A Creature Wanting Form my new book of short stories and poems is available now.
Earlier this week I added my name to a letter addressed to the New York Times' management that was signed by roughly 1,000 current and former contributors to the paper and around 23,000 other media workers and Times subscribers. The argument of the letter was a simple one: please apply your own supposed standards of journalistic rigor to your coverage of issues related to trans people. That's it. A pretty reasonable ask.
The letter also included examples of how the paper's coverage of gay rights and AIDS over the decades was similarly lacking.
I shared this piece recently but Tom Scocca at Popula lays into the sorry state of coverage of trans issues at the Times very well.
The next day in a bit of ironic timing – although when you publish the same kind of piece over and over again this sort of coincidence is bound to happen – the paper ran an opinion piece by Pamela Paul titled In Defense of J.K. Rowling. It was as you'd expect ideologically sloppy and poorly written and essentially a series of lies. The specific manner of lying in Paul's piece is emblematic of the way the Times lies about these issues regularly: by concealing the true nature and motivations of their sources who they present as simply concerned citizens just asking questions about the broader topic who then after the slightest bit of digging turn out to be deeply entrenched anti-trans activists or bigots.
You see this same sort of thing happen when newspapers go and talk to "concerned parents of students" or whoever around the country and they fail to mention they are like the head of their local Public Schools Shouldn't Exist group.
There is nothing wrong with asking questions by the way. The problem is when you keep getting an answer you don't like and go back to asking the same question over and over and over again. It's like opening the fridge every few minutes hoping there will magically be something you want to eat in there this time except make the entire repetitive process evil.
Times management responded to the letter in a sneering and dismissive way saying more or less fuck you and eat shit. We run the Journalism Store and we decide what journalism is and is not around these parts. We don't take marching orders from activists they said. And in their view anyone who cares too deeply about trans lives is by nature an activist.
Also you're not allowed to work here if you behave like an activist they said.
(This "third-partying" response is what your mayor and other local leaders do any time people take to the streets by the way. Anyone protesting has been bussed in. They're not "us." It's not normal people like me and you whose opinions are valid.)
So you can see how this problem of their coverage of trans issues is self-sustaining. To argue too passionately for the dignity of trans lives is in their own words against their standards of journalism. Doing the opposite – through thinly veiled no-less biased "question asking" – is fine however. That's just doing the job.
Naturally fewer people who work there will want to risk their jobs by being perceived as insufficiently neutral on this matter. (I would say fucking suck it up and do the right thing but I am not exactly the best person to take employment advice from so who knows.)
This is a choice being made by the Times about the rules of the profession – which as a reminder are completely made up and not some immutable thing. It's similar to ones made by other papers like the Washington Post who have said a reporter who has been sexually assaulted can't report on issues of sexual assault or other papers who have subtly or overtly prevented Black reporters from covering matters of police violence.
It is in this way that the political outlook of a large media outlet is shaped internally. From there the way the general public perceives various issues takes form. Anyone with actual skin in the game is presumed biased and sidelined from weighing in on or even "asking questions" about a particular subject while those who are indifferent to or even outright hostile to the matter at hand (if they conceal the hostility behind a sufficient sheen of aloof academic politeness) are the only ones left to do the job. And thus we inch further and further to the right of center.
Not too far to the right mind you. We're all still nice urbane liberals here after all. Instead what papers like the Times do is manage the overton window like they're refereeing a football game where the object isn't to keep the opponent out of the end zone but instead to prevent either team from even getting anywhere beyond the forty yard line.
None of this is neutral reporting clearly but they want to maintain the fiction that it is.
Look I don't have a problem if someone is a transphobic bigot. Well obviously I do but hear me out. What really gets up my asshole is someone who publishes things that further the causes of and spreads the ideology of transphobic bigots all the while looking me in the eye and saying I'm doing this neutrally by the way. I am simply following the trail of evidence where it naturally leads.
No. Fuck you.
It's like being on a movie set where a method actor is refusing to break character in between takes. I can see that you're not actually Abraham Lincoln man. Can you stop fucking lying to me here?
I'm going to start repeating myself here so while I've re-shared this piece from June a couple times I think it's worth quoting from yet again.
At the time Emily Bazelon had written a piece that like Paul's from this week platformed anti-trans activist groups and presented their concerns as if they were just average people acting in good faith. Like most Times reporters she and her colleagues did not take the criticism well.
This is what our prestigious reporters believe about themselves. Well I don't know if they believe it believe it but it's what they perform that they believe because their job requires it.
I'm just a humble servant of the facts (which are always real and knowable by the way) that the universe has presented to me uninformed by my own choices.
This is the thinking of a bygone era. You are performing advocacy one way or the other whether you are aware of it or not. The difference now is that more of the audience is onto the con and can yell at you about it on Twitter every day.
There has never been such a thing as a completely neutral journalist but it's even more apparent today. And yet many of them still don't seem to realize it or refuse to admit it. And for what? What are they holding on to besides their professional stature? They all think that if they confess that they believe in anything they’re violating their little fraternity's oath of objectivity. That entire standard is just made up! It's not real. Journalists are like you can’t say Macbeth in the theatre and we’re all supposed to buy into their delusion.
I'd rather be a decent human being than a journalist in good standing but maybe that's just me.
Don't get me wrong you shouldn't lie when you are reporting – I certainly don't want to ever do that in here – but it's possible to perform the act of journalism without pretending you're a cipher who respawns every morning with a baby's brain and zero clue about how the world actually works.
On the other hand the very ethics of PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISM absolutely require that you lie in the first place. You have to pass along opinions that you know are wrong or hateful out of so-called objectivity but worse than that you then get to feel proud about doing so. You get fucking promoted for doing it well.
So no I'm sorry there is no distinction between serious capital-J Journalism and advocacy when it comes to issues of life or death anymore. When the debate is between one group of people who simply want to live their lives in peace and another who want to see them eradicated. Bazelon and many others like her in her rarified stratus are in fact advocates. In this piece she is explicitly performing an act of advocacy for a specific side on an extremely important issue. It's sad that she doesn't seem to see that but again her profession requires it.
Sorry but going to quote myself once again here from this piece from November:
The tip of the spear of American fascism at this point in time begins with transphobia and moves outward from there. Journalists who are sincerely concerned about preventing its further spread would do well to figure out in short order exactly which side it is that they are on.
The Times management it seems have made their choice pretty clear.
I talked about some of this stuff with Mattie Lubchansky the other day if you missed it.
Ok before you go, a real simple question. The news media: What the fuck is going on there?
I don’t know! I recently saw some examples of the way the New York Times handled anything to do with gay people over the years. There would be an article from like 1963 called something like “growth of overt homosexuality in city provokes wide concern.” Read any article from the news media from the nineties about Satanic Panic shit. They’re just credulous and fall for everything. These newsrooms don’t have any trans people in them, and if they do they get fired or their voices get suppressed.
The people who are promoting the panics are so much better at getting their shit in the newspaper. And when has the newspaper been very interested in the power and autonomy of marginalized people in any case? They’re always on the side of the powerful. It’s pretty cut and dry. This is a bodily autonomy thing, but they found something to sensationalize and they’re going to try to get their fucking clicks out of it. There’s more money in ginning up panic than there is in quelling it.
Listen I would love to stop writing about this shit. I would be very happy to not have to think about threats to the dignity of and lives of trans people as often as I do it's just that these neutral journalists won't shut the fuck up with their shitty little neutral questions.
We're not quite there yet but I'm worried that if they keep asking them for long enough they might finally get the answer they're really looking for.