Less than 24 hours after receiving two open letters criticizing its biased coverage of trans issues, the New York Times published an opinion piece vehemently defending J.K. Rowling’s anti-trans sentiments.
The New York Times has a history of bad-faith reporting on transgender issues and spreading anti-trans misinformation that originates from far-right bigotry to its massive readership. Media Matters’ Ari Drennen analyzed the Times’ 2022 coverage of the topic, and found that the publication “featured profile after profile that platformed anti-trans extremists, fearmongered about the price of transgender acceptance, and framed rising trans identification as a social contagion.”
On February 15, the Times received two open letters laying out the ways the paper has produced biased content on transgender issues. The first letter, which was signed by over 370 current and former Times contributors, denounced the Times for having “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 also mentioned that the paper is “follow[ing] the lead of far-right hate groups in presenting gender diversity as a new controversy warranting new, punitive legislation.” A second letter, published on the GLAAD website and signed by over a hundred advocacy organizations and community leaders, implicated the Times in “platforming lies, bias, fringe theories, and dangerous inaccuracies.”
The Times responded to the letters by defending its reporting and doubled down on its stance the following day by publishing an opinion piece titled In Defense of J.K. Rowling. The article, written by former New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, outright denies that the Harry Potter author has made anti-trans comments. Paul says in the piece that “nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic.”
Rowling’s track record shows otherwise. Rowling voiced her support for Maya Forstater, a British woman who was fired for a pattern of anti-trans comments and statements including “transwomen are male” and that believing “transwomen are women” is a “literal delusion.” Rowling later published an essay in which she claimed to be “worried about the new trans activism” and “the huge explosion in young women wishing to transition and also about the increasing numbers who seem to be detransitioning.” Shortly thereafter, she echoed the far-right claim that trans people are being forced to pursue gender-affirming medical care. Despite backlash, Rowling continued her attacks on transgender rights.
These are just a few examples of Rowling’s history of attacking transgender people. Yet Pamela Paul claims that “the characterization of her as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views” and compares the “campaign” against Rowling to the stabbing of Salman Rushdie. Nowhere in the article does Paul mention the fact that transgender people are four times more likely to be the victims of violence than cisgender people. Public figures like Rowling amplifying anti-trans sentiments can have real-world consequences: Brianna Ghey, a transgender 16-year-old in Rowling’s home country, was stabbed to death in early February after years of bullying related to her trans identity.
The Times’ decision to publish this article despite receiving requests from the LGBTQ community and its own employees to stop platforming bigotry is inexcusable. It should go without saying that the publication that is often considered the gold-standard for journalism should not so heavily prioritize the voices of those who spread right-wing hate directed at marginalized communities.
Correction (2/17/23): This piece originally misstated Brianna Ghey's age at the time of her death. In fact, she was 16 years old.