A day after open letters from both celebrities and New York Times contributors blasted the paper for its coverage of transgender people, executive editor Joe Kahn hit back with a stern newsroom memo defending the coverage and condemning contributors and staffers who railed against it.
“Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy,” Kahn wrote, later adding: “We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”
Kahn argued the open letters ignored the paper’s “strong commitment to covering all aspects of transgender issues, including the life experience of transgender people and the prejudice and violence against them in our society.”
The newsroom-wide memo, obtained by The Daily Beast, came hours after staffers began speaking out publicly against the coverage and signing onto the contributors’ open letter. It also came after the Times published an op-ed Thursday titled “In Defense of J.K. Rowling,” by columnist Pamela Paul, who notably wrote a piece questioning the legitimacy of trans women. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has been a leading critic on trans issues.
Nozlee Samadzadeh, a computer programmer with the Times, posted a screenshot of an email she wrote to Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger that said she has lost trust in management over its defense that those who criticized the Times’ trans coverage engaged in “advocacy.”
“To dismiss yesterday’s letter from Times contributors... is disrespectful to the very journalists whose work we’ve chosen to publish,” she wrote. “And on the very next day to publish Pamela Paul’s piece on JK Rowling, someone whose platform is big enough not to need our ‘defense’ and who has caused very real harm to the trans community, is difficult not to interpret as a provocation.”
Celeste Lavin, a homepage editor for the Times, also wrote on Twitter that “the beautiful, powerful letter from our own contributors should not be written off as advocacy irrelevant to our journalistic mission.”
“We need to do better as a news organization,” she tweeted with a link to the letter.
The fight has even extended to other newsrooms. Jonathan Chait, a columnist at New York magazine, wrote a piece arguing the Times protestors “have the wrong target and the wrong goal.”
He cited statistics suggesting an ongoing “mental health crisis” affecting girls and young LGBTQ people. It led two employees—editor Madeline Leung Coleman and fact-checker Alice Markam-Cantor—to publicly blast him on Twitter.
The backlash is the second major test Kahn has faced since he took over from former executive editor Dean Baquet last year. Two months ago, he had to deal with a daylong walkout from Times Guild members and a protest outside the Times’ Manhattan office over its prolonged contract negotiations, which are still ongoing.
Multiple members of the Guild’s bargaining committee contacted by The Daily Beast on Thursday either did not have an official response or did not immediately return a request for comment.