by Fred Kuhr
While many LGBTQ media outlets are working to increase inclusivity in their coverage, the New York Times — arguably one of the most important mainstream newspapers in the country — was condemned by more than 200 of its contributors last month over its coverage of transgender people and issues.
The group released an open letter citing “serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming people.” The letter was written jointly with the Freelance Solidarity Project, a group of freelancers with the National Writers Union, and was addressed to Philip Corbett, the newspaper’s associate managing editor for standards.
The letter noted that while many Times reporters cover trans issues fairly, “Their work is eclipsed, however, by what one journalist has calculated as over 15,000 words of front-page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children published in the last eight months alone. … [T]he Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources.”
The letter goes on to give various examples, such as a Times article referring to a trans child seeking gender-affirming care as “patient zero,” “a phrase that vilifies grandness as a disease to be feared.” The letter points to another article that “misframed the battle over children’s right to safely transition.”
The letter makes the argument that all this coverage of trans issues is not commensurate with the percentage of the population that is trans, and that these issues are being pushed by socially conservative activists with a political agenda. “A tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying,” the letter states. “There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children, or on the hardworking professionals at the New York Times enduring a workplace made hostile by bias — a period of forbearance that ends today.”
The day after the letter’s release, executive editor Joe Kahn responded with a newsroom memo defending the Times and condemning those who signed the letter.
“Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy,” Kahn wrote in a letter obtained by the Daily Beast. “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”
Kahn’s memo also said that the letter ignored the newspaper’s “strong commitment to covering all aspects of transgender issues, including the life experience of transgender people and the prejudice and violence against them in our society.”
A number of Times staffers reacted publicly to Kahn’s response. For example, Celeste Lavin, a homepage editor at the newspaper, wrote on Twitter that “the beautiful, powerful letter from our own contributors should not be written off as advocacy irrelevant to our journalistic mission. We need to do better as an organization.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, which organized and wrote its own letter to the Times, called the newspaper’s response “ill-informed.”
“The Times is not only standing behind coverage that hundreds of leaders in journalism, media and LGBTQ advocacy are speaking out against, but boasting that they are proud of it,” said Ellis in a written statement. “Does this response mean the Times has no interest in meeting with leaders in the trans community? Does the Times have no interest in hiring trans writers and editors? Does the Times believe it is okay to ignore the voices of hundreds of stakeholders, and thousands more joining in support online? The Times response does not answer these questions and instead tries to dismiss the very real concerns over fair and accurate journalism.”
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