Inside the episode: Jill Abramson

When I saw that Jill Abramson had penned the cover story for New York Magazine, a re-examination of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill battle during the Supreme Court Justice’s confirmation hearings more than 25 years ago, I knew I had to reach out to her.


What a perfect topic for the show!  The Thomas hearings, which first focused the country on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, take on new significance now, seen through the lens of the #MeToo movement.  But would Jill even remember me?


After all, before her storied career as an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal and then her rise up through the ranks of the New York Times to become that paper’s first female Executive Editor, she had been my first editor at my first real journalism job after college, 32 years ago!


Well, of course, she did remember me and she readily agreed to do the program by phone from Cambridge where she now teaches in the English Department at Harvard.  Though we had some trouble with the sound quality in the first few minutes (Jill was on her way in an Uber to her campus office to meet with some students), the episode is a doozy and I am thrilled we got a chance to re-connect.


Those years when I worked for Legal Times (a weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C. that covers law and politics and lobbying) under Jill’s leadership – 1986-1988 – were great times for journalism.  I was in my mid-20s and I remember standing up with the more seasoned reporters covering the White House and the Justice Department and Congress and feeling that we just had the smarts and the hustle to get bigger and better stories.  And we did break a lot of news.


One of my favorite memories from those days:  I was covering the Justice Department and had gotten to know many of the young Reagan Administration lawyers who had come from the Federalist Society and other places inspired by Antonin Scalia and other conservative legal scholars.  One of the people I had talked with was Grover Joseph Rees III, known to those he knew well as “Rocky.”  Rees worked in the DOJ as the Department’s “Judge Picker.”  He would vet potential nominees to the federal bench, putting forth those candidates he thought would follow conservative judicial principles once confirmed to life appointments.

Then I heard that Rees had left the DOJ for one of the strangest career shifts imaginable.  I went to Jill and told I had heard Rocky Rees had left Washington to be appointed Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa.

“You need to go,” Jill said matter-of-factly.


“I need to what?”


“You need to go to American Samoa and do a story on that.”


There was no mistaking.  She was serious.  And so off I went on one of the all-time great junkets.  Here is an image of the cover story from Legal Times: 


As I said, it was great to catch up with Jill for this episode.  Let me know what you think of the episode: