character and the guy who is sort of calmer. That, I think, is a little bit of an unfair caricature.”
Isn’t that sweet. He’s not saying Jill’s the “bitchy woman” — that’s what others have said. He’s the humble guy accepting that second role, the one where he’s the … well, he’s characterized as … Wait a minute, Dean sees himself as The guy who is sort of calmer?
Maybe Dean is just a selective puncher. When it comes to why he’s sometimes capable of slugging things and sometimes not, he says this: “In each case, I was mad at somebody above me in rank. It’s not an excuse, but it is a fact.”
Well, Arthur, you old publisher on the top of the Times’ power chain, I’d watch my chin if I were you.