What's Up With The New York Times?
A few articles of criticism on a few different topics.
Hey all, Parker here.
Over on X (a.k.a. Twitter), New York Times economics reporter Talmon Joseph Smith wrote, “Hung out at a low-key dinner party kind of thing with my girlfriend and some friends. All highly educated. All had no idea what the CHIPS Act was, what the [Inflation Reduction Act] did, or a clear memory of the [American Rescue Plan]. Sure, they’re not swing voters in a swing state, but the Biden Econ team has a LOT of work to do!”
When people responded to him by reminding him that he is literally a Times economics reporter, he pushed back on the idea that it was somehow his job to educate the public about various policies, saying that it would amount to “PR” for Biden.
Now, this brings up the classic question of what role journalism is supposed to play in educating the public. I think Smith has it wrong — at least a little.
He’s correct in that the Times is not any politician’s PR team, but shouldn’t news outlets take the time to reflect on why “highly educated” friends of a Times economics reporter didn’t seem to know about some basic economic policies that have been implemented over the past few years? Assuming that Smith’s friends are Times readers, shouldn’t their lack of knowledge send a message to the Times that maybe it isn’t doing enough to educate the public about what’s happening in the world? If stories aren’t sticking in people’s minds, maybe they’re not getting the right placement in the paper, maybe they’re not being written about enough, and so on.
Obviously, the paper can’t (and shouldn’t) just write periodic pieces saying, “Hey, just a reminder, here’s what the Inflation Reduction Act does,” but I believe major newspapers have a responsibility to try to present information in a way that will stick with readers from the start. Readers’ lack of knowledge on a topic should be cause for reflection, not some snide comment.
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First Five: Stories on a Single Topic to Start Your Week
This week’s theme is the state of The New York Times. Between the publication of yet another obsessive anti-trans piece from Pamela Paul to the paper’s insistence that Joe Biden (but somehow, not Donald Trump, who is just a few years younger) is too old to be president, the Times has been a mess this past week.
When is a Huge News Story Not a Huge News Story? (Press Watch, Dan Froomkin)
Of course there’s a news story here, and it should be reported.
But how big a story is it, exactly?
Has there ever been a screaming front-page headline about Trump’s abundant mental deficiencies? His repeated displays of memory loss and confusion are actually among the least concerning of his mental problems, which include paranoia, incoherence, narcissism, and sociopathy.
There are way more important questions the political press corps should be obsessing over than how Biden presents himself, namely: How is Biden governing? How would Trump govern? And which man is more dangerous?
On Biden’s first full day in office in 2021, I published a post headlined “After obsessive focus on Trump, White House reporters need to zoom way out.” My argument was that covering the Trump White House was easy, because all that mattered was Trump. I suggested that Washington journalists needed to shift gears and actually write about governance.
Instead, the press corps essentially continued to hold Biden to Trumpian standards, and has found him lacking because he isn’t as entertaining and commanding as Trump was.
At the same time, they largely give Trump a pass for saying outrageous things, some of which he means, some of which are simply misfires of his brain.
The NYT Suggests That Tons of Teens Might Regret Transitioning Genders. Here’s What the Data Says (Slate, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz)
Paul published a short follow-up in the Times pushing back on criticisms of her column, arguing that we simply don’t know how many trans teens will seek medical care and then go on to detransition. It’s true that we don’t have good U.S. data on the number of people who detransition, but other countries have fairly useful, recent papers showing that detransition is quite uncommon. Paul even cited one of these in her piece, although she dismissed it out of hand. It’s possible that we don’t have all the information yet, but we can consider the constellation of evidence that we do have. What’s clear from this evidence is that the vast majority of people do not experience regret, howsoever defined, after transitioning genders. Regret rates are actually much higher for a lot of medical procedures. For example, in the U.S. military study above, 26 percent of children stopped getting hormones through their parent’s insurance after four years; a national British study looking at antidepressant use in children across the country found that half of the kids had stopped taking these medications after just two months.
Ultimately, the question of what proportion of kids or adults regret their transition is only important to a select group: the people who want to transition, and their clinicians. At worst, the rate of regret is still better than other treatments which don’t require national debates over their use, which really begs the question of why anyone who isn’t directly involved with the treatment of transgender people is even weighing in on the topic at all. Indeed, a lot of what I’ve said in this piece has been raised by everyone from journalists to activists to trans folks just trying to live their lives. But as long as columnists are asking questions, maybe I can help by offering answers.
The NYT’s Latest Op-Ed on Trans Kids Has Already Been Cited in an Anti-Trans Legal Brief (Them, James Factora)
As Strangio notes, Paul has demonstrated a “continued obsession” with trans young people. Last February, she wrote a piece for the Times’ opinion section called “In Defense of J.K. Rowling,” in which she defended Rowling’s virulent transphobia. According to the media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), as of December 2022, Paul had written at least five opinion pieces specifically about trans people.
Paul’s opinion column is far from the first Times piece to be cited in anti-trans legislation. In April 2023, Missouri announced an emergency order imposing new restrictions on gender-affirming care for people of all ages, citing a New York Times piece about gender-affirming care that was widely criticized as biased and inaccurate. (The emergency rule was later withdrawn.) Lawmakers in Texas and Alabama have also cited the Times’ coverage in support of proposed anti-trans legislation.
“There is such a direct pipeline from these New York Times pieces to the ways in which these laws are being defended in court and then ultimately upheld,” Strangio said in their video. “The risk of harm to trans people from these pieces is not theoretical.”
These observations from Strangio and others have been echoed by the Times own contributors. Last February, hundreds of New York Times contributors signed an open letter to the paper criticizing its coverage of trans people. The letter also cited numerous instances in which the Times’ coverage was used to justify anti-trans laws.
A Letter to the Editor of the New York Times (New York Times, Charles Yale)
I’m an L.G.B.T.Q.+ teenager. Ms. Paul cites stories of detransitioners as if they are damning to the practice of gender-affirming care as a whole. Not all detransitioners regret their transition, and not all transgender people will medically transition. An overwhelming 98 percent of people who started their transition care as youths continue into adulthood, per a 2022 study from the Netherlands published in The Lancet.
Speaking from experience, my peers and friends who have undergone medical transitions have never “regretted” it, and after beginning care, their quality of life greatly improved. If Ms. Paul wants to demonize a procedure with a high rate of regret, she should look toward knee replacement, where one in five people end up dissatisfied.
By writing this article, Ms. Paul further stigmatizes health care for transgender people. Transition care may be good for some people. It may not be for others. This is a basic premise of medicine — people must have the right to make decisions with their doctors on what is right for them.
What we do know is that transgender youth are under attack across the nation. Texas’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, last month demanded records from providers outside his state to single out hospitals or clinics that have treated transgender youth from Texas.
I fear for my future. I fear for my friends and their futures.
By continuing to harbor this dangerous rhetoric in her pieces, Ms. Paul makes it harder and harder for trans people to get the care that they desperately need as lawmakers across the country clamp down on our rights. I understand her concern, but it is misplaced.
A Letter to the Editor of the New York Times (New York Times, Tom Murphy)
As the father of a healthy, thriving late 20s trans and nonbinary child who transitioned in their teens, I’m appalled at the lack of credible, large-scale research in Pamela Paul’s column.
We parents notice the media’s drumbeat of detransition stories, with no similar focus on the overwhelming majority of trans people who lead healthy, fulfilling and successful lives — thanks in large part to their ability to access proven and affirming health care.
The research done to date on whether the majority of people who received gender-affirming medical care have any regrets is crystal clear — overwhelmingly good, positive news.
In a meta study across 7,928 people in 13 countries who had received gender-affirming medical care, only 1 percent expressed regret.
We are begging you to cover positive and affirming stories of trans people who are leading “normal” happy and comfortable lives thanks to the care they’ve received.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading, all.