Monday, February 04, 2013
Alec Baldwin: This is Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s The Thing from WNYC radio [music playing]. Here’s The Thing is supported by the Venture card from Capital One. What’s in your wallet? In 2011 Jill Abramson became executive editor of The New York Times, the first woman ever to hold that position.
On the day of her appointment she was quick to acknowledge those who had transformed the role of women in journalism before her. She cited among others and Anna Quindlen, Maureen Dowd, and Nan Robertson a reporter at the paper for over three decades, but there’s no denying that Jill had put in her time. She was The Times Washington bureau chief and then its managing editor before she was offered the big job at her home town paper currently based on 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Street on the west side of Manhattan.
Jill Abramson: I am totally a west-sider. My parents were actually both born at home on the Upper West Side. I mean, everyone on both sides of my family live –
Alec Baldwin: Native?
Jill Abramson: No. They still live on the Upper West Side like stacked together. I just feel like I’m walking in my sixth grade shoes.
Alec Baldwin: Well, for you it’s home. It’s very much home. So you went to Harvard to study history?
Jill Abramson: History and literature. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: And was writing something – in some fashion writing was what was on your horizon from the beginning from back then?
Jill Abramson: I knew I always liked to write, but it wasn’t that I set out to be a journalist. Freshman year was 1972 for me, which sounds like the Stone Age, but it was the McGovern/Nixon election. It was the dawn of Watergate and so all through my college years –
Alec Baldwin: I was gonna ask you that question.
Jill Abramson: – Woodward and Bernstein.
Alec Baldwin: Affected you?
Jill Abramson: I was like glued to their reporting and thrilled by that coverage. It seemed so ground breaking and brave to me. So I kind of fell in love with at least the journalism end of writing. I always liked to write and was a fairly facile writer.
Alec Baldwin: But when you leave Harvard in ‘76, if I’m not mistaken, you go pretty heavily into the world of law. You were – the first writing you did was with –
Jill Abramson: The first job I had –
Alec Baldwin: You didn’t get a law degree.
Jill Abramson: The first job I had in journalism was for Time Magazine in Boston. I had been a stringer, which is a part time reporter for them in college. So –
Alec Baldwin: How long did that last?
Jill Abramson: That lasted two years.
Alec Baldwin: So that’s you’re apprenticeship so to speak.
Jill Abramson: That was my apprenticeship. Right.
Alec Baldwin: And what kind of things did you cover there?
Jill Abramson: Oh, you name it. From the hot socks craze back then to busing. I mean it was from lifestyle to big issues unfolding then.
Alec Baldwin: And where do you go from there?
Jill Abramson: Well, what I did after Time is I worked in the election unit of NBC News. I’m a total political junky and worked there and I met Steve Brill, who’s another prominent journalist here whose specialty was law and Steve and I just got friendly and he was starting The American Lawyer Magazine and while lawyers didn’t particularly interest me, a number of journalist who I knew from Harvard or in New York had gone to work for him because it was gonna be a writerly kind of investigative magazine that wasn’t cheering on lawyers, but was really examining the power that lawyers and law firms we
Alec Baldwin: The legal perspective on a host of issues.
Jill Abramson: So that is so – when that was brand new I cast in. I worked for that magazine for a couple of years and then Steve bought a legal newspaper in Washington called Legal Times and when I was 30 he said, ‘Poof. I’m making you the editor of this newspaper,’ and I moved to Washington and did that.
Alec Baldwin: And you were ready to be the editor of something at that point?
Jill Abramson: I don’t – I certainly didn’t think I was ready, but he thought I was ready.
Alec Baldwin: And how long were you there?
Jill Abramson: I was there for a long time. I was there for about seven or eight years –
Alec Baldwin: That is a long time.
Jill Abramson: – and working for Steve both in New York and in Washington and then I went to The Wall Street Journal.
Alec Baldwin: So for people who are lay, people like myself, The Journal is obviously viewed now as a pretty right of center organization in their opinion pages and so forth, and I’m not gonna characterize you as being either direction of center, but was that an interesting experience for you. How would you characterize the political culture of The Journal then?
Jill Abramson: It was fascinating because the political culture of The Journal then was that the editorial pages were extremely conservative. I mean Paul Gigot, who is the editor of those pages now is the heir of Bob Bartley, who was for a very long time the editor of the editorial journalism at –
Alec Baldwin: Big conservative.
Jill Abramson: Oh, giant conservative. And operating as a news reporter in Washington at The Journal like at The New York Times there’s a traditional separation between the editorial department and the editorial views of the paper and –
Alec Baldwin: News gathering.
Jill Abramson: And news gathering. And but a lot of people don’t know that, even a lot of political people in Washington didn’t know it. So in Washington it was actually – it advantaged me because in 1994, for example, when Gingrich took over the House, there were Republicans who would gladly talk to me. I have always had good Republican sources because I think they felt ‘I can trust you ‘cause you’re from The Wall Street Journal.’ And so it was interesting. It was sometimes awkward, because then –
Alec Baldwin: In what way?
Jill Abramson: Well, in 1994 Jane Mayer of The New Yorker - who was then at The Journal - and I wrote a book about the Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill –
Alec Baldwin: Did you have to get permission from –
Jill Abramson: – Norm Pearlstine and then Paul Steiger, who
Alec Baldwin: - Was on the other side of the aisle, so to speak.
Jill Abramson: On the other side of the screen, right. And Jane and I worked on that book for several years and found by doing a lot of in-depth reporting that we thought the weight of evidence for sure was that Anita Hill had told the truth and there had been a big campaign on the right to destroy her credibility, not only during the hearings themselves, but in the years after and when our book was published it made a pretty big splash.
Alec Baldwin: That was your first book?
Jill Abramson: That – it wasn’t my first book, but it was the book that I’m proudest to have worked on.
Alec Baldwin: And why would you say? Was it a combination of all these things, but was it what happened to Hill, the way they dealt with Hill?
Jill Abramson: I think why the book was so important is that those hearings ended and everyone in Washington just said ‘It’s he said, she said and we’ll never know.’
Alec Baldwin: Move on, yeah.
Jill Abramson: And for me that is ‘b’, because I really believe if you do enough digging and enough reporting you can find the truth in most things.
Alec Baldwin: And act accordingly.
Jill Abramson: And act accordingly, but why it created awkwardness at The Journal is that when the book came out even though The Journal’s news pages ran an excerpt of the book, the editorial page wrote an editorial, like, ripping us.
Alec Baldwin: So somebody that you’re passing in the hallway there was eviscerating –
Jill Abramson: No. In fact, it was Paul Gigot, Paul Gigot himself.
Alec Baldwin: He let you know in no uncertain terms in writing, in fact.
Jill Abramson: That’s right.
Alec Baldwin: How straightforward of him.
Jill Abramson: No. It was his total right.
Alec Baldwin: It’s the way it’s done. That’s his job.
Jill Abramson: That’s show business.
Alec Baldwin: That’s right [laughs]. What I always walk away from the Thomas event was that in the arc of decades of political life in this country there’s a kind of a score that some people keep, a moral score. That kind of like you guys had your Chappaquiddick. Some of our guys are gonna get a pass like some of your guys got a pass. Don’t push too hard here on the Thomas thing. So he did send tawdry things to this woman.
Jill Abramson: And I think that’s a very perceptive point because Bork had gone down in flames after a very vigorous liberal campaign against him and so there was a feeling of –
Alec Baldwin: Not again.
Jill Abramson: – not again. Right.
Alec Baldwin: So you were at The Journal in ‘88 and you’ve got the first Bush term and the first Clinton term while you’re at The Journal. What was it like for you covering Washington in that scene between those two? What was it like covering the Bush White House? What was it like covering the Clinton White House?
Jill Abramson: The Bush Whitehouse was not that different from what the Reagan White House had been. Not –
Alec Baldwin: Did you have much interaction with Bush himself?
Jill Abramson: No. I had an investigative beat on the nexus of money and politics. So I wasn’t the White House correspondent ever at The Journal or at The Times. I was always an investigative reporter on the political team.
Alec Baldwin: And who was responsible, would you say, for The Times being as concerned about campaign finance issues as they were then? Was it you? Was it – were they saying to you, ‘Yes. Go in that direction?’
Jill Abramson: I – they – well, I think The Times wanted to hire me because that was a big strength of mine. I was well-known for covering at – and had at The Journal covered just about every scandal of the ‘80s and early to mid ‘90s.
Alec Baldwin: When the Citizens United case came down how did you feel about that?
Jill Abramson: Well, I thought it definitely would change the landscape of how money was raised and spent in the election and I think it and other court decisions did because we were in this sort of Wild West of spending and the advent of the super packs and all of that in the campaign. It didn’t really surprise me because you had asked about Bush before. George Herbert Walker Bush actually built the state of the art big money machine that was called “Team 100” back in his day, and that was involving big soft money donations which were ultimately outlawed. But in some ways Tip O’Neill was right, money finds the way. So mainly I just knew it would have a big impact and that it would create a lot of great stories for The Times, which it did.
Alec Baldwin: And then Clinton came in in ‘92 and how was that different for you?
Jill Abramson: Clinton of course had his own set of fundraising excesses and his ‘96 reelection campaign. That was when he was having the White House sleepovers in the Lincoln bedroom for big donors –
Alec Baldwin: Sure. And pardoning Marc Rich.
Jill Abramson: Right, exactly. So that’s why The Times like wanted me ‘cause The Journal was beating The Times on that story.
Alec Baldwin: And then Maureen Dowd accosts you somewhere and she’s got some ideas for you.
Jill Abramson: Maureen walked up to me and was at a book party for Michael Kelly who is another great journalist who sadly –
Alec Baldwin: Passed away.
Jill Abramson: – died in Iraq, but it was at a book party for him and The Times was getting a new bureau chief in Washington and I knew Maureen. In fact, we sat across a table much like we’re sitting at now across from each other during the Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill hearings, which is kind of where we bonded. She came up to me at the book party and she said, ‘Do you know of any good women we can hire?’ And so I looked at her with, it was kind, “What am I, chopped liver” look. And she said, ‘You would never leave The Journal’ and I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t I?’
Alec Baldwin: Why did she think that or was she being polite?
Jill Abramson: Because I was, like, doing really well there and she just didn’t think I would want to, but what she didn’t know is that I grew up in a family that had two print home deliveries subscriptions to The Times because my mom didn’t like anyone touching the section that had the puzzle in that.
Alec Baldwin: My kind of gal. 'I need my own.'
Jill Abramson: And every time I had a front page piece in The Journal my mother’s brother would have to call my parents and say, ‘Go buy The Journal. Jilly’s got a front page piece.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘A great piece.’
Jill Abramson: Yeah. The New York Times was the total voice of authority and truth –
Alec Baldwin: Well, as my father used to say –
Jill Abramson: – in our house.
Alec Baldwin: That was what my father would say. That was the way it was at my house. So Maureen says this to you. You guys are, you have the ‘What am I, chopped liver’ moment with Maureen and then what happens?
Jill Abramson: And she had, like, the new bureau chief call me up for lunch and he made me a job offer and I came and then Maureen and I became completely inseparable.
Alec Baldwin: And how long were you in that position?
Jill Abramson: I was in The Washington Bureau from ‘97 to – I went into editing there. I became the deputy bureau chief to Mike Oreskes who was who hired me and then after the 2000 stalemate campaign I became bureau chief and then I had that job for three years.
Alec Baldwin: And so covering the Clinton impeachment did you – well, I was in Africa at the time watching the proceedings on –
Jill Abramson: You didn’t miss much.
Alec Baldwin: No. I watched it on the BBC, on Sky TV in South Africa where I was with my wife while she made a film and we watched it. For me I always wondered did anybody really cover the Clinton impeachment as well as they might have?
Jill Abramson: I think what was true is that every reporter who was covering the main proceedings was probably getting more information from the prosecutor’s office, from Ken Starr’s office than they were through reporting around the president and mainly more people should have been reporting on what actually had happened and how this case developed and at The Times, I – The Times was lucky in that they have a big bureau and they siced an investigative reporter named Don Van Natta and me on to Starr’s office and I had some very good sources around the White House, in the White House and also from my years of covering the legal community and conservative legal circles.
And what Don and I did is show that it was Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp didn’t – Linda Tripp didn’t appear on Ken Starr’s doorstep serendipitously that ever since a very conservative magazine named The American Spectator had surfaced the name Paula Jones, there was this plan with a bunch of young relatively unknown conservative lawyers working to make that into the case that began and the basis of the impeachment.
Alec Baldwin: Those were the two sticks they rubbed together to get the whole thing going. What’s interesting, because for someone, again, as a layperson you look at the arc of political coverage and you wonder where there are advances, like glaciers almost and retreats of the power and the authority of investigative journalism in the post-Ellsberg, in the post-Watergate. That was a time in which the kind of Vesuvius of all this kind of work changed the course of our country. And do you find now that when, especially in your position now, people will come to you and like – I know that if worked at The Times, I’m assuming it wouldn’t be diminished by the fact that I was experienced and I was trained. I went to Columbia. I’d still have my nature and if my nature was to come to you and say, ‘Man, I got a story for you. I found out this stuff about this and this and this.’ Do you literally have to say to yourself, ‘We can only have so much of that in the paper?’
Jill Abramson: No. I don’t say that, but when someone is so eager, a little bit I have a skeptical side which is also saying, ‘We have to independently report and see is this really the great story,’ because there have been a number of cases in journalism, some of them at The Times where you’re getting all kinds of leaks from a prosecutor and you –
Alec Baldwin: Miller.
Jill Abramson: Well, that wasn’t from a prosecutor.
Alec Baldwin: From a prosecutor. Right.
Jill Abramson: That was from Iraqi defectors mainly and government officials, but where you’re getting only one side of it, but since you mentioned Judy Miller, I think that that’s actually a great case that I think about all the time because I was Washington bureau chief at that time and Judy didn’t work for me, but she did a lot of reporting obviously in Washington and at the Bush White House and other places. And where the Iraqi defectors were telling these stories about Saddam’s supposed active WMD programs and these same defectors had told their stories to people inside the government.
So in some ways the government sources pretended that they were confirming the information given by the defectors, but it was like one horrible feedback loop and meanwhile that was very loud because the defectors and the people in the Government were aiding journalists to focus on these stories and in real time I don’t think I appreciated this as I should have. There were dissident analysts at the CIA who were very doubtful of the evidence.
Alec Baldwin: But with your perspective on history do you in anyway have more sympathy for Bush 43 and Cheney and that crowd for the way they reacted in the post-9/11 world or did they act it improperly based on the information they had?
Jill Abramson: I think it’s a combination. The Iraq connection we could certainly debate –
Alec Baldwin: Exhaust it.
Jill Abramson: – but I think they – there was real reason to feel – After 9/11, I was in Washington. We had tanks in front of our building. It was a changed world and that immediate post-9/11 period felt –
Alec Baldwin: So you were a bureau chief in Washington in 2001?
Jill Abramson: I was. Yeah. On 9/11 we did so many stories that day out of Washington. It’s more stories than we’ve ever had and the story list from that day still hangs outside of the bureau chief’s office and I didn’t get home until, I don’t know, 3:00 in the morning or so and drove right past the burning Pentagon and my whole way home there were flags already up on all the streets and then I got home to our house and even my husband, who isn’t such an overt patriot, had hung our absurdly large 4th of July flag. And at that point I just sat in my car and kind of absorbed like, ‘Woo,’ it was changed.
Alec Baldwin: It was a great blow.
Jill Abramson: But that doesn’t justify such a misreading –
Alec Baldwin: Miscalculation.
Jill Abramson: – of intelligence and such an aggressive sales campaign for a war based on supposed dangers that were not real.
Alec Baldwin: Real. How long did you stay in Washington after the attack in 9/11? You were there till when? What year?
Jill Abramson: I left in the summer of 2003 to come here.
Alec Baldwin: To go to – and to do what? To become the manager?
Jill Abramson: To be managing editor.
Alec Baldwin: What now –
Jill Abramson: And –
Alec Baldwin: So this is the beginning of a management – the management phase of your career, correct? You were writing and reporting –
Jill Abramson: It was sudden because at that point the executive editor and managing editors of The Times had both been fired.
Alec Baldwin: And when you became managing editor how did that come down?
Jill Abramson: Well, it was a time of tumult at the paper. It was after the Jayson Blair scandal and after big questions were being raised about that period of leadership and also about our pre-war coverage. No one came and said, ‘We’re looking for a woman,’ but I was already in the leadership ranks as Washington bureau chief. That’s like –
Alec Baldwin: You were a candidate.
Jill Abramson: – a big time job that James Reston had and other lions of journalism and Bill Keller was named the new executive editor and I had always thought the world of him and he picked me.
Alec Baldwin: Was it a hard sell or were you ready? Did you wanna go back to New York too?
Jill Abramson: Yeah. I hadn’t really thought about coming back to New York, but yeah.
Alec Baldwin: ‘Cause Washington seems so much more pure.
Jill Abramson: I don’t say it as a compliment to myself, but it was very much my town, my kind of town.
Alec Baldwin: Yes. Did you think about that career wise? Was management gonna become a step back for you creatively even?
Jill Abramson: No. The idea that I could ever be managing editor of The New York Times, which is the number two job –
Alec Baldwin: Behind Bill.
Jill Abramson: – just seemed like incredible.
Alec Baldwin: This was 2003 when after only 2 years as executive editor Howell Raines was forced out due to the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal. Raines had worked closely with Abramson when she was in Washington and their relationship had been a difficult one. Eight years later, she had Raines’ old job and strong ideas about the kind of boss she wanted to be. Coming up, Abramson talks about what she wants in a story. This is Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s The Thing from WNYC Radio.
Here’s The Thing is supported by the Venture card from Capital One. Card holders get two miles per dollar spent on every purchase, every day. What’s in your wallet? More at www.capitaloneventure.com.
The newspaper business is in trouble. Print readership is plummeting and although digital subscriptions of The New York Times have exceeded expectations, The Times is still navigating toward a new way of doing business. The New York Times staff has seen three rounds of buy outs in the last four years. Despite this, Jill Abramson didn’t hesitate when she got the call from The Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger.
Jill Abramson: It was the brass ring and I jumped for it and I certainly knew that the newspaper industry certainly has been going through rough waters and that there are secular changes in our industry, but I also have always known that The Times news report is like none other and that I think it’s an indispensable institution in society, The Times, including editorial and all aspects of our news report. And I just have always believed that it’s so worth paying for that it didn’t seem to me so odd. Everyone was saying that our paid subscription plan was a rash move and that news wants to be free and it would never work and it has created a very significant revenue stream for us. So it was a very smart decision of Arthur’s to go that way.
Alec Baldwin: And how do you juice that up a little bit? What’s the strategy? You must have some where you can – how are you gonna build, build, build that online presence?
Jill Abramson: Well, we’re gonna build on our digital subscription base for sure.
Alec Baldwin: What’s the obstacle to getting people to – ‘cause people will say, ‘Why pay when it’s free?’ but it’s not really free. Some of it’s free. It’s free to a point for that, correct?
Jill Abramson: I think that our strategy is smart that what we’ve done is for people who are inveterate readers and frequent users of our website, we’ve asked them to pay. They wanna read many articles and spend significant time on our website or on our apps –
Alec Baldwin: You get a peek for free.
Jill Abramson: – and yet we have a kind of basic, good to go – if you want on our apps the top stories you can look at those. If you come from a link from another site you can read what you wanna read. It’s flexible. It lets us stay part of the open web while asking people who can’t live without it to pay something for it.
Alec Baldwin: Now you would come to the paper I would assume. It’s like someone once said to me about political figures. I remember when Giuliani was the mayor of New York someone said to me that very often people will bring to these jobs the spirit of what their previous career was. So Giuliani’s job as a prosecutor –
Jill Abramson: Prosecutor, right.
Alec Baldwin: – was to catch people doing bad things. So he brought that to the mayoralty – his job as mayor was to catch bad people doing things and kind of a crime stopper of mayoralty, if you will. And I wonder if the same is true for you in your job as executive editor. Meaning you had your beat, so to speak. You had your desk. You’ve had your coverage, most of it Washington based. Do you bring to the job your passion and there’s – and everybody knows that, there’s nothing that can be done about it, or did you have to broaden your passions in order to do the job?
Jill Abramson: Well, my interests were pretty broad. I grew up here in New York and I was like a mini version of a culture vulture and when I was small and I’m a huge reader of books and articles about many things.
Alec Baldwin: So you had wide ranging appetites coming in.
Jill Abramson: I did and basically what – but I have a singular passion and a singular passion with any subject is the story behind the story. If it’s it The Metropolitan Museum chooses a new head – which they did, Tom Campbell a couple of years ago – I wanna know what happened behind the scenes and what role did Annette de la Renta play in the choice and there’s always a kind of juicy story behind the public stage that - onto which events unfold and I love that kind of story and it can be about anything. We have an investigative story coming pretty soon about the world of auctions that I’m incredibly excited about.
Alec Baldwin: Right. Art auctions.
Jill Abramson: Yes.
Alec Baldwin: The other side of the coin for me, as a New Yorker, is The Times of course is the – you go through a period in your 20’s and 30’s where you like what The Times tells you to like in terms of film and theater and so forth, restaurants. The Times is an arbiter of culture in this city and beyond like no other publication ever. Is that one of the roles you play where you have to deal with that where The Times has the power to aid and abet certain enterprises here or destroy them?
Jill Abramson: I think you mentioned restaurant reviews and I actually – I shouldn’t laugh –
Alec Baldwin: But the one you just had with the –
Jill Abramson: With Guy Fieri. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Oh God.
Jill Abramson: But Frank Bruni, when he was our restaurant critic actually – because the critics often will go three times to a restaurant before they write their reviews and Frank was reviewing a downtown restaurant and I went with him on his second visit and I could just tell. He would never say whether he liked or didn’t like at that point, but at one point in the meal he looked at me and he said – ‘cause he always tasted what I was having – ‘The peas in your dish are canned peas.’
Alec Baldwin: Oh my God.
Jill Abramson: And then his review, which was really one of the best written things, eviscerated this restaurant and he described in his first visit how he had witnessed the "Poseidon Adventure" of wine spills, which just like etched itself –
Alec Baldwin: He was a good writer, Frank. He was a great writer.
Jill Abramson: – into my brain.
Alec Baldwin: I miss Frank.
Jill Abramson: But that restaurant did close shortly thereafter.
Alec Baldwin: Do you know that Maureen - Maureen came to me once and she said, ‘Would you like to come with Frank to review a restaurant?’ She said, ‘I’m gonna put together a quartet of people. It’s you and I and Frank and a fourth,’ and she said, ‘and here’s how it works. Frank will order’ –
Jill Abramson: He tells you what to order.
Alec Baldwin: – ‘Frank orders for us and he has to be able to taste everything,’ and then when we’re sitting with Frank he takes me through how it works. He told me how he got the job and blah, blah, blah, and I said to him, ‘Where do you live?’ He said, ‘I live on the Upper West Side.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding.’ I said, ‘That’s – restaurant-wise that’s the most bankrupt part of Manhattan.’ He said, ‘I know.’ He goes, ‘but I have to live near the park. I have to go running every day ‘cause I’m eating lunch and dinner out 28 out of the 30 days out of the month,’ and it was really, really a thrill to be with him and to have him tell me what he looked for –
Jill Abramson: It’s fun.
Alec Baldwin: – and what he was focusing on. But you had the thing with Fieri’s restaurant which reminded you of the residence the paper has. But if you could say – people used to joke and say that there was a pipeline from Morningside Heights in the Columbia School of Journalism to 43rd Street and an argument could be made I suppose – I’d love to get your opinion about this – whether The Times was the bastion of ivy league types - men and women, but mostly men, in the ‘50s and on to the ‘60s. And if the complexion, if the stripe, if you would, the dominate stripe in that fabric was ivy league men for many, many years what would you characterize it as now? Who is coming to you for a job and who are you hiring?
Jill Abramson: Right now we’re hiring a lot of people that have digital skills. We’re hiring videographers or technologists.
Alec Baldwin: What percentage of the people working with you now are men and how many are women?
Jill Abramson: Women are 37 percent.
Alec Baldwin: You’re a woman who’s the first person in this job and I’m wondering how much of that do you get in a sense that people expect you as a woman to help lift up, that the rising tide of Jill Abramson is gonna raise all female boats now at The Times.
Jill Abramson: Well, in part I expect that of myself. I don’t expect that I can ever raise all female boats, but I try to go out of my way, not to the exclusion of men, but I do take a particular interest in careers and work of many of the younger women at The Times and –
Alec Baldwin: You’re not a – Right, that’s –
Jill Abramson: – And I’m like open about it. If anyone has a problem with that, too bad.
Alec Baldwin: What sympathies do you have for Howell Raines today that you didn’t have two years ago since you took this job?
Jill Abramson: I have many. I have sympathy with the fact that he was such – he is really a great writer and he had lots of story ideas and he could see in his mind’s eye how he wanted them to come out on the other end. It was very frustrating to him when things didn’t wind up the way he hoped they were and when I was on the receiving end of that displeasure when he’d think some of the work when I was Washington bureau chief that was coming from the political correspondence and the Washington correspondence fell short he seemed sometimes impatient and too quick to be angry, but I think my sympathy is he had high standards, but very little time. Your day is so crowded with – I’m scheduled with 15 minute segments every day and that can make you irritable when what you most care about is –
Alec Baldwin: You never have enough time in the day.
Jill Abramson: – is the quality of the journalism itself and you have – you would think that would be the thing you spend all of your time on, but it’s not.
Alec Baldwin: Especially now would you say, with the financial imperative. When The Times was –
Jill Abramson: Well, some, but I think it just always there have been issues from the business side of The Times and other things that might take your mind away from a focus on what is the smartest way and to guns or any of the things we’re covering right now and he seemed too impatient to me when I was Washington bureau chief and he was the boss and now I completely understand that impatience –
Alec Baldwin: The source of that pressure.
Jill Abramson: – in a way I didn’t.
Alec Baldwin: As someone who was a great admirer of The Times and does depend on The Times for the truth, I read The Times cover to cover every – in the morning I read half and I read the other half at night when I’m lying in bed. What’s the first thing most people read in The Times they tell you?
Jill Abramson: The captions on the front page photos.
Alec Baldwin: They do?
Jill Abramson: If they’re reading the print paper.
Alec Baldwin: I go to one column first ‘cause it’s usually the best writing. It’s the most moving writing which is the obituaries. I read the obituaries every morning. It’s some of the most beautiful writing. It’s incredible. It’s that little digest bio of someone’s life.
Jill Abramson: It’s an art. It really is.
Alec Baldwin: It is an art [music playing]. In the midst of talking with Jill about her career, I neglected to ask her about another important part of her life. In May 2007 early one morning Jill Abramson was struck by a truck and nearly killed while crossing the street just blocks from The New York Times building. So I called her up to find out what kind of impact that event had on her [phone ringing].
Jill Abramson: Hello?
Alec Baldwin: It’s Alec Baldwin calling for Jill Abramson.
Jill Abramson: Hi, Alec. This is me.
Alec Baldwin: It’s you. It’s you. Well, we are calling you – and Abramson spent three weeks in Bellevue Hospital with a broken femur and a fractured hip. Two years after her accident she took home Scout, a golden retriever.
Jill Abramson: She’ll be four in April. So that – wind it back and that’s when she came into our lives. And-
Alec Baldwin: In 2009.
Jill Abramson: Yeah, 2009. That feels right. And she was obviously a tiny thing when we first got her. We got her as a puppy. We didn’t adopt her. We got her from a breeder and I didn’t know it at the time, but it was – my husband was the one who pushed hardest and my two children also for us to get a new dog. Our, we had had a dog, a terrier, who had passed away just a little bit before I had my accident. And it turned out to be as the cliché says, just what the doctor ordered.
Frankly, I did, when I had my two children, just ridiculously obsessed with every aspect of puppy life and my husband and I were at the stage of life where we were empty nesters and I just – I think we’re both built to take care of living things. And we found ourselves in puppy kindergarten and worrying that Scout was the worst student in the class, which she somewhat was, and I found that especially late at night walking the dog in New York, I live downtown near the Hudson River, is the best way to get rid of whatever anxiety and tension you might have from the day’s work.
Alec Baldwin: And Jill Abramson’s work continues. Every day her job is to take care that the news coverage of The New York Times remains unbiased and to take care of her special friend.
Jill Abramson: She’s just a bundle of constant both joy and trouble as you, Alec, no doubt know from your experience with your dogs.
Alec Baldwin: This is Alec Baldwin. Here’s The Thing comes from WNYC Radio.