Hundreds of New York Times correspondents raised awareness about allegedly slanted op-ed articles and biased reporting on transgender news at the nation’s “paper of record” last week. Their evidence is unlikely to sway editorial decisions at the Times. However, business leaders need to pay close attention to the warning signs of an eroding democracy and an authoritarian-style breakdown in human and civil rights.
A fresh spate of state laws aimed at repressing transgender individuals began to surge in the weeks following the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021. That was no coincidence. The legislative assault on transgender and other gender non-conforming persons is of a piece with the organized white supremacist movement that flooded a murderous mob into the halls of Congress, and they have not let up since.
To push back against the rise of ongoing violence against transgender and other non-conforming persons, last week an initial group of 200 current and former New York Times contributors wrote an open letter to Philip B. Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards, pointing out that the Times has played a role in fostering violence and repression.
“Plenty of reporters at the Times cover trans issues fairly,” they wrote on Feb. 15. “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 letter notes that such care has been accepted medical practice going back decades. By opening the field to debate, the Times undermines public confidence in established professional practices and scientific findings.
If that sounds familiar, it is. “Just asking questions” about settled science is the decades-long strategy of organized climate change denial groups, and this kind of fact-free lobbying is not confined to stakeholder groups and their media echo chamber. It has morphed into a partisan rage machine with far-reaching consequences that stretch up to and include the U.S. Supreme Court. Since January 6, 2021, the anti-science movement has taken the form of a vengeful child-protection blitz — banning abortion, banning books, banning drag performances, and banishing minority histories from classrooms.
The letter cites evidence that misreporting at the Times has been used to justify repressive state legislation. “The Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language, while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources,” the authors charge.
“The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law,” they add, describing how the Arkansas state attorney general supported repressive new legislation by citing three Times articles: Emily Bazelon’s “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” Azeen Ghorayshi’s “Doctors Debate Whether Trans Teens Need Therapy Before Hormones,” and an op-ed by Ross Douthat, who is also credited with coining the term “woke capitalism” and laying the groundwork for the anti-ESG movement.
The Times is not alone in its failure to recognize the link between the white supremacist movement and the violent repression of gender non-conformance and transgender people, including threats against children’s hospitals.
Though many corporations pledged to withhold donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who voted in support of the insurrectionists on the evening of January 6, some later resumed giving directly or through political action committees. Many others never stopped.
Corporate leaders have also largely ignored the tightly wound thread that keeps spinning out from the events of January 6. The threat to American democracy did not end after the violent mob was finally chased from the building. Some of the very same groups accused of organizing the assault on the Capitol are still actively raising their profiles and building alliances, in part by targeting transgender persons, gender non-conforming people and drag performers.
In particular, a group called the Proud Boys emerged in 2016 with a reputation for street brawling. Former President Donald Trump referenced them favorably during the 2020 presidential debates before a national audience, and they turned out in force at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Several members are currently facing trial on charges of seditious conspiracy.
The group’s deliberately silly name was a strategic choice, intended to support their guise as a harmless social club. However, researchers at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism were among those paying attention. Last year, the group published a research paper describing the Proud Boys as a group that is “deeply rooted in white nationalism and misogyny.”
The paper listed a total of 83 identified members and affiliates who were accused of “ideologically motivated crimes” as of last year. The total includes 54 Proud Boys charged with participating in the insurrection of January 6, 2021.
After January 6 and to this day, the Proud Boys have continued to show up in local communities to disrupt drag performances and threaten other LGBTQ+ events, agitating in support of repressive legislation.
Their ongoing influence was underscored last week in an article published by the Lawfare blog under the title, “The Long Descent to Insurrection.” It was written by Georgetown University Policy Counsel Jacob Glick, who also served as investigative counsel on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, as well as the House Managers’ legal team during the second impeachment of Donald Trump.
As part of their role in the January 6 investigations, Glick’s team interviewed members of the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and “other individuals associated with far-right extremist groups.”
“This evidence we collected should be a warning to the general public that the Jan. 6 assault is part of a broader threat of paramilitary violence and its intersection with electoral politics, which began long before the day of the insurrection and has endured far after it was quelled,” he wrote.
As of this writing, the Times has not replied directly to the correspondents’ letter, though it defended itself against more general charges raised in a group letter produced by GLAAD and signed by more than 100 advocacy organizations.
Business leaders who profess to take diversity and ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles seriously need to recognize that the confluence of religious extremism, misogyny, and white supremacy is rapidly stripping the veneer of science and reason from an enlightened society, propelling all of us — not just those most vulnerable — down the path of repression and authoritarianism.
Image credit: Karollyne Hubert/Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.
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