Reporters at the political news website Politico were warned the word ‘mother’ could be offensive during a row over transgender coverage, according to a new book.
It also details how a reporter was told her stories should be vetted by colleagues acting as ‘sensitivity readers’ after complaints that she had used the term ‘biological women’ in a story.
In ‘The Snowflakes’ Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked American Media,’ journalist Amber Athey claims to lift the lid on how liberal activists have pressured news organizations into following their agenda.
It comes as the idea of ‘sensitivity readers’ has hit the headlines. It emerged at the weekend that Ian Fleming’s James Bond books have been rewritten with modern audiences in mind, and that hundreds of phrases had been altered in Roald Dahl’s children’s stories on the advice of sensitivity experts.
Athey writes that a new generation of ‘woke’ reporter has taken over American newsrooms.
A March 2021 Politico article about the way Republicans hoped to capitalize on transgender issues triggered internal complaints and a newsroom review, according to a new book
The Snowflakes’ Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked American Media by Amber Athey is published by Bombardier Books on March 21
‘They create a culture of fear in which everyone — including the adults who are supposed to be in charge — is terrified of stepping out of line and becoming a target of the bullies.’
At Politico, she describes how a March 2021 piece by Gabby Orr, entitled ‘GOP seizes on women’s sports as unlikely wedge issue,’ attracted criticism and triggered an internal review.
Athey reports Orr was summoned to a meeting with Politico’s Director of Editorial Diversity Initiatives Robin Turner. He said two colleagues had voiced concerns.
‘During the course of that meeting, Orr was probed about her employment history at the Washington Examiner, a center-right outlet, and asked why the story omitted any transgender voices—though the piece had quoted Kate Oakley, senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, an activist organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ issues, extensively.
‘Orr’s colleagues also complained that she quoted conservatives, such as American Principles Project director Terry Schilling and former White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, without “contextualizing” their comments.’
Schilling played down the risk of violence to transgender people, while Miller said the Left’s position would drive ‘non-ideological voters’ to the GOP.
‘Orr, her colleagues argued, should have explicitly told readers that those remarks were offensive and transphobic,’ writes Athey.
A meeting attendee also took issue with the use of the phrase ‘biological women’ by interviewees as it was offensive to transgender readers.
Newsrooms across the country have grappled with how to deal with transgender issues and the evolving language around it against a highly charged backdrop
Athey is Washington editor of The Spectator. She writes that a new generation of ‘woke’ reporter has taken over American newsrooms in her forthcoming book
Phrases banned by Politico in its 2022 style guide for writers
Politico issued a new version of its style guide — rules and standards for writers — in January 2022, according to Amber Athey’s new book. It included the following as some examples of noninclusive words that should be avoided:
• Crack the whip—unacceptable because of origins in slavery
• Waiter or waitress—’server’ should be used instead
• Biological gender, biological sex, biological woman, biological female, biological man, or biological male
• Illegal immigrant or illegal alien
• Cake walk—’originated during slavery’ and thus perpetuates ‘racist motifs’
• In reference to illegal migration: onslaught, tidal wave, flood, inundation, surge, invasion, army, march, sneak and stealth
• Anchor baby
• Chain migration—this is a term used by ‘immigration hard-liners’
• Peanut gallery—”The cheapest seats often occupied by Black people and people with low incomes”
• Third-world countries—too ‘derogatory’
‘Turner suggested at the meeting’s conclusion that Orr’s colleagues serve as “sensitivity readers”—i.e., individuals who could make sure Orr wasn’t causing offense—prior to publication of future stories about transgender issues,’ even though Orr had recently written a 5,000-word Politico magazine cover story on the same subject without controversy.
She left Politico shortly afterwards to join CNN.
A seminar followed with three transgender individuals to help the newsroom learn to report on transgender issues in a ‘more comprehensive and inclusive way.’
Panelists told reporters that what they thought were ‘neutral’ positions on transgender issues was probably created by ‘white, cisgender men’ and should not be trusted.
‘Gendered words, they said, can be rooted in “exclusion” and can actually cause “trauma” for transgender and gender-neutral individuals,’ writes Athey, who obtained an email sent by Politico editors summarizing the seminar.
‘One former Politico reporter who attended the seminar said the panelists complained that the word “mother” could potentially be offensive when used by reporters and mocked reporters who had a hard time grappling with the grammatical implications of referring to singular individuals as “they/them.”‘
The ideas quickly took hold. A source told Athey they overheard an editor arguing with colleagues that ‘birthing people’ should be used instead of ‘birthing moms,’ which could be seen as offensive and exclusive.
A standards editor was appointed in the aftermath of the controversy to oversee ‘accuracy, fairness, clarity and nonpartisanship.’
A style guide followed in January 2022. It warned against using the term ‘pregnant women.
‘Generally, avoid references to a transgender person being born a boy or girl, and opt for phrasing such as “identified at birth as boy/girl.” A person’s biology does not take precedence over their gender identity, and such oversimplifications can invalidate the person’s current, authentic gender,’ read one entry.
Another said: ‘Consider using gender-neutral language like ‘pregnant people’ or ‘people using birth control,’ rather than ‘pregnant women,’ as there are nonfemale identifying people who are able to become pregnant, require reproductive healthcare, etc.’
Politico is not alone in trying to chart a new course through emerging trends and issues. Newsrooms have had to develop a new language to take account of people who reject traditional labels, pronouns and adjectives against a highly political backdrop.
Politico is not the only news organization to have run into trouble around transgender issues. The New York Times was accused by some of its own writers and contributors of ‘bias’ in reporting on the debate around trans rights
Athey traces Politico’s internal unease to early in 2021 when Politico let Daily Wire founder and conservative radio host Ben Shapiro take the reins of PlayBook, the website’s influential morning newsletter.
It caused a wave of anger. More than 100 staffers signed a letter to the website’s publisher demanding an apology and an increase in newsroom diversity.
Athey says that was the start of staffers feeling emboldened, and that multiple reporters besides Orr had been warned about their coverage of transgender issues,
‘Thanks to the constant complaints by woke staffers, transgender coverage at Politico now reads like pure propaganda over well-informed and reasoned reportage,’ she concludes.
In response, Politico denied updating its stylebook or holding a seminar in response to Orr’s article.
‘Athey’s conclusion is inaccurate and completely misinformed,’ said a spokesperson. ‘The article that she referenced was published two years ago (March 2021) and had absolutely no impact on POLITICO’s standards and practices.
‘For context, Politico —like other media organizations—regularly updates its stylebook, which is intended to keep Politico nonpartisan, accurate, and fair. The stylebook covers a wide variety of subjects and is a living document that that is constantly changing every week, sometimes every day.’
Most of the entries are line with the AP’s stylebook, added the spokesperson.
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