The Time Of The Cockroaches – By Walrus


In the gossipy world of New York journalism, the firing of Jill Abramson from her position as the executive editor of the Times provoked a veritable explosion of talk, posts, and Instagram pictures of the objects of interest. And a day after her dismissal, even more details are emerging about why Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s publisher, felt compelled to dismiss yet another executive editor whom he himself had anointed.

…Another episode that added to the characterization of Abramson as hard to deal with came after a decision was made to hire a second managing editor to oversee the Times’ digital endeavors. Abramson led that hiring effort. The Times, in its story on Abramson’s dismissal, said that Abramson had offered the job to Janine Gibson, the editor of Guardian U.S., “without consulting” Dean Baquet, then the managing editor and now Abramson’s successor. This implies that Abramson was operating more or less in a vacuum, without consistent consultations with her colleagues, particularly Baquet. Gibson met separately with Sulzberger and Thompson on May 5th, and had lunch with Baquet that same day. What Baquet did not know, until Gibson herself mentioned it to him at lunch, I’m told, is that she was offered a managing-editor job comparable to his own. He was, it is fair to say, unenthusiastic, and even angered. “


 For once a standard narcissist operating procedure – the replacement of a competent subordinate with a beholden sycophant, went wrong. Gibson “revered” Abramson. Abramson was allegedly caught lying to Sulzberger that Baquet had been consulted. Had Baquet not acted, in my opinion, the next phase of Abramson's plan, had she succeeded in hiring Gibson, would have been social bullying, publicly favouring Gibson over Baquet at every opportunity with the intention of stressing him to the point of his resignation. No doubt Abramson would also have intimated to Gibson that she would succeed Baquet.

There is at least one test, for example The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) that is allegedly capable of identifying psychopathic tendencies at least in a clinical setting. The courts have however ruled that such testing cannot be performed as part of a hiring decision except in special circumstances. We are thus apparently left with no legal means of screening applicants for what used to be called “character”.

 Our tried and true defence against the accession to power of emotional misfits used to be observation of their behaviour over relatively long periods of time in a variety of social settings. We hired friends, schoolmates and colleagues who we knew to be capable of empathy, even if of the hard hearted variety, and discriminated against those who we perceived might offend our mores. This of course is now illegal.

 Mistreatment of wives, children or pets, drug use, philandering, cheating and intriguing against co workers, meanness and borderline criminal behaviour are no longer sufficient reason to deny a job or promotion. How can good government and public service survive, let alone the economy, when we cannot and do not protect ourselves from the thriving colonies of  managerial cockroaches that infest all our institutions?



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10 Responses to The Time Of The Cockroaches – By Walrus

  1. johnf says:

    I can’t really say I have a dog in this particular mud wrestling contest, but as someone who distrusts The Guardian less than I distrust most MSM disemboguings, I am glad that Janine Gibson has not been sucked into the NYT swamp. She at least was the midwife of the Guardian Snowden/Greenwald revelations, seems to be highly competent, and is setting up The Guardian electronic international edition.
    I really don’t know who to believe in the Abramson/Baquet bitch fest. Abramson apparently published some pretty daring stories a while ago, but no one can remember what they were, and apparently Baquet once spiked an anti-government story which Abramson then resurrected years later.
    But as a Brit I can say that one thing fills me with joy, and that is that the execrable Mark Thompson (Piers Morgan with a beard), who did to the BBC what Caligula did to his mother, is now safely and snugly ensconced in the NYT. I predict that on the day the last reader of The Times quits, he will succeed to the editorship.

  2. The key component in most jobs is whom do you trust? No one’s judgment is infallible but no doubt we hope our hiring “guesses” pan out!

  3. jonst says:

    What “daring stories” did the Times published in the last 20 years or so?

  4. Perhaps unrelated but the GUARDIAN newspaper has posted a lengthy interview with the founder of LAVABIT an encryption service for e-mails used by Eric Snowden and 400K others and no longer in business.

  5. Ex-PFC Chuck says:

    “The Sociopath Next Door,” by Martha Stout, is a good read on this topic. She asserts, based on MRI research, that 4% of the population exhibit the neurological signs of sociopathy, namely that the brain regions associated with empathy do not light up when the person is presented with images that in most people evoke a response. She also asserts that such people are over-represented among high level politicians, government employees (including senior military officers) and corporate executives. They are also over-represented in some professions such as litigators and surgeons. The author regards the terms sociopathy and psychopathy to be essentially synonymous.

  6. different clue says:

    Riverdaughter at the Confluence blog offers a very different story and theory of what happened. I don’t know which is the right way to interpret these events so I offer the link in case it proves useful. (She cites the same New Yorker article in part to arrive at very different conclusions).

  7. jerseycityjoan says:

    “Our tried and true defence against the accession to power of emotional misfits used to be observation of their behavior over relatively long periods of time in a variety of social settings.”
    Isn’t that information already available, for the most part, about the kind of people you are talking about here? These people had a lot of bosses, coworkers and subordinates. Many belong for years to professional. community and nonprofit groups, often in a prominent positions within those groups. They are talked about in the media and all over the Internet.
    All this to say — Isn’t the real problem the organizations who hire them? How often do they not know the total package they are buying? Now we could say that the “infestation” is so thorough that the problem is like hiring like, in many cases. Or I suppose it’s possible even their “normal” colleagues feel that if they don’t have at least a few bad apples at the top, their company, department, etc. will be seen as weak and exploitable.
    I am certainly with you when it comes wanting get the squeezing hands around the public’s neck removed.
    I suspect there is no other solution than for the vast majority to reclaim their power from the manipulators. The rewards for their behavior will have to decreased. These folks don’t operate in a vacuum; the power of their supporters will also have to be challenged and defeated.

  8. johnf says:

    Damned if I can remember.

  9. Stephanie says:

    different clue,
    Auletta’s blogging in The New Yorker on this topic changes from day to day. The short answer is we don’t know anything. Abramson has wisely kept quiet and let associates do the leaking, while Sulzberger has repeatedly shot himself in the foot. Editors get canned. Happens all the time. We do know that Dean Baquet made his move and it worked. Abramson should have found a way to marginalize him while the going was good. In the meantime I see no reason to make a feminist martyr out of a woman who allowed the Times to run a fawning review of her doggie book. Also, suddenly Baquet is a management toady. Who knew?
    Janine Gibson apparently would have been an excellent hire and she just pinched the NYT’s top guy in digital. Whatever was wrong with Abramson, it doesn’t seem to be that.
    Lot of management lessons to be learned in this one.

  10. Thanks for this comment!

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