Apple TV’s The Problem With Jon Stewart began its new season last night with an episode about the “gender wars”. It struck me that it couldn’t be made in the UK: it featured parents of trans children and experts in trans medicine, but not an audience of bigots shouting “penis!” and “groomer!” at them.
Instead, Jon Stewart let the Attorney General of Arkansas slowly hoist herself on her own petard by asking something really simple: what’s the evidence behind your anti-trans legislation? The answer, inevitably, turned out to be: there isn’t any.
This is a masterclass in interviewing.
It’s interesting to compare this with the last few days’ coverage of JK Rowling, who donned an anti-Nicola Sturgeon t-shirt designed by a far-right goon to protest against the Scottish Government’s plans for gender recognition reform and ended up on the covers of all the major newspapers. There hasn’t been any attempt whatsoever to ascertain whether Rowling’s anti-reform beliefs are right (spoiler: they’re not; the evidence, or lack of, is here: “when asked about evidence of abuse and concerns, no witness was able to provide concrete examples.”). Too much of our media has no interest in establishing the truth when there’s a culture war to push.
In the 30 days from 27th June this year, the UK press published 1,142 articles about trans people, mostly trans-hostile with claims of hate groups taken as fact. That’s 33 anti-trans articles a day. Between them, the Times, Telegraph and Daily Mail publish up to 27 trans articles a week, most of them hostile. On just one day, those papers published 26 articles about trans people; the Telegraph alone published 11.
There’s a saying I like: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As Stewart so deftly demonstrates, the anti-trans mob don’t have any evidence to back up their assertions; they are at odds with the entire medical establishment, because ultimately their “reasonable concerns” boil down to a belief that trans people are icky weirdos.
If our journalists were doing their job, the current anti-trans moral panic wouldn’t exist and hate crimes against LGBT people wouldn’t be up 42% year on year, with anti-trans hate crimes up 56%. Culture wars may be a game in newsrooms, but they’re terrifyingly real for the people they demonise.