The trans-activist tantrum at the New York Times
Hundreds of staffers have denounced their paper for daring to cover both sides of the trans debate.
Last week, hundreds of New York Times contributors and staffers signed an open letter to Philip Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, denouncing the ‘editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people’.
The NYT’s crime? It has published, in the words of the open letter, ‘over 15,000 words of frontpage Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children’.
Allow me to translate for any readers not fluent in the language of woke tyrants: the New York Times has dared to publish a range of views on the policy of giving children puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones, and allowing doctors to cut off their healthy body parts. Journalists reporting both sides of a highly controversial and experimental medical treatment for adolescents? How very dare they!
‘Both sides’ is now an absolute no-no for vast numbers of people who somehow still consider themselves to be journalists. I genuinely don’t understand why these people want to be journalists at all. It would be better for everyone if they just admitted that they were activists, commentators or political operatives.
The wording of the complaint – ‘the propriety of medical care for trans children’ – is revealing. Surely, when it comes to any kind of medical treatment for children, the ‘propriety’ of doctors’ decisions should always be up for scrutiny? So, why don’t these self-professed allies of ‘trans kids’ not want this issue to be looked at closely? How does a lack of robust oversight over these treatments protect children who are struggling with their gender?
The signatories accuse the New York Times of covering gender issues with ‘an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources’. To make up my own mind about this charge, I read the articles singled out in the letter.
The first is Emily Bazelon’s lengthy New York Times Magazine cover story, ‘The battle over gender therapy’. It is hardly an anti-trans diatribe. For her piece, Bazelon interviewed more than two dozen young people about their experiences and she explores the various opposing views. She even uses language that radical feminist or ‘gender critical’ activists would challenge – for instance, she characterises the growing concern about the transitioning of minors as a ‘right-wing backlash’. If the radical feminists drawing attention to this issue are right wing, then I’m Jesus H Christ.
No matter. The letter also attacks Bazelon’s use of the phrase ‘patient zero’, as it implies there is an element of ‘contagion’ in the trans-kids phenomenon (there almost certainly is). It attacks some of her sources as biased and transphobic. And it accuses Bazelon of misrepresenting her sources on the trans-activist side. ‘Multiple expert sources… have since expressed regret over [the article’s] misrepresentation [of their views]’, it says. The letter includes a link, purportedly to these ‘multiple sources’, which actually takes you to an episode of the Death Panel podcast, in which trans author Jules Gill-Peterson says:
‘I’m one of, like, three million expert trans people who talked to Emily Bazelon. So, like, trust me when I say I’ve literally explained all of this to her on the phone. I was sitting in my office and we had a long conversation where I was like, “Look, you need to make some real serious decisions about how you’re framing this piece. Because one, you’re going to make historically inaccurate and factually incorrect claims. And two, the way you’re setting this up, in this “both sides” sort of framework, I think is really dangerous and damaging.’
Note the hyperbole and the vague threat of ‘danger’, instead of concrete points of fact. And I’m sorry, kids, but sources don’t get to dictate a journalist’s framing of a story.
Similarly, the open letter accuses another New York Times article – ‘When students change gender identity and parents don’t know’ – of ‘misframing’ the trans issue. Some parents, the article reveals, are suing schools for transitioning their children without informing them first.
According to the New York Times, reporter Katie JM Baker interviewed more than 50 people for her story, including lawyers for both conservative and pro-trans groups. The letter’s authors argue that the article should say these parents’ legal challenges are ‘part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups’. ‘These groups’, the letter claims, ‘have identified trans people as an “existential threat to society”’.
In the letter, the phrase ‘existential threat to society’ is hyperlinked, so I clicked on it to try to find out who would say such an incendiary thing. The link goes to an article on the website of the ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom), a Christian group whose stated aim is to defend religious freedom. Nowhere does the ADF author say that trans people are an existential threat to society. What the article actually says is that ‘confusing a generation about biological reality is an existential threat to society’ – which is not the same wording or meaning, at all. So who is really doing the ‘misframing’ here?
The very word, ‘misframed’, has Orwellian overtones. The way a journalist or newspaper frames a story is inherently subjective. It is the prerogative of the person telling it. But according to the New York Times’ authoritarian trans activists, the only acceptable way to frame a story about trans issues is on their terms. For woke ideologues in the media industry, normal professional journalism, when it gives even the slightest voice to the supposedly ‘wrong’ side of the argument, is tantamount to violence. It is truly depressing to see just how prevalent this attitude is.
This story has a somewhat happy ending. Following the complaint, New York Times executive editor Joseph Kahn and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury sent out a memo to staff rebuking the signatories: ‘We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organised by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.’ In particular, they objected to the signatories ‘direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name’.
In short, the paper’s top brass has told these trans activists masquerading as news professionals to take a long walk off a short pier. That’s good news for journalism. But I fear it is too little, too late.
Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.
Picture by: Getty.