The New York Times will hold disciplinary hearings for writers and contributors who signed an open letter protesting the paper’s coverage of transgender issues, according to the NewsGuild of New York.
Over 1,000 current and former New York Times contributors signed the letter, and the top editor said their protest would not be tolerated.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple tweeted about the potential blowback on Thursday.
Wemple wrote, “Among those who signed that letter were several [New York Times] employees. The NewsGuild of NY says that members have been called into “investigatory meetings” and an informed source tells me that disciplinary proceedings are under way.”
Among those who signed that letter were several @nytimes employees. The NewsGuild of NY says that members have been called into “investigatory meetings” and an informed source tells me that disciplinary proceedings are under way.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) February 23, 2023
The letter was addressed to Philip B. Corbett, associate managing editor for standards at The New York Times.
In a memo sent out by executive editor Joe Kahn on February 17, he said that the Times “received a letter delivered by GLAAD, an advocacy group, criticizing coverage in The Times of transgender issues.”
“It is not unusual for outside groups to critique our coverage or to rally supporters to seek to influence our journalism. In this case, however, members of our staff and contributors to The Times joined the effort. Their protest letter included direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name,” Kahn wrote in the memo that was obtained by The Hill. “Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy. That policy prohibits our journalists from aligning themselves with advocacy groups and joining protest actions on matters of public policy. We also have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another’s journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks.”
“Our coverage of transgender issues, including the specific pieces singled out for attack, is important, deeply reported, and sensitively written,” he continued. “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”
The letter was published online on Thursday with 200 current and former New York Times contributors, but after it was published, the number grew to over 1,000.
“We write to you as a collective of New York Times contributors with serious concerns about editorial bias in the newspaper’s reporting on transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people,” the letter began. “Plenty of reporters at the Times cover trans issues fairly. Their work is eclipsed, however, by what one journalist has calculated as over 15,000 words of front-page Times coverage debating the propriety of medical care for trans children published in the last eight months alone.”
The reporters at the Times argued that procedures that can sterilize and mutilate children are not worthy of debate. The letter then blasted individual stories and reporters that they deemed to be problematic.
The group of reporters specifically pointed to Emily Bazelon’s article ‘The Battle Over Gender Therapy’ which used the term “patient zero” to refer to a “trans child” seeking what they referred to as “gender-affirming care.”
“Some of us are trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming, and we resent the fact that our work, but not our person, is good enough for the paper of record,” the letter concluded. “Some of us are cis, and we have seen those we love discover and fight for their true selves, often swimming upstream against currents of bigotry and pseudoscience fomented by the kind of coverage we here protest. All of us daresay our stance is unremarkable, even common, and certainly not deserving of the Times’ intense scrutiny. A tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying. There is no rapt reporting on the thousands of parents who simply love and support their children, or on the hardworking professionals at the New York Times enduring a workplace made hostile by bias—a period of forbearance that ends today.”
In response to the leaked memo, the letter was updated with a note at the top stating:
We are disappointed that the New York Times chose to use their public response to Wednesday’s coalition letter from GLAAD and other organizations as an opportunity to attempt to dismiss the well-documented complaint of editorial bias detailed in our letter. Times representatives avoided addressing the substantive concerns in the letter by simply alleging that it “came to [them] through GLAAD.” However, GLAAD confirmed to us that they did not deliver a copy of our letter to the New York Times. We look forward to clarification from the Times.
Additionally, though we coordinated timing with GLAAD, our letters are very different documents. For example, we are not an advocacy organization. Our letter is addressed directly to the Standards editor, and makes a clear case drawing on the Times’ own history and editorial standards.
Out of hand, the Times’ comments dismiss the concerns put to them by, at last count, over 1000 contributors to the New York Times—among them eminent writers, artists, photographers, and holders of elected office—and the countersignatures of 23,000 media workers, readers and subscribers to the newspaper.
Over 20,000 people have signed on to the letter in support, but the paper appears to be standing firm — even publishing an article supporting J.K. Rowling, who has been fiercely outspoken about biological reality.