How the most right-on paper in America is being torn apart by a trans row: Senior journalists at The New York Times have been harassed and threatened by an unholy alliance of woke celebrities and their own younger colleagues – but they refuse to cave in
The imposing headquarters of The New York Times was built of glass, supposedly to highlight the fact that the august newspaper has nothing to hide.
But last month, something happened there that the management would have very much preferred to go unnoticed.
An electronic billboard lorry parked outside the building bearing the message: ‘Dear New York Times: Stop questioning trans people’s right to exist & access medical care.’
The stunt was part of a campaign against America’s biggest newspaper to force it to stop criticising the transgender movement and specifically the controversial medical treatments offered to some children wanting to change gender.
What makes it so embarrassing for the 172-year-old newspaper — the bible of the city’s liberal elite and nicknamed the Grey Lady for its dour, sober-minded reputation — is that huge numbers of its own staff and contributors actually support the campaign being waged against it.
The imposing headquarters of The New York Times was built of glass, supposedly to highlight the fact that the august newspaper has nothing to hide
But last month, something happened there that the management would have very much preferred to go unnoticed. An electronic billboard lorry parked outside the building bearing the message: ‘Dear New York Times: Stop questioning trans people’s right to exist & access medical care’
Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the trans debate appears to be tearing the paper apart as senior, more experienced staff insist on reporting the growing concerns among scientists, doctors and parents about the effects of transgender treatment, especially on children — while younger, woke employees are furious at what they see as an attack on the trans movement they wholeheartedly support.
The trouble, simmering for some time, burst into the open a few days ago when more than 180 contributors to The New York Times signed a letter to the paper’s ‘managing editor for standards’, accusing it of fomenting ‘bigotry and pseudoscience’.
The newspaper was following the lead of ‘far-Right hate groups’, they added, in what they claimed was excessive and biased coverage of transgender issues.
Signatories to the letter — which controversially named and shamed specific journalists — included famous names such as Sex And The City actress Cynthia Nixon, writer and actress Lena Dunham, and the U.S. intelligence whistleblower Chelsea Manning, herself a trans woman, who was jailed after leaking hundreds of thousands of secret files about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This virtuous army of self-described ‘thinkers’ accused the newspaper of publishing ‘irresponsible misinformation about trans people’.
Articles they singled out for censure included one last June headlined The Battle Over Gender Therapy, which, they said, ‘uncritically used the term ‘Patient Zero’ ‘ to refer to a child in the Netherlands who was one of the first to have transgender treatment.
This phrase ‘vilifies transness as a disease to be feared’, asserted the complainants.
They also attacked a feature headlined When Students Change Gender Identity And Parents Don’t Know, which, they said, ‘fails to make clear that court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups’.
These groups, they went on, ‘regard trans people as an ‘existential threat to society’ and seek to replace the American public education system with Christian homeschooling’ — but, they claimed, New York Times readers were never told that.
The protest letter also mentioned three articles that last year were cited by Arkansas’ attorney general in support of a new law in the Republican-controlled state ‘which would make it a felony, punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment, for any medical provider to administer certain gender-affirming medical care to a minor (including puberty blockers) that diverges from their sex assigned at birth’.
The stunt was part of a campaign against America’s biggest newspaper to force it to stop criticising the transgender movement and specifically the controversial medical treatments offered to some children wanting to change gender
The signatories of the letter compared the newspaper’s transgender reporting with what they described as its ‘demonising [of] queers’ in the 1960s and 1970s, and its alleged hounding of homosexuals when the Aids crisis broke in the 1980s.
One of the letter’s organisers, British writer Jo Livingstone, has even speculated that the paper’s coverage is being masterminded by a ‘transphobe’ high up in the organisation, primarily to increase readership.
The diatribe was co-ordinated with a separate letter written by a trans advocacy group and backed by more than 100 organisations which accused The New York Times of ‘spreading inaccurate and harmful misinformation about transgender people and issues’.
The great irony in all this is that The New York Times prides itself on being one of the most progressive newspapers in America. It yields to nobody in its liberal values and sanctimonious self-regard.
For good measure, critics have drawn attention to its appetite for making deranged attacks on Britain and its institutions, portraying them as irredeemably racist. It is forever spelling out the supposed evils of the Empire.
Little more than two hours after the death of the Queen last year, for instance, it ran a piece by Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff, urging readers not to ‘romanticise her era’ because the Queen allegedly ‘helped obscure a bloody history of decolonisation whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged’.
But what cannot be obscured any longer is the scale of the revolt at the Grey Lady. Feelings are so high that, a few days ago, the paper admitted one of its journalists was spat on near their home by someone who was incensed by the NYT’s trans coverage.
The newspaper’s executive editor, Joe Kahn, has tried to quell the anger on both sides inside the paper, emailing staff to demand that they stop publicly attacking each other.
He insisted the articles on the trans issue that had offended critics were ‘deeply reported and sensitively written’, yet ‘the journalists who produced those stories nonetheless have endured months of attacks, harassments and threats’ on social media.
And in an apparent show of defiance that has left the paper’s critics even more livid, a day after the protest letters were sent, the NYT published an opinion piece defending J.K. Rowling against accusations that she is a ‘transphobe’.
Columnist Pamela Paul wrote: ‘This campaign against Rowling is as dangerous as it is absurd. The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie last summer is a forceful reminder of what can happen when writers are demonised.’
As the Harry Potter author knows only too well, it takes guts to take on the trans lobby.
To a certain degree, the trans furore at The New York Times mirrors what has happened at Britain’s most famously liberal newspaper, The Guardian.
In 2020, more than 300 Guardian staff signed a letter of complaint over a ‘pattern of publishing transphobic content’ at the paper. Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore subsequently left the paper, saying she had been bullied out by colleagues because of her views on sex and gender.
Other female writers have followed suit, including fellow columnist Hadley Freeman, complaining about the erasure of women’s rights and the paper’s ‘censoring’ of any views that conflict with those of the transgender lobby.
But in contrast to The Guardian, which Freeman alleged is no longer prepared to countenance publishing articles that question trans ideology, The New York Times has recently insisted on doing so.
After initially welcoming the transgender movement and portraying its critics as bigots, the NYT became more sceptical as questions mounted.
In November last year, it published an investigation into the puberty-blocking drugs administered to children (as young as nine in the U.S.) who are transitioning.
What makes it so embarrassing for the 172-year-old newspaper — the bible of the city’s liberal elite and nicknamed the Grey Lady for its dour, sober-minded reputation — is that huge numbers of its own staff and contributors actually support the campaign being waged against it (pictured: Susan DeCarava, the president of The NewsGuild of New York, speaks during a rally to support a union walk out at the New York Times building in Manhattan, New York on December 8, 2022)
The investigation showed that these drugs are anything but risk-free, citing studies that showed significant links to osteoporosis. ‘It’s increasingly clear that the drugs are associated with deficits in bone development.’
And it was this kind of coverage — addressing both sides of the argument — that precipitated the extraordinary civil war now taking place.
The divide at The New York Times is generally one of age, just as it was in 2020 when a furious outcry by younger staff scared management into pushing out a comment section editor who had run a piece by a Republican senator calling for the army to sort out the persistent rioting by some supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Two weeks ago, the Old Guard hit back in the form of dozens of New York Times journalists, including some of its most senior reporters, signing another letter, this time attacking their staff union, which has supported those criticising the paper’s trans coverage.
‘We ask that our union work to advance, not erode, our journalistic independence,’ they wrote sternly.
‘Our duty is to be independent. We pursue the facts wherever they may lead. We are journalists, not activists. That line should be clear.’
Of course, some may point out that this huffing and puffing over journalistic excellence and the tireless pursuit of the truth is somewhat laughable from a newspaper whose pejorative coverage of British life has, at times, been very far from accurate or fair.
But the outcome of this acrimonious battle over trans issues at the Grey Lady — between the experienced hands and the woke millennials succeeding them — could have profound ramifications for the culture war that is causing such divisions on both sides of the Atlantic