The New York Times dismissed as advocacy two open letters with now thousands of signatories that raise concerns about the Times’ well-documented role in a burgeoning culture war against transgender people — a charge punctuated by the publication of a new opinion piece defending children’s author J.K. Rowling against accusations of anti-trans hatred.
One of the two letters is a call from just outside the house, organized by previous contributors to The New York Times. The core team behind the letter includes contributors such as Harron Walker, Jo Livingstone, Eric Thurm, Cecilia Gentilli, and Muna Mire in collaboration with the Freelance Solidarity Project.
With over 170 signatories at the time of publishing, the list grows ever longer. Members of the media at large as well as contributors, freelancers, readers and subscribers of The New York Times in addition to NewsGuild members are openly invited to sign the letter.
The current list includes rabbis, legislators, doctors, writers, and even actors such as Cynthia Nixon. Other notable signatories include Roxane Gay, Rebecca Solnit, Ed Yong, and Melissa Gira Grant. The Trans Journalist Association, which advocates for “accurate, sensitive coverage of trans stories” also signed on as a collective. (The author of this piece is a member of the Trans Journalist Association.)
The letter highlights the incongruence between the Times’ editorial guidelines and the quality of its reporting on trans people, which it says is laced with “pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language.”
The newspaper’s editorial guidelines demand that reporters “preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias” when cultivating their sources, remaining “sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance.” Yet the 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.
Additionally, the letter highlights an abuse of sourcing, such as experts who found their work regrettably misrepresented in the paper’s anti-trans content, and an instance where the president of the anti-trans organization Gender Care Consumer Advocacy Network (GCCAN) was portrayed as a lone detransitioner.
The letter documents The New York Times’ role, both past and present, as an agent of bigotry against the LGBTQ community. It details the way that pieces published by the paper in recent years have been weaponized in anti-trans legislation. It also traces back through the Times’ virulently anti-gay past, including discriminatory employment practices to woefully irresponsible coverage of the AIDS crisis.
The second letter was published by GLAAD in tandem with other LGBTQ advocacy organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, numerous PFLAG branches, and the Transgender Law Center.
The letter includes prominent signatories such as Dylan Mulvaney, Jameela Jamil, Amy Schneider, and Jazz Jennings.
Focusing on the paper’s more recent missteps, the letter points at opinion columnists Pamela Paul and David French. Paul is a cisgender, heterosexual woman who injects herself in LGBTQ issues, such as publishing a defense of J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans rhetoric and previously accusing trans advocates of erasing cisgender women in an article comparing efforts of inclusive language to the harm of overturning Roe v. Wade.
The GLAAD letter also highlights how The New York Times fumbled coverage of the Club Q shooting in November. After misidentifying a woman who fought off the shooter as “a drag dancer” rather than a transgender woman, it took an entire day and threats to withhold survivors’ interviews for the Times to amend its error.
GLAAD’s letter suggests three action items to change the course of the Times’ reporting. First and foremost is to immediately end its biased reporting on the trans community. The second is to hold a meeting with trans leaders and community members within the next two months, and to thoughtfully listen and engage. The final suggestion is to hire trans editors and writers full-time; two on the Opinion side and two on the news side within the next three months.
The letter also highlights that several mainstream outlets such as Time, Vox, and USA Today as well as numerous smaller outlets and even late night hosts have executed better coverage of the trans community than The New York Times, which has had a troubling pattern of missteps in its recent coverage of trans people.
A recent piece fearmongered about a vague connection between mental health issues, autism, and trans identity in minors, while failing to elaborate on why it would warrant concern. The same article repeated the Times’ past mistakes in neglecting to contextualize the explicitly anti-trans backgrounds of some sources, in this instance a support group of “skeptical” parents run by PROGDK, an anti-trans organization that joined protests outside of children’s hospitals. The piece also defies Associated Press guidance on repeating slurs in news coverage.
As told to the Los Angeles Blade, in the past year GLAAD has “had several off-the-record meetings with the New York Times to share with them our concerns about the coverage and the reporting that they’ve been doing on the trans community,” according to president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis.
Within a matter of hours, The New York Times came forth with its answer to both open letters that responded solely to GLAAD and ignored the work of its own contributors and the Trans Journalists Association. Citing a difference between “GLAAD’s advocacy mission” and “The Times’ journalistic mission,” the paper ultimately stands by its reporting, saying it did exactly what it set out to do and that “we’re proud of it.”
A Thursday staff memo from Times leadership shows how it is conflating the two letters, characterizing them as “protests organized by advocacy groups.”
The New York Times cannot continue to perpetuate this narrative without drawing criticism or gambling its reputation. Journalist Ashley Feinberg pointed out that the paper is jeopardizing its credibility, noting that by conflating the two letters the Times is either “intentionally lying” or “incapable of clearly relaying the facts of a situation.”
In response, the drafters of the letter organized by New York Times contributors added an update noting that the paper is dodging accountability by conflating the two letters.
“Though we coordinated timing with GLAAD, our letters are very different documents. For example, we are not an advocacy organization. Our letter is addressed directly to the Standards editor, and makes a clear case drawing on the Times’ own history and editorial standards.”