The New York Times’ reputation, which is synonymous with trustworthy reporting to many, is under fire for editorial bias in their recent coverage of transgender youth healthcare.
On Feb. 15, two separate open letters — one by Times contributors and one by GLAAD, which was co-signed by over 100 organizations and leaders — were sent to the Times (NYT). They called attention to the paper’s recent coverage of gender diversity that includes “pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language” in stories focusing on trans children’s healthcare while omitting “relevant information about its sources.”
These omissions and biased language threaten the integrity of journalistic ethics, and the Times needs to be held accountable for what they have published.
The contributors’ letter criticized Emily Bazelon’s article “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” for using the term “patient zero,” in reference to a young trans person seeking gender-affirming care and quoting experts out of context. Another article mentioned in the contributor’s letter is Katie Baker’s “When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don’t Know,” which examines recent court battles fueled by parents’ wishes to be notified if their child comes out at school. The article failed to mention that these court cases are backed by hate groups who have called trans people an “existential threat to society.”
The Times’ recent reporting has broken its own editorial guidelines, which “demand that reporters ‘preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias,’” according to the contributors’ letter.
However, the Times’ official response statement expressed disdain for the contributors choosing to call attention to issues in stories written by fellow staffers: “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups…”
Refusing to acknowledge your team’s biased reporting and disregarding your contributors’ outcries is an ethical issue. If the Times is committed to fair and transparent reporting, it needs to be open and honest when it falls short of these standards. If they fail to do that, their bias increases the risk for vulnerable people to face real life consequences.
As mentioned in the contributors’ letter, multiple states have used Times stories as leverage to pass legislation banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors. Last year, Arkansas’ attorney general filed an amicus brief — a statement supporting a court case the speaking group is not party to — in support of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. The act makes giving a minor gender-affirming medical care a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison. Nebraska has proposed a similar bill. Three articles from the Times were cited in the amicus brief.
The stories being used as leverage are biased, and there has been little to no course correction made by the Times. One of the articles cited, Ross Douthat’s April 2022 opinion piece, stated that the rise in young people identifying as LGBT could be “a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating,” despite a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics refuting this theory.
The Times’ coverage on these bans is disproportionately small compared to their stories on potential issues with healthcare, according to the contributors’ letter. This means that Times readers do not have all the information they need to inform themselves on the state of transgender healthcare in our country.
Truly fair coverage would also highlight the potential that gender-affirming care unlocks within the trans people who want it. A literature review in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery — Global Open found that less than 1% of trans people who undergo gender-affirming procedures regret their decision.
As journalists at the beginning of our careers, we need to learn from the Times’ pushback and the discussions that followed. Their lack of accountability is a reminder that information must be consumed with critical thought, even in sources you trust. Nuanced topics need to be covered with conscientiousness and humility for proper representation of the full story.
If the New York Times continues to refuse accountability, its reporting could continue to harm trans people, and its reputation will be tarnished.