On my recent post called “The UK’s National Health Service bans puberty blockers for minors except for clinical trials; NYT reports it without mentioning potential physical harms of blockers,” reader Peter left a very good comment that I’m reproducing here in case you missed it. (I’ve changed some of the bolding to dispel confusion.)
I agree with dd and disagree with Mike: The New York Times’ coverage on transgender youth medicine and trans issues in general is subpar. And this is not because the Times does not have excellent journalists. It’s because of editorial decisions made at the top of the Times hierarchy.
This is from a journalist who left the Times in July 2016, after almost 12 years as an editor and correspondent:
Michael Cieply: Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching. Nov 10, 2016
. . . it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes.
. . . Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”
It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.
Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”
Here are four indicators to judge the quality of journalism when the topic is transgender stuff:
1) Does the article claim that puberty blockers are reversible? – We don’t know that. The evidence we have rejects this claim.
2) Does the article tell you that many medical associations in the US support gender affirming care? – True, but misleading. There is not one medical association in the US that has based its statements in support of gender-affirming care on a rigorous systematic review of the evidence. Not one! Not the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not the Endocrine Society – it’s guidelines are about the how of gender transition not about whether puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones are a good idea in the first place.
3) Does the article claim that the rate of detransition is low or that experts believe it to be low? – This rate is unknown. There are no good-quality studies on this issue. Even the statement that experts believe that rate to be low is misleading. What is low? Who cares about what experts believe if these believes are not supported by scientific evidence?
See Scott Gavura: Fooling myself.(June 2, 2016)
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman
“The three most dangerous words in medicine: in my experience.” – Mark Crislip
And here: David Isaacs & Dominic Fitzgerald: Seven alternatives to evidence based medicine. British Medical Journal (BMJ), 18-25 December 1999, Vol 319, page 1618
4) Does the article use the expressions “culture war” or “moral panic” to avoid telling the readers what opponents of the radical trans agenda think?
There are some journalists whose writing on trans issues are trustworthy: Lisa Selin Davis, Jesse Singal, Bernard Lane, Leor Sapir (not a journalist, Harvard Ph.D. in political philosophy or political science, writes for City Journal, published by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, New York). The first three are mainly writing on Substack. Coincidence? Certainly not!
I’ve been reading the New York Times for 25 years. In the last three years the Times has published about 6 good-quality articles on trans issues. The overwhelming majority of Times articles on trans issues are distorted and misleading because the issues are viewed through a partisan/woke lens. Transgender people, because of a history of discrimination, are viewed as sacred victims. Hence, what radical transgender activists say goes. They can’t be wrong. If you criticize their views, then you are ipso facto transphobic. You are charged of arguing from a position of hate, fear or ignorance. (Analogous to Jerry allegedly “punching down,” when he criticizes the howlers that were published recently in Scientific American.)