A new online battle between the New York Times and trans activists

February 17, 2023 • 9:45 am

It’s things like this that give me hope that the left-wing but mainstream media—especially the NYT, which I thought had gone hopelessly woke—might regain its objectivity, at least in reporting, and also stop slanting their news towards getting social-media approbation.

Until recently, I thought the NYT’s coverage of transsexual and transgender issues had not been sufficiently objective, giving a low profile to news like the closure of the Tavistock Gender Centre in London after the Cass report, the decision by several European countries to withhold puberty blockers except on a clinical trial basis, and controversies swirling around “affirmative care” and Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage about social contagion as a possible cause of the exponential rise in young girls’ desire to transition to men. What was lacking in the paper was balanced reporting on the issue, and a palpable neglect of scientific data.

I’ll divide what happened next into a few subsections headed in bold.

The NYT changes its coverage of gender issues. Then, last June, I notice that the paper was starting to cover the controversies swirling around gender dysphoria, puberty blockers, early hormone treatment, and affirmative therapy. This came with the publication on June 15 of Emily Bazelon’s piece (click on screenshot below or go to this archived link), which was a decent and objective account of the “gender wars”. It didn’t really take sides, but did quote critics, and that enraged extreme trans activists (see my post about that here).

On July 3, Pamela Paul published an op-ed called “The Far Right and the Far Left agree on one thing: women don’t count“, on July 28 the paper had an article about the shutdown of the Tavistock Clinic, and in November there was a piece about both the upside and downside of puberty blockers. I won’t list all pieces they’ve written about the controversies, but there’s nothing that angers trans activists more than someone calling attention to the scientific doubts about their claims. Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s hotheaded lawyer for trans issues, even blamed the NYT for animus towards trans people, viz.:

Next, the letter from activists to the paper.  Over 200 contributors to the NYT (staff and some people who wrote pieces for it) signed a letter—thesecond one at the link—calling out the paper for biased reporting against trans people (and going back to the eighties to call out the paper for its neglect in covering the AIDS epidemic). The letter was, I believe, confected and circulated by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD):

Two short excerpts:

As thinkers, we are disappointed to see the New York Times follow the lead of far-right hate groups in presenting gender diversity as a new controversy warranting new, punitive legislation. Puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender⁠-⁠affirming surgeries have been standard forms of care for cis and trans people alike for decades.

. . . Some of us are trans, non⁠-⁠binary, or gender nonconforming, and we resent the fact that our work, but not our person, is good enough for the paper of record. Some of us are cis, and we have seen those we love discover and fight for their true selves, often swimming upstream against currents of bigotry and pseudoscience fomented by the kind of coverage we here protest. All of us daresay our stance is unremarkable, even common, and certainly not deserving of the Times’ intense scrutiny. 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. 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.

They cite several articles mentioned above, and claim that this kind of reporting, in which both sides are presented, creates a “hostile workplace” at the Times: the familiar claim of “harm”. The gist of the letter is to let the paper know that the signers do not want this kind of coverage, but simply to sign on to the activists’ agenda.  One piece applauding the Times’s new stand for reporting the science objectively is by Lisa Selin Davis, “An open letter to GLAAD about their open letter to the New York Times about their coverage of kids with gender dysphoria.

And some approbation here by a NYT writer who wrote one of the demonized pieces:

The NYT defends itself.  And it did it well. Here’s Jesse Singal’s tweet showing the paper’s response to the GLAAD letter.

Yes, it is a perfect response, and a stinging rebuke to the activists. Is there hope for the paper after all?

Singal’s Twitter feed, by the way, has a ton of stuff about this controversy, including his take here:

The activists push back on the TimesOn the same page as the original GLAAD + others letter, the signers of that letter wrote a short response to the paper’s statement. Here’s an excerpt:

Out of hand, the Times’ comments dismiss the concerns put to them by, at last count, over 1000 contributors to the New York Times—among them eminent writers, artists, photographers, and holders of elected office—and the countersignatures of 23,000 media workers, readers and subscribers to the newspaper.

We await a courteous reply

I guess by “courteous reply”, they mean a “we cave in to your beliefs” reply. Ain’t gonna happen. In the meantime, another group of LGBTQ+ people wrote a separate letter to the NYT with similar complaints, this time accompanied by demands, demands like these (their bolding)

HIRE: Genuinely invest in hiring trans writers and editors, full time on your staff. We know many trans writers and editors do not trust the Times. We don’t trust you either, so we don’t blame them. But do the work: Stop, listen, and hire. If you stop the egregious, irresponsible coverage, and listen to trans people, you will start to rebuild credibility and trust. It is clear the cisgender writers and editors at the Times – regardless of their sexual orientation or membership in the queer community – just are not able to cover trans people and issues accurately. So let trans people do it. Let trans people into your workdays, your briefings, and your story meetings.

Timing: Hire at least 2 trans people on the Opinion side and at least 2 trans people on the news side within 3 months.

This is typical social-media response: with specific demands that the Times start adhering to a preferred narrative, along with hiring people who will push that narrative. (The NYT did not renew the contract of its only transexual op-ed writer, Jennifer Finney Boylan.)

The fallout. First, I’ll let the person who sent me links to some of the letters have their say:
I think what may have prompted these letters to NYTimes are:  1) The shift in coverage at Times, possibly brought on by the closure of Tavistock clinic, a huge gender clinic in London, by the National Health Service after a report from Hilary Cass and an upcoming book on it 2) This article in the Free Press from a “whistleblower” at Wash U gender clinic: https://www.thefp.com/p/i-thought-i-was-saving-trans-kids

That may be right, but of course there’s the immense anger of trans activists, who want the dominant narrative to be theirs, and react very strongly when it isn’t—when someone like Abigail Shrier questions it. (Remember when Chase Strangio, the ACLU lawyer, wanted her book banned? An ACLU lawyer!)

And a denoument. A reader sent me this from (gulp) Ann Coulter’s site, saying,

She prints below a letter from Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn…..I don’t have a way of verifying if it’s for real, but I have a feeling it is.”  Judge for yourself (bolding may come from the NYT or Coulter; I’m not sure): 


Yesterday, The New York Times received a letter delivered by GLAAD, an advocacy group, criticizing coverage in The Times of transgender issues.

It is not unusual for outside groups to critique our coverage or to rally supporters to seek to influence our journalism. In this case, however, members of our staff and contributors to The Times joined the effort. Their protest letter included direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name.

Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy. That policy prohibits our journalists from aligning themselves with advocacy groups and joining protest actions on matters of public policy. We also have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another’s journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks.

Our coverage of transgender issues, including the specific pieces singled out for attack, is important, deeply reported, and sensitively written. The journalists who produced those stories nonetheless have endured months of attacks, harassment and threats. The letter also ignores The Times’ 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 full list of our coverage can be viewed here, and any review shows that the allegations this group is making are demonstrably false.

We realize these are difficult issues that profoundly affect many colleagues personally, including some colleagues who are themselves transgender. We have welcomed and will continue to invite discussion, criticism and robust debate about our coverage. Even when we don’t agree, constructive criticism from colleagues who care, delivered respectfully and through the right channels, strengthens our report.

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.

We live in an era when journalists regularly come under fire for doing solid and essential work. We are committed to protecting and supporting them. Their work distinguishes this institution, and makes us proud.

Joe & Katie»

I’m not sure who Katie is, but I don’t keep up with NYT executives, as they turn over so quickly!

If this letter is real, it shows that the NYT is cracking down hard against activists on the paper’s staff, demanding they adhere to the paper’s policies.

And that’s all I know:

13 thoughts on “A new online battle between the New York Times and trans activists

  1. That NYTimes letter is for real….I have now seen it retweeted in various places.

    (BTW, I understand that one of NYTimes writer on this issue, published an article on Jan 22 about it…..but on Jan 20 she deleted her Twitter account. Likely because of the abuse heaped on her colleagues who have also written on trans issue in the last few months.)


  2. [Just an aside]

    In another “war” or cultural conflict …

    The New York Times has proactively begun covering the decisive turn of the battle in the Reading Wars. This is the acknowledgement of victory for proponents of Systematic Phonics First as the critically important method of teaching reading of human language. “See and Say” has been discredited at the NYT.

    I won’t distract this thread with details … I just wanted to cite there there has been an additional sea change at New York Times.

    1. But I don’t know how activists in this area can ever admit defeat. They might become more of a fringe viewpoint, but they cannot see themselves as wrong since they don’t refer to the fuller range of evidence. They only see the trans kids who really are helped and not those who are hurt.

  3. I agree with you Mark, I don’t think they will ever admit defeat, but I see much to be positive about here. By refusing to be intimidated by the activists, and denying their requests, the NYT is neutralising them. The activists have nowhere else to go if they can’t use their usual tactics. What else can they do?

    1. The very first comment on the transmedical sub (posted only 4 hours ago) is by a trans individual decrying the fact that people are hastening to take HRT before they are even sure whether or not they are trans!

      I’ve recently spent a lot of time reading the reddit subs for female-to-male transsexuals in hopes of getting a better understanding of the trans experience. I’ve come away from it with a lot of admiration for these men and compassion for their plight. More than that, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that the activists and ‘allies’ are doing them very little favor. They are making demands of society that not only provoke resistance, but cause real misunderstanding. On top of that, a lot of these demands are doing very little if anything to decrease trans dysphoria (which is the purported purpose of most of the demands for changes in language and pronoun norms).

      There are a lot of subtleties here. But the take home message is: activists are not doing a good job of representing what trans people need most.

      1. I just read more of the thread I referenced above and found this comment:

        “… ‘woke’ fools are destroying all the progress made by actual transexual people for over a century in society.”

        1. The bitter irony is that the truscum sub was created by and for trans people who were banned from other trans subs for having the “wrong” opinions about transsexuality. They seem to share a certain outcast and underdog position with the transmed and detrans communities. But sadly, even those three display a certain distrust and/or antagonism towards each other occationally.

          (I am not trans myself, but like you, I read much about and from them out of curiosity and sympathy.)

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