How can you edit a paper if you don’t read it?

James Doleman’s Twitter account is providing an unintentionally hilarious account of Katherine O’Donnell’s employment tribunal.

Today, Times editor John Witherow is giving evidence. A pattern appears to be emerging.

Counsel for the complainant presents to the court another Times article, a “self-identification,” of gender. This refers to the Soham Murderer, Ian Huntley, and suggests he was transitioning his gender. This, the lawyer said was false, “I didn’t know that,” Witherow replies

Asked about an article that suggested the gender question was to be removed from the census, Witherow replied he didn’t know the article. So couldn’t comment on its accuracy

Next Times headline Refer to pregnant people not women government suggests to UN.” Counsel points out the government said this was not true, “it was a suggestion” Witherow replies.

The lawyer from the complainant asked the witness about a joke about Transgender people in the Times, “these things had been written about a black person you would have sent it back,” she says “It probably shouldn’t have went in,” Witherow replies.

Next piece referred to was: “Trans women using the swimming pond in Hampstead heath were driving women away.” Counsel suggested that this was not accurate, “thats your assertion, I don’t know if its right or wrong,” the witness replied.

The court was then shown another article: “Transgender row over sleeper train cabins.” The source was a post on Mumsnet, “from someone who hasn’t used the sleeper,” counsel says.
Witherow: ““I don’t think this is the finest piece of journalism The Times has published, if I had seen it I would have spiked it.”

You’d think the editor might be aware of the content of some of the paper’s more prominent exclusives. He’s also quick to defend columnists’ lurid allegations, such as trans people “sacrificing children”, as opinion rather than deliberate scaremongering.

But for me, one particular exchange sums up the problem with trans reporting at The Times and Sunday Times: it’s relentlessly one-sided. It rushes to publish even the flimsiest allegation about trans people and doesn’t care when the allegations are proven to be fictitious and/or malicious.

Counsel then notes The Times did report a case where a researcher on trans issues had his thesis rejected and went to the High Court for judicial review. “His case was dismissed without merit, did you know that?” Counsel asked.

“We reported it,” Witherow replies.

“You didn’t report the result,” counsel retorted.

Manufacturing consent

I’m indebted to Tennessee Pete on Twitter for the link to and commentary on this story:

As he put it:

This is such a good case study for manufacturing consent because it’s just… ‘in response to Iran’

In response to Iran doing what?

No, not in response to any provocation, just in response to Iran. The continued existence of Iran.

“A level sufficient to qualify as a vendetta”

One of the witnesses in Katherine O’Donnell’s employment tribunal against her former employer The Times  is Christine Burns MBE. Burns played a key part in the creation of UK equality legislation, and she’s been monitoring and reporting on the press coverage of trans issues for very many years. In her submission to the tribunal, she describes the Times’ recent coverage of trans issues.

During the course of 2016 the Times and Sunday Times featured approximately half a dozen trans-related stories, led by writers such as Rod Liddle. This did not appear at the time to be a departure from business as usual. Certainly, for Liddle, the opinions voiced about trans children and adolescents (as an example) seemed to be in keeping with his brand of polemic. The level of coverage in the whole year did not raise eyebrows, except in exasperation at the one-sidedness.

That pattern changed markedly in 2017, however — and it changed uniquely for the Times.

Burns describes how the Times and Sunday Times coverage of trans issues went into overdrive, essentially demonising trans people at every opportunity.

This wasn’t business as usual. It hadn’t happened in the run-up to the introduction of the Gender Recognition Bill in 2004, or of the Equality Act in 2010. The recent focus on and demonisation of trans people appears to be a deliberate change in editorial strategy.

As Burns also points out, “the other notable factor about this tsunami of negative coverage, beginning in 2017, was the degree to which editorial standards appeared to be abandoned.”

I’m not a news journalist, but I when I wrote tech news it was drilled into me that a single-source story wasn’t good enough; “person claims thing” is not news until it’s been fact-checked and experts consulted.

Many of the people writing for these newspapers are members of the National Union of Journalists, whose code of conduct compels journalists to “strive to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” and “differentiates between fact and opinion.” It also says that a journalist “produces no material likely to lead to hatred or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age, gender, race, colour, creed, legal status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

Burns agues that the two papers appeared to decide that editorial standards, that the basic journalistic principles outlined in the NUJ code of conduct, no longer applied if the stories were about trans people. The views of failed sculptors were prized above those of experts. Baseless claims were printed without fact-checking, and often rescinded after intervention by Ofcom. Anti-semitic tropes of child sacrifice and sinister Jewish lobbies made it into print.

The two titles were standing up their pieces with largely one-sided opinion from personalities with no genuine qualifications in the subject matter and an axe to grind. By comparison, clinical or legal experts in the subject matter did not feature highly and trans views appeared to be treated as suspect, driven by (hinted) ulterior motives and fit for condemnation. The paper’s line of topics seemed to reflect the talking points of a small cohort of commentators who had appeared as if from nowhere to be interviewed as authorities on a regular basis. Trans people and the charities working in this area were presented as ‘powerful’ (the implication being ‘too powerful’). Conspiracy theories about the involvement of jewish billionaires and ‘big pharma’ were aired without challenge.

…What shocked trans observers in 2017 was that editorial standards appeared to have been suspended in this sphere. This is underlined when the basis for many stories was later established to be false. False interpretation of statistics about trans prisoners and offending. Unbalanced reporting of the nature of the proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, presenting only a one-sided pejorative view of the implications. False insinuation about the leadership of the trans charity Mermaids — even after the Heritage Lottery Fund had reexamined plans to award a grant to them in 2018.

The tribunal continues.

One of these things is different from the other

When Michael Phelps, who is a straight white man, became the most decorated Olympian of all time he was hailed as a “legend” and greeted with glowing newspaper profiles on how “a biomechanical freak of nature” had a competitive advantage over other athletes because he had a “body made to swim”.

When Caster Semenya, who is a gay black woman, became an Olympic champion she was greeted with racist, misogynist, homophobic hatred and a vicious campaign that now means she  will be forced to alter her natural body chemistry in order to remove her competitive advantage over other athletes.

I wonder if there’s some kind of explanation for the way in which Michael Phelps, who is a straight white man, was treated differently from Caster Semenya, who is a gay black woman. It’s a mystery!

“Basic facts have not been apparent in much of the media coverage”

Writing in Bella Caledonia, Caitlin Logan describes the current backlash against trans people as evidence of widespread media failure.

In Scotland, the conversation on trans rights started out as distinctly civil in comparison to our counterparts in England. Women’s organisations stood alongside LGBT campaigners in explaining why trans people can and should be included in their joint efforts for a more equal, safer and socially just Scotland. MSPs from across the political spectrum were photographed with ‘Equal Recognition’ campaign signs, demonstrating their support for reforms which seemed a fairly simple extension of progress which had already taken place with limited fanfare.

It was as the public – media-driven – debate in England intensified that the Scottish media began to follow suit.

… the news media has always been driven by competition to be the “most interesting”, but I fear that its decline in the digital age has spawned a whole new impetus to shock, to incite debate, and even to anger.

…We are now witnessing, on multiple different issues, the political and personal consequences of a media strategy centred more on generating heat than shedding light, coupled with a disregard for clarifying whether the controversial opinions it platforms are even based in fact.

It’s hard to express just how draining this poison is. Writer and activist Julia Serano is as sick of it as the rest of us are.

We are now living through the biggest anti-#trans backlash since the 1970s. it’s been going on since at least 2016. it’s not just Republicans or evangelicals – it’s coming from numerous fronts. & most cis people seem entirely oblivious to it…

…anyway, my point is, these cis people – often people very close to me – seem surprised that lots of people are still very much anti-trans. because they (the haters) have all since learned to couch their bigotry via buzz words about “biological sex” & “women’s safety” and “the science is still out on that” & so on.


The media is not merely a mirror, reflecting society back at itself – it is part of society, and to ignore its own power in shaping the social and political dynamics it reports on is a dereliction of duty which can no longer stand.

The anti-vax movement is lethal

Newspaper and internet scaremongering is so commonplace now that we’re numb to it, but we shouldn’t be. Some of this misinformation kills. The mainstreaming of anti-vaccination lunacy by newspapers such as the Daily Mail and later, idiots on social media, has seen vaccination levels drop and infection levels soar.

In the UK, more than half a million children weren’t vaccinated between 2010 and 2017. Cases in England have quadrupled in the last year as vaccination levels have fallen. The WHO target is 95% vaccination of children, but in England it has fallen to 87.5%. We lose herd immunity at around 90%.

Measles kills. It recently killed 1,000 children in Madagascar in a horrific example of how quickly it can spread. The cause was lack of vaccination: nearly 40% of the population are unvaccinated. Before we introduced vaccination in the 1960s, Measles killed 2.6 million people a year.

In some parts of the world such as Madagascar the problem is down to lack of access to medicine. But in the affluent west, it’s because of first world problems such as complacency and believing bullshit on the internet and in newspapers.

This is not a debate; there are not two sides to this story. Measles is a lethal and entirely preventable disease, and if you don’t get your children vaccinated you’re risking other children’s lives.

Why I block

Yesterday, the anti-trans group For Women Scotland accused publisher Laura Waddell of running a “misogynist blocklist” to prevent Twitter users from reading and replying to her posts. Like other claims the group makes – this is the same organisation that accused a cat of sectarianism a few weeks back – it wasn’t true. Like many people on Twitter, Waddell manually blocks individual accounts when she can no longer be arsed with their bullshit. Their account was one of them after previous interactions on the social network.

Blocking people can be crucial on Twitter. If you don’t do it, your feed can quickly fill with awful people trying to ruin your day. I block thousands of people, bigots and trolls of all stripes, using an automated list of known offenders – racist abusers, anti-trans bigots, sea lions (people who pretend to be arguing in good faith but just waste enormous amounts of time) and so on.

Sea lions are among the worst, because they’re the midges of social media: individually insignificant but hugely annoying in groups. Here’s a good cartoon about them.

I’m sure some perfectly nice people are also blocked by accident but I have neither the time nor the inclination to manually go through a list of thousands of people. Unfortunately accidental blocks are the collateral damage caused by bigots and trolls’ online abuse. If Twitter actually enforced its own rules against abuse, hate speech and harassment there’d be no need for a block feature at all.

Yesterday the Equality Network posted a tweet about gender recognition and was quickly piled on by the anti-trans crowd. As the organisation posted today:

We firmly believe that the proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act can be done without affecting the rights of women or others, and we are happy to see that genuinely discussed and to engage. However some of the responses to our tweet [yesterday] illustrate a different agenda…

The important word here is “genuinely”. Many of the people who pile on trans people and trans allies online are not looking for a genuine discussion; they are coming with a script of pre-decided talking points and have absolutely no interest in the answers. They aren’t coming for a debate. They believe they are waging a war.

This graphic has been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. It’s the “I don’t hate minority X, but…” bingo card, designed to show the patterns that appear again and again and again online. “I don’t hate black/trans/gay people, but we need to protect our children from predators”. “Asian/Trans/women are just too easily offended.” “Black/trans/gay people are erasing us”. “I believe in equality but this lot have gone too far”.

Bear in mind that these aren’t just the odd tweet. People from minority groups and their allies can be on the receiving end of dozens, sometimes hundreds of messages all saying the same thing: I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG DEBATE ME NOW COWARD.

What’s a girl to do?

To take the current example over gender recognition reform, many people are completely wrong about the law. They conflate the Gender Recognition Act with the Equality Act, are unaware of the context within human rights legislation, have no understanding of what self-ID actually means, are unaware of the medical, scientific and legal status of trans people and so on.

Some people believe things that aren’t true because they’ve been misled by bad actors. They think trans children are given surgery (they aren’t), that they’re fast-tracked and forced to identify as trans (nope), that puberty blockers are new, experimental drugs (nope) or that children are prescribed cross-sex hormones (nope again).

If they are willing to discuss these things, to look at the evidence, then of course you can have a worthwhile debate. But if they’re just going to shout “fake news”, accuse trans women of being predatory, violent men and call you a handmaiden of the patriarchy (or worse) because someone on the internet told them to, they’re a complete waste of your time, energy and oxygen. You cannot have a legitimate, constructive or useful debate with somebody who is acting in bad faith.

Some people on the internet are stupid. Some are wicked. Some are both. You have no obligation to put up with their bullshit.

Unless you’re operating it on behalf of an organisation, your Twitter feed (or any other social media presence) is yours, and you decide what you want in it. Think of it as a table in a pub: you’re there talking to your pals. If a bunch of people were to come over and loudly demand you debate them right here, right now, you’d tell them to fuck off. And that’s pretty much what blocking does. It doesn’t censor people. It just stops them from being able to annoy you.

In the case of trans issues, if someone refuses to accept that trans people are not mentally ill, they are no different from flat-earthers. If they refuse to accept that biology is more complicated than they learned in primary school, they are no different from climate change deniers. If they claim that protecting trans people from discrimination will erase women, they are no different from the racists who peddle the “white genocide” conspiracy theory. If they claim trans people are being funded by George Soros, they are no different from any other anti-semite.

These people may deserve your pity, but they do not deserve your attention.

There’s something rotten in the SNP

Between 2017 and 2018, the Scottish Government consulted on proposed reforms to the gender recognition process to make life slightly less shitty for trans and non-binary people. The public response was overwhelmingly in favour of the proposed changes, with women’s groups dealing with some of the most vulnerable women in society offering very clear and public support.

For no good reason, without evidence and often with complete and utter lack of understanding of existing and proposed legislation, some SNP MSPs now claim that the changes will redefine the meaning of sex in law and harm women. It’s the culmination of an ongoing campaign of anti-trans scaremongering in the Scotsman, which publishes a letter from those MSPs today.

Stephen Paton on Twitter:

This morning, several SNP MSPs signed a letter calling for further debate on trans equality. Meanwhile, Holyrood held an event last night that gave MSPs the chance to speak candidly with trans people – and not a single one of the signatories came.

Rhiannon Spear of the TIE Campaign for inclusive education:

Great thread from @Cmacf76 here.

I note that not one of the MSPs in the letter attended an event in the ScotParl last night to hear from trans folk + to have their questions answered. 🤷 #ComeOutForTransEquality

Laura Waddell, writer and publisher:

Here are the public responses to the GRA consultation. I highly recommend having a browse, particularly of organisations who provide services and work with children and women. Anyone framing this as a ‘war on woman’ does everyone a disservice.

…Politicians who’ve waded into the GRA discussion in recent months have encouraged ‘debate’ to turn nastier than it was before by framing it disingenuously as a ‘war on women.’ But the completely *bizarre* timing suggests there are other things at play too.

The Equality Network:

To the 15 @theSNP politicians who signed that letter in the Scotsman today: Trans people don’t want to change the definitions of male and female; they simply want to be recognised, and treated with dignity, as the sex they are.

Duncan Hothersall, Labour activist:

I point out that those offering support for the changes include Engender, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance and Equate Scotland, and those opposing include Christian Concern, the Free Church of Scotland and the Christian Institute.

Of all the pernicious lies told about this subject, among the worst is that “nobody knew this was happening”. Support for this reform of the GRA was explicitly declared in 2016 party manifestos from SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems, and the 2018 consultation engaged very widely.

Come on in, the water’s lovely

Glasgow Life has issued a statement regarding the scaremongering articles about its changing rooms policy.

You will be shocked to discover that the articles weren’t true.

Glasgow Life’s staff guidance on accessing sports facilities and services by transgender people was produced and distributed in 2015. Since then, we have had more than 20 million attendances across our sport facilities and no reports of inappropriate behaviour in regard to trans customers. Trans men and trans women have been using our facilities for many years without incident.

About those women-only gym sessions:

Contrary to reports, Glasgow Life does not run any ‘women only gym sessions’ – our gym sessions and classes are open to all, regardless of gender.

And those women-only swimming pool changing rooms:

Our venues provide a mix of changing room facilities. A significant proportion of our changing facilities are unisex and open to all, with secure, private cubicles. Where facilities have male and female changing facilities, private cubicles are provided, where possible. Our staff are happy to assist with any requests in regard to provision of private changing facilities. If anyone, at any time, feels unsure or uncomfortable in using our services, they should immediately contact a member of staff for assistance.

The Herald, The Star, The Scotsman and The Sun all ran the original scaremongering, and yet I can’t see any sign of a correction, let alone one with equal prominence, today.