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Trans Advocacy As Journalism

A reader writes:

A few years ago, there was a very sad murder of a transgender person in my hometown of Ithaca, New York. Today the local paper runs a very long account of her life and murder [1], which is good throughout, with one huge exception:

[Quoting from the newspaper’s note to readers:] As a matter of ethical principle, we generally do not allow outside sources to review our work before publication. In this case, however, we felt the need to tell Josie’s story in the fairest, most accurate way possible over-ruled that policy.

We turned to Luca Maurer, Ithaca College’s Center for LGBTQ Education, Outreach and Services director, who in addition to being an expert voice also knew Josie personally. Maurer reviewed our story before publication and contributed valuable insight into accurate terminology, pronoun usage and context regarding barriers faced by the transgender community. With Maurer’s guidance, we were able to make several key decisions designed to honor Josie’s legacy and memory, such as omitting the name she was given at birth and not including childhood photos that did not depict Josie in her affirmed gender.

The reader continues:

As a lover of good journalism (and an intense student journalist in high school and college), I find this horrifying––even though, again, I’m not a conservative, and I have transgender friends, whose transgenderness I support. But violating one of the most sacred principles of journalism to hew to these latter-day left-wing shibboleths––maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, especially given everything Jesse Singal has gone through in his journalism, but it’s such a reversal of priorities. Do many journalists today see themselves as activists, rather than seekers of objective truth?

Yes, absolutely, they do! Over a decade ago, I had an argument with a colleague in the newsroom about our newspaper’s coverage of the gay marriage issue. He honestly did not see that there was more than one side to the issue, and that there was anything wrong with the newspaper’s advocacy journalism. “Would we feel obligated to give equal time to the KKK?” he asked — and he wasn’t kidding. This attitude was common all the way up the chain, from the newsroom to the management suites.

Because the Ithaca Journal let a commissar approve their story — and direct the story — prior to publication, you can be sure that everything in it is propaganda, even what is true. It’s propaganda not because it’s all false — perhaps none of it is false — but because they will have omitted any facts that complicate this trans person’s story, or that violate the Narrative. The Ithaca Journal completely destroys its credibility with this move.

As a general rule, I regard every piece of mainstream journalism about any topic related to LGBT issues as propaganda. Again, I don’t mean “propaganda” in the sense that it’s false, but propaganda in the sense that it is the marshaling of facts to advocate for a particular pre-decided point of view. Because after all, why would you give equal time to the KKK?

What conservatives and others who are skeptical in any way of LGBT ideology need to understand, and understand now, is that in the minds of very many liberals — especially white liberals — what we believe is no different from Ku Kluckery. I’m not kidding.

By the way, take a look at Alex Tabarrok’s chart documenting how extremely woke The New York Times became around 2011.  [2]

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70 Comments To "Trans Advocacy As Journalism"

#1 Comment By JWJ On June 13, 2019 @ 1:28 pm

Mr. D wrote in a NFR: “Even the NYT’s former executive editor, Bill Keller, famously said that the paper tries its best to play it straight down the middle in covering politics, business, foreign affairs, etc.,”

Mr. Keller was lying or delusional. And anyone who believes that about the NYT is delusional (at best). The NYT simply does NOT try its best to be fair. The NYT is a leftist religious propaganda publication, not a news source.

How many times each day do you think the NYT writers/editors:
omit information unfavorable to leftism or
slant information or
bury information (i.e. “Name that party) or
use loaded adjectives (i.e. “Republicans POUNCE on Democrat charged with corruption”) or
simply lie in favor of the religious leftist dogma?

There is no hidden marching orders or commands from up top. The NYT simply hires religious leftist true believers and turns them loose.

#2 Comment By Anne On June 13, 2019 @ 3:15 pm

Rod is absolutely right to be concerned for journalistic ethics. Newspapers should not be giving third party political, religious or other types of activists censorship rights over their stories. On the other hand, as DRK points out, community watchdogs or “public editors,” as the Columibia Journalism Review calls them, perform a public service by catching instances of unfairness or bias where they see it. The press often walks a fine line when trying to maintain a commitment to truth. Acknowledging that editors or reporters can get it wrong, or slant coverage inadvertently is a necessary component of that commitment.

Ironically, the Ithica Journal may have breached its own ethics by exercising an abundance of caution with regard to transgender issues, probably out of respect for the dead (and murdered) in this case. The paper considered Luca Maurer an “expert,” not an activist, on the subject, and contrary to what some apparently think, there are legitimate scientists, clinicians and researches in the field. The paper may have reasoned that having Maurer review the story would be akin to having a medical expert review a story about heart valves or somesuch. The difference is, in this case, the purpose appears mostly to be not to offend the trans community, rather than to simply get its facts and terminology right.

Bottom line: They did it as a courtesy to the dead, and at least they admitted there was something not totally kosher about it, which is good. But the story itself suffered, I think, from this form of oversight: By following the activist side of Maurer’s suggestions and omitting pictures of the deceased as a child, they omitted a major portion of this young person’s life journey. Being born looking like a gender alien to how you feel is, after all, a big part of the transgender story. Not wanting that shown is a matter of ideology, not truth.

#3 Comment By ElJimador On June 13, 2019 @ 6:24 pm

Jonah R.: “For all the ultra-sensitivity of the reporter, I find the transgender angle a tangential curiosity rather than a root cause of anything, although I can tell that’s not supposed to be my take-away.”

I thought the article was clear that the root cause was domestic violence. In fact it directly quotes the DA’s conclusion to that effect as well as the family’s agreement that this was not a hate crime, so I’m not sure how much clearer it could have made it. The way I read it, the detailing of her life as a trans is only context to the murder insofar as trans women are statistically more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Otherwise all that was just to paint the portrait of who this person was.

Local papers do features on murder victims all the time, particularly in cases like this that attract wider coverage. The entire point is to tell you who the victim was in life as well as what led to the murder. So in this case the focus on her being trans was not to draw a straight line from that to her murder but simply because it wouldn’t have been possible to tell her story without making it the focus. For better or worse it was who she was and not just a “curiosity” to the people who were close to her.

#4 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 9:14 pm

Tabarrok’s charts are useful, as is the New York Daily News story about the original Stonewall Riot of 50 years ago that I came across recently, as is a cold war thriller I read a couple of weeks ago about the space race, for reminding me that advocacy journalism is nothing new, nor is one-sidedness in reporting on social issues, and that while the pendulum may have swung too far, queers in the press have come a long way, baby, which I think some of you may forget, or be utterly ignorant of, and that mostly in the last 25 years.

#5 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 9:16 pm

Anne says: “By following the activist side of Maurer’s suggestions and omitting pictures of the deceased as a child, they omitted a major portion of this young person’s life journey. Being born looking like a gender alien to how you feel is, after all, a big part of the transgender story. Not wanting that shown is a matter of ideology, not truth.”

Agreed, and very well put.

#6 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 9:21 pm

Jeff R says: “Do real, living transgender people pretend that they never had the name they were given, weren’t born into the opposite gender and lived as such for the first X years of their lives, or get offended if you mention these things? I kind of doubt it.”

Some of them, at least to a degree, yes. I’ve heard the phrase “dead-naming” from a trans friend while playing cards.

#7 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 10:02 pm

Dave Griffey says: “It’s just that something someone said a week or so ago puts it into perspective: The Right thinks the Left is wrong, the Left thinks the Right is evil. Most on the Right wouldn’t say ‘if I give a liberal point of view, I’ll have to balance it with Stalin.’ That those on the Left say that very thing about conservative points of view and the KKK, and with a straight face, is all we need to know. Except that view is hardly confined to one journalist. But as my son said, the Right is fighting trench warfare against the Left’s Blitzkrieg strategy yet despite loss after loss, still is pretty sure it’s the best approach.”

Comments like this make me laugh. Have you never heard of Rush Limbaugh? Ann Coulter? Glenn Beck? These are not minor figures on the Right, and they, and MANY others, have been calling liberals and anyone to the left of the late Alan Colmes evil and sick and depraved and wicked and worse than that (murderers, terrorists and traitors all come to mind) for decades. During the Clinton Administration, the Right sank to the level of calling liberal and Democratic women ugly (e.g., Albright, Reno and Hilary), and highlighting how beautiful conservative women were (e.g., Coulter, Malkin and Ingraham). Liberals and progressives have been playing catch up for decades – they actually went and started recruiting beautiful liberal and progressive spokeswomen – and then they finally got a gift in the George W. Bush Administration.

After booting Phil Donahue off the air during the run up to the Second Gulf War in an act of cowardice and appeasement, MSNBC finally found a unique voice when significant numbers of Americans turned against that war. And the Bush Administration’s pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina cemented in the minds of liberals and progressives that they didn’t have to cower and apologize and hem and haw anymore every time some right-winger on the radio or TV called one of them a liberal.

The sheer historical forgetfulness or ignorance of right-wingers today over how THEY and moderates dominated the mainstream media for decades is really something else. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has been documenting it for 30 years or more, with report after report about guest lists on NPR, Nightline, the Sunday Morning Interview shows, PBS’ NewsHour, CNN, the list goes on. But let’s break it down:

* I’ll happily discuss with you all the turn to the left in the mainstream media on SOCIAL ISSUES over the last 50-70 years, first on race, then on sex, then on sexuality. It is absolutely real, but it did not happen all at once.

* And we can talk about the continued force of the war-mongering establishment in the mainstream media, in both their commentary AND supposedly straight news, when it comes to FOREIGN POLICY. There’s been no significant change there, in my opinion, unless you’re like Reed Irvine and consider people like Brent Scowcroft and John Kerry appeasers, and Walter Cronkite was a closet communist.

* Or we can talk about how the media is still utterly mainstream in its coverage of ECONOMIC, and especially LABOR, issues. That whole “Lean In” moment was feminist, true, but it was feminism for the upper middle class and big bourgeoisie. Most mainstream journalists working for the major newspapers, networks and news outlets, especially the ones who appear on TV, live in an economic bubble. I’d actually be curious to see some of the Ithaca Jornal’s coverage of local economic issues.

Besides social issues, and that includes religion – I fondly remember when newspapers had religion reporters, and when a few of them even regularly covered labor issues – what exactly does the right have to complain about when it comes to mainstream journalism? On economic issues, there are elements on the right and the left that actually have similar complaints about news coverage of trade and industrial issues. The same goes for some aspects of foreign policy and military affairs coverage (although Russiagate, Obama-nostalgia and “humanitarian interventionism” have scrambled the brains of millions of liberals). But if we want to have a serious discussion about social issues and the mainstream media, be prepared to talk about when Pat Roberston and Jerry Falwell were regularly interviewed by Ted Koppel about gay issues, and what they had to say about 9/11.

#8 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 10:07 pm

Leslie Fain says: “The AP Stylebook, if I remember correctly, going at least as far back to when I was in the college of Communication at U of A, decided pro-lifers couldn’t use the term they chose for themselves—prolifers— instead labeling them anti-choicers. Yet here they are, falling all over themselves, to appease LGBTQ activists and groups.”

And gay activists, including GLAAD, lobbied and protested for years, at least a decade, to get the New York Times to stop using “homosexuals” as their default word for gay and lesbian individuals and the community/movement. So look, it happened to our side, too. The press used to fall all over themselves appeasing religious figures, too.

#9 Comment By Krishnan Venkatram On June 13, 2019 @ 10:10 pm

YAOIAS

Yet Another Only In America Story

#10 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 10:14 pm

Kid Charlemagne says: “Please note – trans advocacy is almost entirely about men. There are perishingly few stories of trans advocacy that are about women transitioning and the issues they deal with. We typically are told about born-men who wish to transition or who wish to enter women’s bathrooms, or who wish to compete against women in sport. More specifically, trans advocacy is largely about affluent white men. Every now and then there is the article about the murder/exploitation of poor trans men for sure. But the star of the show in the media is the self-actualizing white born-male college graduate who is manspreading his way into hitherto female spaces. Plus ça change…”

This may be true about coverage of adult trans people, and the few YouTube star “baby drag queens,” but I don’t think that is the case for stories about trans youth, especially teens. It seems to me that many of the stories Rob has highlighted or referred his readers to regarding trans youth, trans medical care and families responding to trans children, have been about girls transitioning or wanting to transition to being male.

#11 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 10:56 pm

I typed the word “homosexual” into the tracking chart and found the following (you can hover over the dot indicating each year):

* The Times’ usage of the word spiked in 1977, I assume due to Anita Bryant’s successful campaigns against amending local non-discrimination ordinances to include gays, then fell off, flat-lined between ’79 and ’80 (Harvey Milk and the Moral Majority, I’m guessing) and then dropped like a stone in 1981.

* From 1982 to 1987, the Times used “homosexual” more and more often, I assume due to the emerging AIDS crisis, and then it fell off a cliff and continued dropping until 1991. Thank you, ACT-UP, Queer Nation and GLAAD.

* Wow, BIG comeback for “homosexual” in the Times during the 1992-1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” controversy (Thanks, Bill, also Queer Nation was effectively dead, if memory serves, and ACT-UP was fading), with 1993 surpassing even 1987, but then it dropped off just as quickly.

* Over the 21 years from 1997 to 2017, the use of the word “homosexual” by the NY Times “peaked” in 1998 at a level lower than its usage every year since 1970, and it hasn’t match the 1970 rate since 2005, with a series of valleys and peaks after that, but all at a historically low level.

So, “homosexual” was still the Times’ word of choice for gay men and/or the gay community/movement for roughly the 25 years after the Stonewall Riots, rising in usage during periods of right-wing anti-gay activism and falling off during periods of radical gay activism. I imagine the folks at GLAAD could tell you when the battle was finally won and the Times retired the word as it’s go-to identifier, but my guess would be that it was sometime between 20 and 25 years ago.

Just a little meat on the bones for the next time you want to talk about how left-wing the Times has always been about social issues (Abe Rosenthal?).

Maybe I should type “libtard” and “feminazi” into that Times word tracker.

#12 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 11:08 pm

jz says: “…but in an era where Trump is seen as a special case who justifies the suspension of typical norms, I have no confidence that the NYTs or its ilk won’t slant ‘straight news’ against Trump if it fits their overall orange man bad narrative. And quite frankly this has been going on long before Trump.”

On foreign intervention, this is only true if Trump or Obama do not follow every bloodthirsty impulse of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Trump has gotten pats on the head for his bombing of Syria, and no pushback on Venezuela that I have heard of, at all. And Yemen only got attention after one of the press’ own was murdered by the Saudi government.

Honest Question: On the economy, has the press been particularly critical or skeptical of Trump’s stewardship, or – be honest, here – have they just failed to suck up to him as much as his supporters want them to? My impression was that the press largely gave Obama a pass on the economy, and certainly didn’t give much attention to progressive or left-wing critics of his trade policies and inaction on major labor priorities, or his administration’s hostility towards teachers unions; GOP and conservative push-back on financial regulation seemed to get much more respectful attention. How is the press covering Trump and the economy?

#13 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 11:15 pm

kevin says: “I’ve read a lot of old Pravda newspapers from the Reagan years. That was one of the three or so major newspapers in Soviet times, and the quasi-official paper of the Communist Party. One thing that completely floors me:

“Pravda in Soviet times was much more balanced in its reporting than The New York Times, The Washington Post, or any of the major news channels (CNN, MSNBC) are today. I remember a lot of the events in these old stories, and am horrified to realize that it was ME that was subjected to propaganda, *not* those living under the Soviet regime.

“Did anyone know that the Soviet Union had stores equivalent to the old Radio Shacks in the U.S., where you could freely buy electronics components? That it was a popular hobby to build radio transceivers in Soviet times, and perfectly legal? I’ve spoken to enough older people who actually did it, that I know it’s true.”

Two questions:

1. Have you read Pravda’s coverage of the Chernobyl disaster, and if so, have you seen the recent HBO docudrama? Any insights or thoughts, either way?

2. Do you have a blog, and/or, can you refer me to any blogs in English about what life was like in the old USSR? I prefer honest warts and all, reporting, of course, but I’ll take apologists and blistering critics if you can find some wheat under the chafe.

#14 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 11:27 pm

Greg says: “Kevin in what city do you live? My sister is just now relocating to Russia and plans to stay for the foreseeable future; we have talked about following her, perhaps part time. I have been there many times (all good experiences to date) but I am curious about an ex pat experience outside Moscow or St Petersburg, where I have spent the most time.”

I looked into Armenia recently. Sounded good (God bless the old Soviet subway and cultural infrastructure!), until I read about public attitudes throughout the Caucasus region towards queer folk. “Maybe a Christian country will be better than Chechnya?” Well, the cops aren’t rounding up and murdering gay men, no, and family “honor killings” of lesbian daughters don’t seem to be much of a thing yet, at least not in the cities, but the one gay club in Armenia’s capital was attacked and violently shut down. And state registration of homosexuals has been proposed in a number of countries. Yup. Not for little ol’ Trotskyist Bi me. Time to look at South Africa and Bolivia.

#15 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 11:31 pm

I nod my head at anon parent’s comment.

Big Pharma’s part in the whole “trans moment” has previously been noted at this blog.

#16 Comment By cka2nd On June 13, 2019 @ 11:35 pm

DRK says: “Recently the Columbia Journalism Review appointed four public editors, one each for the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC…I hope they appoint one for the WSJ as well.”

Dear God, please tell me they have one for Fox, too?

#17 Comment By ElJimador On June 14, 2019 @ 11:25 am

Anne: “By following the activist side of Maurer’s suggestions and omitting pictures of the deceased as a child, they omitted a major portion of this young person’s life journey. Being born looking like a gender alien to how you feel is, after all, a big part of the transgender story. Not wanting that shown is a matter of ideology, not truth.”

No it’s a matter of respecting the dead when including a picture of her as a child wouldn’t have illuminated any truth about her journey that the story doesn’t already cover. From the article we know that she was assigned male, liked to play with dolls at a young age, got into theater as a teen, and at a family wedding at age 16 announced to loved ones that they would never again see her in a suit and tie. Assuming that no one is disputing those details why should we also need a picture of her dressed as a boy, or in the suit at that wedding, when we know that’s not how she wanted to be remembered? That’s not providing any additional truth, it’s just being insensitive to a murder victim.

#18 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 14, 2019 @ 2:25 pm

No it’s a matter of respecting the dead when including a picture of her as a child wouldn’t have illuminated any truth about her journey that the story doesn’t already cover.

Hopefully, every picture illuminates something the story already covers. Pictures of childhood would indeed illuminate that the child was a boy. Sex is not assigned at birth, it is observed. Its pretty obvious — midwives have known this since the dawn of human history.

If the child had not been a boy, then the whole notion of transitioning to a different sex would vanish. Someone who lived as a woman is not trans-sexual unless she was born and lived as a boy. Its essential to the story.

I liked to play with dolls at a young age too, and I never thought I was a girl. I was the doll’s father, not her mother.

There have been hints here that the individual concerned had a lot of mental and emotional difficulties, and was murdered for reasons unrelated to his or her sex. Maybe this was all a mere symptom of those more objectively understood disorders? We’ll never know for sure, but its a definite possibility, and “respect for the dead” does not impose a requirement to lie or to conspicuously overlook relevant facts.

#19 Comment By DRK On June 16, 2019 @ 1:26 pm

I looked Alex Tabarrok’s chart and was amused to see that one of his terms denoting wokeness was “women”. Who knew that the mere mention of the word describing over half the US population was all just a liberal plot? Better look out for cooties, guys…

#20 Comment By JonF On June 21, 2019 @ 12:59 pm

Cka2nd, How common are stories about FTM teens? They exist to be sure, but IMO they do not have much, er, penetration: they’re mainly read by people with a deep interest in the topic. By contrast Chelsea Manning and Caitlin Jenner are very well known via the media, and RuPaul and his “Drag Races” have an audience outside GayWorld too. Since the days of Christine Jorgensen the face of the trans phenomenon has mainly been a MTF one. I recall being rather surprised when another poster presented stats showing how common FTM has become.