Politico's Byers Writes a Tome on NYT's Baquet-Abramson Conflict, Omits Baquet's Outrageous 2006 Insubordination at the LA Times

In a 1,700-word report on conflict and office politics at the New York Times, the Politico's Dylan Byers omitted critical context about the apparent personality clash between Jill Abramson, the paper's executive editor, and Dean Baquet, its managing editor.

Byers could have remedied the situation by including these seven words at an appropriate point: "Baquet, who has a history of insubordination ..." This history is not a secret, as illustrated in the following writeup at the (I'm not kidding) New York Times in September 2006 (bolds are mine):


Los Angeles Times Editor Openly Defies Owner’s Call for Job Cuts

The editor of The Los Angeles Times appears to be in a showdown with the paper’s owner, the Tribune Company, over job cuts in the newsroom.

In a highly unusual move, Dean P. Baquet, who was named editor last year, was quoted yesterday in his own newspaper as saying he was defying the paper’s corporate parent in Chicago and would not make the cuts it requested.

The paper’s publisher, Jeffrey M. Johnson, said he agreed with Mr. Baquet. “Newspapers can’t cut their way into the future,” he told the paper.

The number of jobs at stake is unclear but the paper, the fourth largest in the country, has eliminated more than 200 positions over the last five years from an editorial staff that now numbers about 940.

“I am not averse to making cuts,” Mr. Baquet told the paper. “But you can go too far, and I don’t plan to do that.”

... It is rare for an editor to go public with a position on internal budget battles and for the editor’s own newspaper to report on it. The decision by The Los Angeles Times to take its battle against Tribune public may signal that Mr. Baquet is trying to rally support on the paper’s behalf, at a time when Tribune is in turmoil and some local businessmen have expressed interest in buying the paper.

... The showdown is a dramatic example of a long-simmering conflict between many newsrooms and boardrooms around the country as newspapers face an industrywide economic slump and continued demands by Wall Street for improved financial results.

So the guy refused to come up with a plan to trim his staff and budget despite a direct order to do so, and with his publisher's permission, took his defiance public.

As I wrote at the time:

By producing no plan when asked, Baquet gives lie to the “not averse to making cuts” statement. He had his chance to come up with something, and didn’t.

He should have resigned by now if he really thought the company was going too far, as should have Mr. Johnson. But they are acting as if their newspaper is some kind of indispensable public utility.

... If Tribune Company Publishing Division President Scott C. Smith backs down, he should kiss HIS job good-bye.

Baquet was fired two months later. He deserved it, but on the day he said he was going to hunker down and dared his bosses to do something about it, not months later.

The Times's 2006 coverage almost looked like an open invitation to have Baquet work there. The Old Gray Lady certainly knew what it was getting when it hired Baquet shortly thereafter, and later promoted him. They shouldn't be surprised that he's a troubling and disruptive presence now.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.