The New Yorker Profiles Jill Abramson and Wonders About Her Brusqueness

What Women Really Think
Oct. 17 2011 4:26 PM

Jill Abramson and the Old Problem of Bitchy Female Bosses

By and large, Ken Auletta’s  profile of Jill Abramson does not commit the sin carried out so many journalistic accounts of hard-charging women—in which behavior that would be considered permissible and even expected in a powerful man is deemed bitchy in a woman. Yes, the profile does perhaps focus a little much on her “brusque” manner—as one writer notes, Auletta uses that adjective twice—but I think he inoculates himself from charges of sexism by comparing Abramson to another brusque (former) New York Times executive editor, Howell Raines. This comparison implies that the problem with being a critical, interrupt-y and perfectionist editor is that it can be demoralizing to staff, regardless of the editor’s gender.

But the key difference between Raines and Abramson, Auletta quotes staffers as saying, is that “unlike Howell, she is not mean.” Abramson is portrayed as not entirely aware of her effect on people. If she is “fierce” and “resilient,” in the words former food critic Frank Bruni, she can also be exacting. “There is some reason that when I am being probing it is seen as criticism,” Abramson says, adding that her children used to tell her to “stop yelling!” even when she wasn’t. “Her negativity is unintended,” an editor tells Auletta. These days Abramson says she’s working to temper herself, to be seen as more approachable to her staff.

Jill Abramson, editor of the New York Times.
Jill Abramson, editor of the New York Times.

Photo by Matthew Peyton/Getty Images


All of which brings us back to that old puzzle, so difficult to answer without the benefit of university studies complete with a large sample sizes and control group: Is not the bar for being seen as “brusque” considerably lower for a woman than it is for a man? Auletta quotes one reporter describing Abramson’s political skills as those of a "''black belt’ infighter." Another reporter described her as the paper’s Washington bureau chief: She was “a loyal friend, someone you’d want in the trenches with you. But if you didn’t meet her high professional standards you were not on her team.” Really, isn’t that what you expect—not to mention what you want—in an executive?

Libby Copeland is a writer in New York and a regular Slate contributor. She was previously a Washington Post reporter and editor for 11 years. She can be reached at



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?