Abramson hits back at Observer‘s ’crazy rant'

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Kurson, right, with CEO Joseph Meyer and owner Jared Kushner. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
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The New York Times is hitting back at The New York Observer’s latest cover story, an exhaustive takedown of the paper of record’s opinion pages and the man who oversees them, Andy Rosenthal.

In an email to Capital, Times executive editor Jill Abramson called the article “the crazy rant of someone with an agenda, certainly not the view of the newsroom of The New York Times.”

The feature, written by Observer editor-in-chief Ken Kurson and primarily based on roughly two-dozen anonymous source interviews, paints a picture of a flailing editorial page and a newsroom that is in “semi-open revolt” against it. (The newsroom and the editorial page are separate entities.) Sources also accused Rosenthal of “tyranny and pettiness,” characterizing him as a boss beset by resentment both over his direction of the editorial page and the resources that are devoted to the opinion section.

"Andy Rosenthal is my cherished colleague and the editorial page he runs (independently of the newsroom as has been true at The New York Times forever) serves as the good conscience of our readers, always topical and urgent and compelling, more so under Andy's leadership than any editor I can name," Abramson wrote in her email. "Reporters here cherish Andy's good humor and his bonhomie. As someone who has also been falsely portrayed recently, I can say as a voice of experience that this article bears no relationship to reality."

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Prior to Abramson's email, a Times spokeswoman, Eileen Murphy, had already been throwing water on the piece.

“The piece is comically inaccurate and filled with basic misunderstandings about Andy, the Times, the structure and reporting lines at most reputable newspapers, and any number of other things," she told Capital. "One wonders about the motivation or competence of a writer who would suggest that based on his conversations with 24 (current and/or former) of 1200 (current) newsroom staff, he could state that there is a ‘near universality of [a] view within the Times that the opinion pages have grown tired and irrelevant.’"

An Observer spokesman declined to comment.

But for his part, Kurson did reach out to Rosenthal prior to publication. In the article, which is in Wednesday's paper, he writes that "[m]ultiple attempts to reach Mr. Rosenthal were rebuffed, and emails directly to him were responded to instead by the Times publicity operation." The Times provided a statement to Kurson defending the editorial page and it responded to at least a few points specifically.

In addition to its unflattering portrayal of Rosenthal, the article includes some reporting on the dynamic between the Times editorial page and City Hall.

“A member of then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s inner circle who remained in City Hall until the end of Mr. Bloomberg’s term told The Observer that the entire administration was ‘shocked’ by the Times’ inability to drag its endorsed candidates over the goal line [in the 2013 elections], referring to Christine Quinn in the mayoral primary and Dan Garodnick in the City Council speaker race,” Kurson writes.

“This charge was amplified by a different member of Mr. Bloomberg’s kitchen cabinet who left the administration a few years ago," the piece continues. "He reports that Ms. Quinn’s political team viewed the Times endorsement as ‘critical’ to her cementing the nomination, which led them to allow the Times to follow Ms. Quinn around making a documentary.” (There would have in fact been a firewall between a news documentary and the endorsement process.)

When Capital wrote about the documentary last year, Mike Morey, who served as Quinn's communications director during the campaign, said she cooperated because "The New York Times is the paper of record for the city. ... We agreed to participate because we felt that it could provide a window for New Yorkers to see what it really means to run a campaign of this magnitude and all of the effort, emotion, and energy that gets brought to it."