Oh No, It's Happening Again
The New York Times seems determined to repeat every mistake it made in covering the Holocaust
Hey readers, Parker here.
A couple of weeks ago, the good people over at DAME magazine asked if I’d be willing to write something for their membership drive (which is currently ongoing — hint, hint, nudge, nudge, go check out their work, please). Naturally, as both a fan of their work and a semi-regular contributor to their site, I was happy to do it.
And then last week happened. Let me get you up to speed.
But first! Please sign up for the newsletter. Subscribing and sharing pieces are great ways to help support my work. It’s free! Anyway, back to the piece…
I signed an open letter urging the New York Times to be more careful about how it covers transgender people and issues that directly affect us. The paper’s obsession with stories about transgender teens and whether or not the only evidence-supported treatment for gender dysphoria should be made illegal for teens (even though the organizations pushing for these bans have made clear to the Times1 that their issue isn’t about “the kids,” but about eventually making it illegal for trans people to exist at all — which one would think would raise at least a few red flags…) has been an irresponsible, unethical disaster that is affecting real people’s lives. Those of us who signed the letter called for a reevaluation of editorial judgment (referring to a trans child as "patient zero" is obviously inappropriate), standard disclosures about conflicts of interest (if someone is a member or leader of a group that rallies against trans people of all ages, don't just present them as a "concerned parent" without noting this), and a general sense of proportion (there have been over 10,000 words on the front page of the paper about trans people in the past year, which is, by any standard, an absurd amount).
Long story short: the Times brushed off the letter by conflating it with one that was sent by GLAAD, smeared journalists as trying to perform “advocacy,” and then doubled down by publishing a cringy anti-trans/pro-J.K. Rowling opinion column by Pamela Paul the very next day. Oh, and then there was the very predictable backlash to the letter, in which its opponents (i.e. the hypocrites who signed the Harper’s Letter as a cover for their own personal political views) falsely argued that the people who signed on to the letter were trying to “censor” the news. This, obviously, is not what the letter called for.
Anyway… the whole ordeal was on my mind, and while I originally set out to write something about the mountains of cash billionaires funnel into their propaganda outlets, I couldn’t get my mind off the Times, the total inability to accept criticism without pretending it’s an “attack,” and just the general sense that there’s a (certainly not insignificant) portion of the professional media class that seems to think that the legitimacy of a small group of human beings should be treated as a debate topic.
After all, it’s not as though many of these New York Times stories about trans kids originated with new studies or recommendations from medical organizations. No, these stories mostly seem to be the result of a relentless right-wing attack campaign that has been going on for years. (Look, here’s something I wrote nine years ago about the right-wing “maybe there are too many trans kids these days!” arguments that try to frame accessing care as “child abuse.”) These stories do not provide scientifically supported non-transition-related treatments because such treatments do not exist. The framing of these stories tends to paint the “side” of this debate that is trying to outlaw medical care simply because it doesn’t like the group of people who are helped by it and doesn’t want that group to participate in society as totally reasonable. The “other” side, the side that believes that decisions about health care are best left up to patients and their doctors — not politicians — somehow gets framed as more extreme than the first group.
There’s a way to cover these topics in ways that could better address questions about coverage. It might even result in more coverage of this topic if the Times is so interested. This is the opposite of trying to “censor” anyone. This isn’t a case of anyone saying that news about trans people should be omitted from the newspaper. Cover it! Cover the politics of it! No one is saying you shouldn’t! But yes, as far as the press is concerned, you do have a responsibility to note that the people you’re covering are human beings who do have a right to exist in society.
No, stories casting doubt on the legitimacy of transgender people are not okay. That’s not what journalism is supposed to be. Trans people exist and we have a right to participate in society, to express ourselves, and to pretty much do anything that anyone else can do so long as we’re not hurting anyone or infringing on their rights. But you need to stop doing this, “Are trans women actually women? Are trans men actually men?” things because that is honestly so secondary to the actual concerns that we can actually discuss and advance.
“Are trans men actually men?” is a philosophical question. “Which restroom should a trans woman be allowed to (or forced to) use?” is a matter of logistics, privacy rights, and safety. Sure, have that discussion, and let’s find a way to make the world work for all of us. I’m up for that, sure. But that’s not what the people who get quoted in the Times want. What they want is a world without trans people. That’s not a possibility, and newspapers shouldn’t treat it as one.
[EDIT, 8:30pm ET, 2/22: Stay tuned. I’m going to elaborate on this in another newsletter tomorrow. -PM]
Donald Trump is out there right now promoting policies that would have the effect of forcing trans people to have to out themselves over and over to complete strangers. He wants to have trans people’s updated and corrected passports (handled by the State Department, which, during his administration, had clearly been testing the waters on this type of policy) invalidated, reversed, or otherwise marked to ensure that anyone and everyone who ever sees our legal documents will know that we’re trans. How did the Washington Post write about that? Well, it treated the whole thing more like a savvy political move than an attack on people’s civil rights.
Time to go back to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for a refresher on history:
On October 5, 1938, the Reich Ministry of the Interior invalidates all German passports held by Jews. Jews must surrender their old passports, which will become valid only after the letter “J” has been stamped on them.
The government required Jews to identify themselves in ways that would permanently separate them from the rest of the German population. In an August 1938 law, authorities decreed that by January 1, 1939, Jewish men and women bearing first names of “non-Jewish” origin had to add “Israel” and “Sara,” respectively, to their given names. All German Jews were obliged to carry identity cards that indicated their heritage, and, in the autumn of 1938, all Jewish passports were stamped with an identifying red letter “J”. As Nazi leaders quickened their war preparations, antisemitic legislation in Germany and Austria paved the way for more radical persecution of Jews.
Nearly a year after this, after the Nazis invalidated German Jews’ passports, after they implemented a “Decree on the Elimination of the Jews from Economic Life,” and after Hitler delivered his Reichstag speech saying that war would result in the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe,” the Times published this:
“HERR HITLER AT HOME IN THE CLOUDS: High up on his favorite mountain he finds time for politics, solitude and frequent official parties.” Yes, that’s an actual article published by the Times.
The man had revealed himself to be a monster hell-bent on purging undesirables from society, but the Times felt the need to share this with its readers.
Berchtesgaden, where Hitler has spent most of his Summer, is the home of his own choice. When he was still editor of the Voelkische Beobachter and little more than an adventurous figure among the scores of German party leaders he bought a little country house on a foothill of one of the three Alpine peaks which dominate the Berchtesgaden valley.
And legacy media outlets, like the Times, are doing the same thing once again.
Also, at this point, I’d like to encourage anyone who sees this and thinks, “Whoa, seems to be a bit much to compare Republicans to Nazis!” to just unsubscribe from this newsletter. Gay and trans people were persecuted by the Nazis, as well. In fact, one of the very first things Nazis did in the months following Hitler’s rise to power, was to burn books deemed “un-German and decadent” and to destroy German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (roughly translated to “Institute of Sex Research”). There are a lot of bad “don’t compare this to the Nazis” arguments out there, but this one is apt.
From an informative piece published in 2016:
By the early 1930s, people came from around the world to undergo reassignment surgery in Berlin. Then Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1931. Two years later, his brownshirts broke into Hirschfeld’s institute and burned his journals and research. When Hirschfeld was out of Germany on tour, the Nazi student group marched on the Institute. Over 20,000 books were set aflame, as well as medical diagrams and photographs crucial to understanding sex reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld and his colleagues were Jewish, but it wasn’t just that. Hitler also publicly raged against the “vice” of homosexuality and the “degenerate” lives of transsexuals. They weakened the Aryan cause.
Meanwhile, Republican governors like Ron DeSantis (FL) and Greg Abbott (TX) are busy compiling databases of trans people and enlisting people to “report” on the existence of trans people. You know, for reasons (that they are deliberately not making clear).
Notice how quickly the “parental rights” movement of the GOP has revealed itself to be a complete and total fraud. And notice how little the fraud gets discussed when places like the Times cover the “parental rights” movement. (Side note: I have a history of, unfortunately, being right about this kind of stuff.)