J.K. Rowling arrives at the 2019 RFK Ripple of Hope Awards at New York

The NYT Knew What It Was Doing With Its ‘Defense of J.K. Rowling’

Just one day after 170 New York Times contributors past and present, as well as a flurry of celebrity names, wrote an open letter to the publication criticizing the recent coverage of trans issues, NYT has made it clear that its priorities lie with headlines and profit, rather than the values of “a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias” it claims to have.

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An opinion article from Pamela Paul, titled “In Defense of J.K. Rowling”, was published in the morning of February 16. As the headline suggests, the article goes on to definitively state that “the characterization of [Rowling] as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views”. All that the author has attempted to do, according to Paul, is assert the rights of women.

We don’t need to go into the lengthy timeline of Rowling’s transphobic behavior yet again. We don’t even need to go back too far (February 7) to find the latest instance of her hateful words. We could add racism to the transphobia, judging by her questionable naming practices that she has only continued to double down on. But, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll likely already know the controversies surrounding the author and her views.

Ultimately, this comes down to what hill you’re prepared to die on. The NYT, despite the pleas from present and former writers, has apparently come down in favor of inciting headlines. There’s no doubt that this “defense of J.K. Rowling” was published knowing the polarizing reactions it would ignite—and it’s definitely blazing.

Reading through the article itself, there’s nothing truly new or groundbreaking to unpack. It’s largely a promotional piece for upcoming podcast, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling. The ‘defense’ is purely that Rowling is ‘only’ defending women’s rights, ignoring the very real impact that growing transphobia is having in the UK and around the world. Just days ago, a trans girl of just 16 years old, Brianna Ghey, was allegedly murdered following ongoing transphobic bullying. Not only that but she was misgendered in initial reports and will be buried as the wrong gender, as a final insult. Shockingly, in comparison to the outpourings of grief and tributes across the UK, Rowling has stayed silent since Brianna’s death, despite frequently sharing charitable causes and shoutouts on other topics on Twitter.

It’s tragedies like these that highlight that the discussions around trans rights are so much more than semantics or idle debates. The more we dress up horrific opinions, like Rowling and her ilk’s, as just one side of the debate, the louder the signal grows that such hate is okay. It’s an undeniable fact that transphobic attacks are on the rise in the UK, where Rowling’s opinions get the most airtime, with a 16% increase between 2020 and 2021. Ignoring the problem is one shameful act, but amplifying the voices of those arguing that, actually, it’s Rowling who’s the one under attack, is a whole other kettle of horrendous fish.

The New York Times should be ashamed of platforming a defense of Rowling. The facts of her beliefs have been laid out time and again. There can no longer be a pretense of showing both sides or protecting freedom of speech. There’s a line in the sand, and the publication just stormed straight past it, with the aim of chasing clicks and engagement.

If you want to add your name to the open letter calling on the New York Times to do better in its coverage of trans issues, you can do so here.

(featured image: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

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