On Wednesday morning, a group of nearly 200 New York Times writers and contributors made public an open letter outlining “serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people.” Within hours, thousands more writers, as well as NYT subscribers and readers, had signed on in support. The letter was a brave and principled stance, meticulously executed; it outlined the flaws in the existing biased reporting, such as the misidentification of a source in a massive gender therapy story by Emily Bazelon and a decision to leave out crucial context from a Katie Baker story on students changing gender identity without their parents knowing.
In response, the Times ignored this letter and chose only to acknowledge a separate letter delivered by GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and rather dismissively. The PR response took a classic stance favored by institutional journalism: the high-handed separation of journalists from “advocates.”
Then this morning, the editors hit publish on another worthless opinion essay by Pamela Paul—the former Book Review editor who has embarrassingly chosen to rebrand as a hero for Whites Aggrieved by Change—entitled: “In Defense of J.K. Rowling.” Yes, Paul is using her massive platform to defend the oppressed billionaire and TERF who wrote Harry Potter. Very brave.
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At a time when trans teens continue to die by suicide—and murder, just two days ago, in Rowling’s very own UK—at disproportionate rates amid relentless bullying and legislation that openly aims to prevent their very existence, the NYT’s relinquishing of responsibility is baffling. Their PR man, Charlie Stadtlander, chose not to address the contributors’ letter, I can only assume, because there is no way to dismiss its meticulous citations of the flaws in the reporting that prove it is, in fact, biased–and a disservice to readers. Leaving out that the “court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups” in the Baker story obscures the full scope of the issue at hand and undermines Stadtlander’s grandiose claim that “the very news stories criticized in their letter reported deeply and empathetically…to help readers understand.”
Even if the Times persists in this depressing stance that True Journalism is in conflict with a clear-eyed assessment of power differentials and grave harm, they would have to acknowledge that those omissions harm the journalistic value of those very long stories.
Instead, the paper chose to publish more of Pamela Paul’s dreck.
The implication that anyone advocating for their own humanity and survival is not valuable journalistically suggests that the only people capable of producing journalism in that building are those whose identities never bring them under attack by oppressive systems and policymakers. That is a hostile workplace for so many. Journalism is not neutral; it never can be. Choices are made by humans constantly regarding language and information and sources. The goal cannot be to preserve false “objectivity” under an oppressive status quo.
I asked author Alexander Chee, one of the signatories of the contributors’ letter, if he had anything to add after the Times’ non-response was released (and before Paul’s column was published). “I signed because of the love and respect I have for the trans people in my life,” he said. “I signed because I suppose I believe in the paper in some way they don’t believe in themselves, and maybe I’m wrong to expect better of them. I still have to. So here we are.”