'Will not tolerate': New York Times warns its journalists amid criticism of reporting on transgender people

'Will not tolerate': New York Times warns its journalists amid criticism of reporting on transgender people
Image via Creative Commons.

The New York Times is under fire for the second day in a row over its coverage of transgender people – now for its response to the criticism of its coverage of transgender people, and also its warning to its own journalists made by the Old Gray Lady's executive editor.

On Wednesday, two very separate, yet damning letters were sent to The Times. One, an open letter signed by nearly 200 current and former Times contributors, criticized the paper's coverage of transgender people. It was not only fact-based and chock-full of examples, but it also took a deep dive into The Times' biased history of poor reporting on LGBTQ people overall.

The second open letter came from 100 or more LGBTQ organizations and leaders, including GLAAD and HRC, also criticizing the paper’s coverage of transgender people. While there were some similarities to both letters, they were clearly unrelated and from very different groups.

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Wednesday afternoon, The Times sent a statement to several publications that had reported on one or both letters. It accomplished being both defensive and dismissive. Rather than acknowledging any room for opportunity or growth, rather than welcoming honest criticism and offering to sit down with LGBTQ people or groups, The Times' statement chalked up its biased coverage to having a different "mission" than GLAAD.

"We understand how GLAAD sees our coverage. But at the same time, we recognize that GLAAD’s advocacy mission and The Times’s journalistic mission are different," the Times' response from a spokesperson reads.

On Thursday, rather than take some time to review its policies on its coverage, or even its "journalistic mission," The Times published an opinion piece defending one of the people accused of being anti-transgender, noted author J.K. Rowling.

Regardless of your opinion of Rowling, regardless of your opinion of her public statements about transgender people, publishing a defense of Rowling was a clear shot across the bow, a definite – if you will – middle finger to the transgender community, and every one of The Times' contributors who signed a letter that might have jeopardized their careers at the paper of record, along with the 100 LGBTQ organizations and leader who sent the separate letter.

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"The New York Times isn’t defending J.K. Rowling," The Human Rights Campaign warned on Twitter, suggesting the op-ed had a greater purpose, "they're emboldening transphobic views and giving people a free pass to discriminate against and harm trans people."

But it gets worse.

On Thursday, New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn published a statement chastising its contributors, falsely conflating both the contributors' letter and GLAAD’s letter, and making clear he does not agree its coverage is biased, and making clear nothing will change.

Semafor's Max Tani posted Kahn’s letter to Twitter.

"Yesterday, The New York Times received a letter delivered by GLAAD, an advocacy group, criticizing coverage in The Times of transgender issues. It is not unusual for outside groups to critique our coverage or to rally supporters to seek to influence our journalism. In this case, however, members of our staff and contributors to The Times joined the effort. Their protest letter included direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name," Kahn wrote.

Again, there are two separate letters. Times contributors and staffers signed onto a different letter from the GLAAD letter, yet Kahn appears to suggest they are one and the same.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Lowery went even further, tweeting: "pretty wild that the NYT response is to…lie about the origin of the letter."

"Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy," Kahn says, condemning those who signed the letter. "That policy prohibits our journalists from aligning themselves with advocacy groups and joining protest actions on matters of public policy. We also have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another's journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks," he adds.

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"Our coverage of transgender issues, including the specific pieces singled out for attack, is important, deeply reported, and sensitively written. The journalists who produced those stories nonetheless have endured months of attacks, harassment and threats," he writes, indicating that he believes they are the real victims, not the transgender people harmed by The Times' biased coverage – coverage cited by right-wing lawmakers and officials to defend anti-trans policies and legislation.

Kahn wholly denies any room for growth, any error, any opportunity to do better, claiming, "any review shows that the allegations this group is making are demonstrably false."

After both stating The Times welcomes "discussion, criticism and robust debate," and then stating, "Even when we don't agree, constructive criticism from colleagues who care, delivered respectfully and through the right channels, strengthens our report," Kahn levels what appears be a threat.

"We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums."

The Daily Beast called it "a stern newsroom memo defending the coverage and condemning contributors and staffers who railed against it."

But The Daily Beast also notes the opinion piece published Thursday, 'In Defense of J.K. Rowling', was written by columnist Pamela Paul, who notably wrote a piece questioning the legitimacy of trans women. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has been [a] leading critic of trans issues.

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