Woke News — Text from Talk
Thank you all so much for inviting me to be a part of this fantastic panel, and for coming to listen today.
Firstly, I should say I’m not a journalist in the same way as the others here. I am an opinionated person who writes opinion pieces.
To explain how I got into this. I used to chair a large feminist group, and as part of that about five years ago I was asked to write a column for my local paper. Turns out I’m good at writing and I started getting picked up by national outlets. In 2017, I had a piece published in the Independent about an issue that was worrying me -
I met someone whose daughter went through a period of years identifying as a boy. She was just twelve when she discovered Tumblr and Youtube videos of so-called ‘female to male’ transitioners. Acting in accordance with official guidance, she was set by her school and clinicians on a path that saw her binding her breasts and fantasizing about turning eighteen and the day when she could have a double mastectomy. Her mum supported her change of name but refused to allow her to take any medication and monitored her online activity. She eventually realised, after four years, that she was a lesbian, narrowly avoiding a brutal regime of treatment which would have included regular injections of testosterone, a double mastectomy and of course lifelong infertility.
I received a lot of comment following publication, both to thank me for raising an important issue and of course accusing me of transphobia and even of inciting violence towards ‘trans kids.’ Here’s a favourite comment from an academic at Goldsmiths who responded to the piece with a blog which seems to suggest I was advocating some sort of genocide against children.
About two weeks after the article was published, I received an email from the Independent asking me to edit my writing in line with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines. For those that don’t know they’re a lobby group and certainly not impartial on these matters. I considered this- I really had been thrilled to get commissioned. But I thought about my friend’s daughter and decided that truth came before getting commissioned. I breathed deeply and explained why I would not amend the piece. I have never since had a pitch accepted by The Independent.
This set me thinking about truth, and the duty of the media to uphold it.
From Freddy Starr Ate My Hamster to Elvis being seen in Asda, there has always been a trade-off between truth and sensationalism in the media. Moreover, transgender issues make a great story, there’s generally a ‘triumph over tragedy’ element, and tangentially it is often about sex — which is guaranteed to make juicy copy. The pressure on journalists today is intense, and it leads too many to write what are often formulaic pieces. We all know the form; first UK dad gives birth or former marine Tiffany celebrates new life as a woman. But this sort of reporting does a disservice to everyone, and it is undermining the trust in journalistic profession. And when I think of my friend’s daughter and other confused kids like her — at what cost?
We live in an age where it has never been easier to fake footage, to spread lies and to have these propagated through social media; from the fake news factories in Vladivostock to the well-meaning but dangerously misguided mobs like those who greeted us today. Given this, the role of traditional media in standing up to malign influences and reporting the truth has never been more important.
It isn’t just that the tech now exists to fabricate video footage and voice recordings, nor that various political powers and interests seek to undermine reality, it’s that people’s identities are increasingly formed online. These new shaky, fractured selves are not anchored in material reality or tempered by healthy debate. If you think about it, when one’s online interactions through adolescence are through the avatar of a cat-eared anime girl it might come as a shock to be reminded that one is in fact a bog-standard hairy bloke. Arguably these fragile internet-formed egos are threatened by slightest blow, and consequently even a mild challenge leads to rape and death threats. These are some delightful comments that have been sent my way by trans activists.
In the online world of illiberal ‘liberal’ politics a new hierarchy has emerged; one where moral worth and status is demonstrated by ‘liking’ the right tweets, repeating virtuous phrases and following the correct accounts. In this febrile environment, inconvenient facts and unpopular opinion are deemed ‘phobic’ and ‘phobic’ people are scum. And feelings override facts. Rather than take a stand and report the truth, the mainstream media have become complicit in repeating politically correct but morally wrong lies. Virtue-signalling is an easy trap to fall into, I know I’ve done it in the past. But we deserve more than that from the publications we look to — is not the job of the journalists to coddle the egos of the delusional, nor to protect us from potentially upsetting facts.
Perhaps some of you think some censorship is a price worth paying to save offending people, and so here is an example of why this matters.
Here are two photos, the first is Karen White and the second is Tara Hudson. Tara Hudson is a male who committed a violent crime, he hit the news in 2015 when he head-butted a bar manager’s teeth out and was sent to a male prison. Hudson had eight previous convictions including for battery. He didn’t have a gender recognition certificate, boasted in an escorting ad of his ‘7 inch surprise’ and was sent to a male prison. A massive media campaign was launched to have Tara moved to the women’s prison estate. From Vice to The Guardian, Independent and Telegraph there were impassioned pieces illustrated with doe-eyed Tara, demanding that he be moved to HMP Eastwood Park, a women’s prison. His history of violent crime and the fact that he is a biologically intact man, albeit with plastic tits, were rarely mentioned. Following his move to the female prison estate the guidance on transgender prisoners was changed. Two years later and this is Karen White, a transgender rapist who was imprisoned, thanks to the new guidance, in the female estate where he went on to sexually assault fellow inmates. That violent biological males can now be housed in the same prisons as some of the most vulnerable women is evidence not only of a failure of policy, but also of journalists to do their job and report the facts objectively.
The outlets that condemn the spread of so-called ‘fake news’ are by and large high-handed hypocrites. When it comes reporting on people who identify as transgender they are out-of-step with public opinion, and indeed reality. To illustrate this — here is a story from my local paper. It’s a sad story about someone with serious mental health problems experiencing the horrors of living on the street. When local readers took to social media to question why an obvious male was being referred to as ‘Amy’ their comments were immediately deleted — presumably the readership weren’t sufficiently educated on this topic to recognise that this person has a the gender identity ‘woman.’ What a relief that staff at my local paper were there to correct the bigoted eyes of their readership. Smaller outlets of course follow the lead of bigger players.
When you look at the standard-setters such as Reuters or the BBC the editorial bias is equally obvious. Here is a BBC piece about a ‘woman’ who went on a rampage with an axe. I complained to the BBC about this inaccuracy and was told referring to the violent attacker as a woman was ‘consistent with the style guide. This is not a one-off, every week it seems a new story emerges where a ‘woman’ is reported to have committed a violent crime. Last week it was this Merseyside ‘lady’ with a hammer and male pattern baldness…
Who sets these guidelines is interesting — it should be noted that BBC is proud of its close working relationship with Stonewall. To my mind what has happened to media outlets at the hands of transgender advisory groups is a similar phenomenon to what is described by many economists as ‘regulatory capture.’ Regulatory Capture is when governmental bodies are effectively taken over by special interest groups until they morph into what amounts to a lobby group. It is clear that by reporting crimes on the basis of the offender’s preference rather than the objective reality of their sex, the BBC and indeed most mainstream media orgs, have turned their back on the truth in favour of a promoting an ideological stance.
Setting what is an extreme and ideological position as the norm has left the few outlets who do try to report with balance out in the cold. Here you can see a protest outside The Times and this, at the other end of the political spectrum, a transactivist has filmed burning copies of the Morning Star. There is an irony in the fact that these vicious cry bullies call those asking for truthful reporting fascists — destroying writing that threatens a powerful ideology and working to prevent freedom of expression are the tenants of fascism.
From my experience journalists are largely driven by a desire to hold the powerful to account and inform the public — doing so in today’s climate can be hard. The consequences for not toeing the politically correct line include being seen as a deranged Trump supporting Christian fundamentalist, losing income and receiving death threats. So in a way, who can blame them? For context, and to voice a moan, I fight to get my work out, and this year I’ve been paid a total of £100 for a gender critical article that was then pulled. All of the others I’ve written for free — critical thinking doesn’t pay.
One of the final points I want to make is an inversion of a feminist maxim: The political is personal. Transgenderism has become so mainstream all of us know of someone with our family, friendship circle or workplace who identifies as transgender. This makes it really hard to speak out, because criticism of what is a damaging and dangerous political movement is too often see through the lense of ‘my good friend Natasha who used to be Nigel.’ This holds true for journalists and editors as it does for everyone outside the media. And let’s remember, a joint BBC and Stonewall survey conducted last year revealed there are 417 BBC employees who identify as trans. This leads to self-censorship, which is arguably far more of an insidious threat to free expression than state censorship. It becomes difficult to report the truth when you are told that in doing so you are causing transgender people to kill themselves. Going back to the blog accusing me of cheering on the suicide of children, balance has now been reframed as hatred.
In the current climate few outlets will tell the truth; notably the Times has offered balance and is currently the subject of two legal challenges. This underlines why honest reporting of unpopular but undeniable facts, like the truth that transwomen are men and transmen are women, has never been more necessary. From politicians, to journalists to every one of us here today — we each have a duty to speak up, and to call bullshit on ‘woke news.’