Abramson Shares Insight on Media and the Election
“It is hard to be the first woman in any position of power, but Clinton was more than ready to grab the ultimate prize. On Tuesday night, in the glass encased Javits Center, her fan base had everything set for victory, even confetti shaped as glass shards. The highest, hardest glass ceiling was about to fall.”
But “the confetti never fell” and yet again America proved that the glass ceiling is still not broken. These words ended Jill Abramson’s article in the Guardian US the day after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald J. Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
On Dec. 6, Packer welcomed Ms. Abramson to the chapel stage. As the former New York Times Executive Editor, current Harvard professor and political columnist for the Guardian US, Ms. Abramson has years of experience in media and is highly regarded woman in her field. Initially slated to address gender, like her article on Hillary above, Ms. Abramson focused on the role of media in the election and the unfolding evolution of journalism. She began by giving Clinton supporters a glimmer of hope in what some think to be a dark time in American politics.
“The arch of history leans towards justice. We think things are divided and so bitter right now, but at the time this school was founded in 1845, the country was being torn apart in much more serious ways,” said Ms. Abramson. “It’s hard when you’re young to take the long view, but I really think that you must.”
As she talked about newspapers’ role in the election, Ms. Abramson disagreed with the notion that we are living in a “post-fact society” and urged students to be attentive to where they choose to get their news from. With 63% of people getting their news directly from Facebook, she highlighted the echo chambers that many people are susceptible to.
“The algorithm is trying to please you. It isn’t pleasing to read things that challenge you and make you read things in a new way,” said Ms. Abramson. “I don’t believe that you can never know the truth, if you dig and dig and really go at the facts with all your heart and mind, the truth is always knowable.”
After sharing her own thoughts on the current political climate, Ms. Abramson opened up the floor to student questions.
“I thought [Jill Abramson] was very, very smart and was measured in her response,” said 12th grade dean Loryn Evanoff. “I think rather than focus on one topic, she went straight to questions which was unexpected for me, but also I think really good for getting to what the students wanted to hear. And I thought the questions our student body asked were phenomenal.”
However, some students and faculty expressed disappointment at what they thought was as a lackluster speech from Ms. Abramson. One faculty member said that he/she was extremely disappointed by the speech because it appeared as if Abramson had not prepared at all for her talk. The faculty member said that Abramson was very elitist in the way that she talked about her accomplishments, and he/she suggested that Abramson may have not put in much effort, because she was not being compensated.
Many students were eager to ask questions centered around the press’ impact on the election. Abramson acknowledged that the press took too long to take Trump seriously, but she ultimately argued that it was Clinton who was treated unfairly. She cited the fact that there were more stories about Clinton’s email controversy than all other articles on her policies combined.
Before Ms. Abramson spoke at chapel, a few students had the opportunity to speak to her more candidly over lunch.
“I think that [Jill Abramson] felt less obligation to censor herself in the smaller room,” said Lily Pine (‘17). “I think she was more open about her political leanings and the way the media skewed the election and definitely seemed more candid.”
A number of student leaders involved with feminism, the LGBTQ+ community, and journalism were invited to ask questions. Over lunch, Ms. Abramson spoke more personally about her college experience and her love of writing and politics, which lead to her career in political journalism.
Feminism and her role as a female at the New York Times were touched on. She said that the rising pressure of companies hiring and promoting more women benefits her career along with affirmative action.
“[Ms.Abramson] said ‘don’t feel lucky that you get a position or that you get something. Never feel lucky because you’ve earned it’ and that was something that meant a lot to me,” said Maddie Lloyd (‘17). “I was really glad to have such a positive role model come speak to us.”
Many students who did not hear Ms. Abramson talk about her career as a female executive in the media, and her own experiences with sexism in the workplace were disappointed, especially because students were told in an email sent prior to her talk that she would address the subject.
“I knew going into it that she is a huge figure for women in high positions, especially in journalism, so I thought that she would talk about what it’s like to be the only woman on the floor and one of the only women in power,” said Lucy Simon (‘17). “I was expecting that and hoping to get that, but what I got from it was general information about news and not many personal stories.”
Some students who were aware of Jill Abramson’s credentials and experience, felt that she could’ve covered more ground, and explored more complex issues.
“Given the context that Jill Abramson is one of the most important people in media today, I had super high expectations for this. Given not only her importance but also the controversy surrounding her, I found the talk to be surface level and to be quite honest a little unsophisticated,” said Jordan Tayeh (‘17). “The criticism only comes because she is such a smart and important person, I was just confused why were getting these baseline answers.”