A comment on the MSM’s coverage of trans issues

June 12, 2023 • 11:10 am

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.)

8 thoughts on “A comment on the MSM’s coverage of trans issues

  1. Peter and dd were responding to my comment specifically about the NYT reporter Azeen Ghorayshi who I think has done fair and balanced reporting on gender. I agree that in general the NYT reporting on gender has been grossly biased, and I have no reason to doubt Peter’s reasoning that this is driven by editors with a narrative of oppressed trans people.

    I’m normally a glass-has-been-tipped-over-by-the-cat kind of pessimist wrt gender issues, but I think articles like that one by Ghorayshi are evidence that the Times are changing, and at least some of the editors will cater to the many Times subscribers like me with a different narrative who are willing to “be kind” but unwilling to deny reality.

    1. Hi Mike, thank you for this comment. Here are the 2 opening sentences from the Ghorayshi NYTimes article:

      “Britain’s National Health Service announced on Friday that it would limit the use of puberty-suppressing drugs to children enrolled in clinical trials. The change comes as the agency’s pediatric gender services have struggled to keep up with soaring demand.”

      That second sentence is misleading to the point of being a falsehood. Activists upon announcement of Tavistock’s closing immediately began to spin reasons for its closing and among the prominent reasons was issues related to the explosive growth case load. A way of distracting from the fact that the closure was due to clinical issues that would have been there big caseload or not.

      But there was also quick refutation of the “overload” spin and that refutation centered on clinical, treatment, and methodological failures. That’s why it is scheduled to close and gender services revamped.

      That second sentence, to me, is not the sign of fair reporting.

      1. Yes I agree with you. I noted that specific gap in the story in my comment yesterday. If you & Peter are correct (and I don’t doubt you are), editors insisted on the misleading wording of that paragraph about how the Tavistock “struggled to keep up with soaring demand.”

        But the rest of that report and other reports by Ghorayshi on gender and medical transitioning are fair and balanced. Other NYT reporters not so much (looking at you, Jere Longman). I’m not looking to disagree with you (I don’t) but I’m looking for reasons to be optimistic that even at the NYT the tide is turning on gender issues and reporting.

        1. Azeen recently published an article on the Danish retrospective study of trans suicides over 40 years. Like *every other mainstream reporter* who covered this topic, she deliberately omitted the fact that of the 12 completed suicides in the trans population (over 40 years), literally every single one was a trans woman.

          Not a singly trans man completed suicide in 4 decades, but you wouldn’t know that from the article. I had to get a copy of the full study to find that out. And as it turns out, Azeen left it out *on purpose* after the researchers managed to convince her (wink wink) that the data was ‘not significant’ and ‘could have been a coincidence.’ Was this an editorial decision? Probably, but at some point you have to acknowledge that it’s your byline.

          It’s entirely unclear why the total of 12 suicides over 40 years was considered ‘significant’ but not the fact that they were all natal males. But it’s part of an odious pattern among these reporters to flatten the ‘trans experience’ into a uniform treatment regimen with uniform results, rather than acknowledging that these are distinct cohorts (males and females) receiving wildly different medications and surgeries.

          It leaves me asking, what was the point of this study? What are we to do with the fact that the suicide rate among trans people (all lumped together) is 3.5 times higher than the general population (since they didn’t look into whether these folks were receiving treatment)? I saw some commentary that this study undermines claims that the suicide rate among this population isn’t really that high, but… 1.) in raw numbers, it actually isn’t that high, even if it’s elevated compared to the ‘cis’ population and 2.) it’s aggressively LOW for trans men, who comprise the large majority of currently transitioning youth.

          The whole enterprise is so shockingly dishonest at this point that I don’t know if it can be untangled. We’ll be dealing with zombie facts about this topic for decades.

  2. I was a reporter for 22 years at The Indianapolis Star. Every day editors would have a “budget meeting” about what stories staff was working on, and what would lead the next day’s coverage. The one question always asked was, “What are people talking about?” meaning that was what had to be covered. This started to change somewhat in 2000, when Gannett bought the paper, but the agenda always was set by the public, more or less, and the reporters who did their own “enterprise” stories. To this day USA Today is not as “narrative” driven as some other media, though it clearly has gotten the message on DEI. About all those younger journalists NYT has been hiring in recent years – it’s strictly a business decision, an attempt to lock in younger readers they view as the wave of the future, their core audience, the Bernie Sander/Progressive movement While the NYT may be an editor-driven “product” (that’s a standard term for media conglomerates), it’s really market share, profits and ROI the owners really care about, i.e., it’s just another business.

  3. Near the end of the genius cinema verité opus MEDIASTAN, there is an interview with Bill Keller, exec. editor of the New York Times. While Keller answers questions about the independence of the paper from political pressures, the camera pans around the room, focusing at one point on an autographed picture of President Obama. In a moment that could not possibly have been scripted, and that could not have come at a better time, a staffer pokes her head into the office to announce with glee some success in Hillary Clinton’s campaign (for the Dem. nomination? I can’t recall). It was the coup de grace of the entire film: that even in our democratic states, with all the worship of “freedom of speech,” at least the largest media and news outlets are utterly beholden to the powers that be – government, corporations, etc.

    It is a movie that begins at a lazy pace, almost entirely visual, no narration, seemingly predictable in the first scenes, and ends a powerful juggernaut of reason for Assange and Wikileaks.

    To wit: I could find no clip on youtube on this particular (or any) segment in Mediastan. You can rent it though. It’s worth it.

  4. Just to show how polarized this subject is, what is here being called biased uncritical reporting supporting trans activist positions was called transphobic by GLAAD, who tried to get New York Times to cave and better support their position. New York Times responded well, at least, which annoyed trans activists. I don’t have a subscription so don’t have an opinion on NYT’s trans related articles, but Jesse Singal talked about this when it came up and said the articles they were complaining about were anything but transphobic. Of course, “transphobic” today just means you question or disagree with some trans activist position. It no longer means you actually have a bias against trans people.

    Here is a post on GLAAD’s site discussing their position:


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