The NewsGuild of New York responded on Wednesday to a group of New York Times members that bashed the Guild for appearing to defend criticism of the paper’s trans coverage.
By flagging management’s condemnation of a Times contributors’ letter as a workplace issue, the NewsGuild president said, the union was merely trying to protect employees from punishment for speaking out against their employer.
The letter from NewsGuild-NY President Susan DeCarava to the group of reporters, obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast, said the union wasn’t trying to wade into any of the debate surrounding the Times’ trans coverage. Instead, the NewsGuild said it wanted to ensure management won’t discipline those who attached their name to an open letter denouncing the paper’s handling of trans issues. (The NewsGuild also represents The Daily Beast’s unionized staffers.)
“Affirming that an allegation is protected speech is not an endorsement of that allegation,” she wrote. “If any member is disciplined for signing the NYT Letter, they will have Guild representation. The same is true if any member were to face discipline for the coverage that was the subject of the NYT Contributor’s Letter.”
DeCarava reiterated that “It is unlawful for an employer to threaten employees for having raised such concerns or to discourage other employees from doing so in the future.” She further railed against Times brass’ “broadly framed threat of reprisal" against employees who attached their names to the memos.
Some Guild members who signed the letter critical of their paper’s coverage have been called in for questioning, with disciplinary proceedings apparently under discussion, a person familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast. The Times did not immediately return requests for comment.
DeCarava’s letter followed a Tuesday memo from more than 80 Times Guild members admonishing the union for seemingly attacking the paper’s journalistic process by defending external and internal criticism of its trans coverage. DeCarava assured those members that the union will not take a position on whether or not some of Times’ coverage of trans issues has been appropriate.
“This is a matter of editorial policy about which the Guild does not take a position,” DeCarava wrote in her response. “Be assured, however, that the Guild will represent every member without fear or favor as they navigate that process within their respective workplace.”
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DeCarava’s note is the latest development in an ongoing imbroglio, which began last week when hundreds of Times contributors and the LGBTQ organization GLAAD published open letters condemning how the Times has covered transgender issues The letters cited multiple stories written by reporters such as Emily Bazelon, Michael Powell, and Megan Twohey, along with opinion columns penned by Pamela Paul.
Executive editor Joe Kahn and opinion editor Katie Kingsbury responded to the letters the following day, arguing that contributors who signed the letter violated the Times’ ethical standards for speaking out publicly on an issue. Since then, Times management has not said what it will do, if anything, to review, alter, or deepen its trans coverage going forward.
“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.”
DeCarava fired back in a letter on Friday, saying the contributors were “protected in collectively raising concerns that conditions of their employment constitute a hostile working environment. This was the concern explicitly raised in the letter at issue here.”
That sowed discord among Times staffers and prompted pushback from some Guild members directly to DeCarava over her public statements, according to Semafor. But DeCarava said in her Wednesday letter that the Guild has not actually taken a position on whether a “hostile working environment” exists.
That prompted a group of more than 80 reporters—led by media reporter Jeremy Peters and signed by big names such as Peter Baker, Ken Vogel, Adam Goldman, and Brooke Barnes (along with Bazelon and Powell)—to accuse DeCarava of trying to interfere in the paper’s editorial process.
“Your letter appears to suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of our responsibilities as journalists,” the group wrote in the letter, which was first reported by Vanity Fair. “Regretfully, our own union leadership now seems determined to undermine the ethical and professional protections that we depend on to guard the independence and integrity of our journalism.”
The NewsGuild reaffirmed the letter’s contents in a statement: “The Guild is committed to representing every member equally and fairly, regardless of reporting assignment. We have never and will not take a position on the subject matter of editorial coverage and fight hard for every member’s right to work in a healthy and safe environment, free of harassment and discrimination. These are principles that are at the core of trade unionism and are central to our mission.”
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