The Times Need A Changing | Crooked Media
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March 26, 2023
What A Day
The Times Need A Changing

In This Episode

  • Severe weather continued across the Deep South, after intense tornadoes struck Mississippi and Alabama over the weekend, leaving at least 26 people dead and destroying rural towns in one of the poorest areas of the country.
  • A collective of New York Times contributors released an open letter to the newspaper last month, calling out widespread editorial bias in its reporting on transgender, non⁠-⁠binary, and gender nonconforming people. Freelance journalist Harron Walker and TV critic Sean Collins, two co-authors of the original letter, join us to check in on how the Times has responded.
  • And in headlines: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his own defense minister for speaking out against a controversial plan to reform the country’s judicial system, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, and the Los Angeles Unified School District reached a deal with 30,000 service workers after last week’s massive strike.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, March 27th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day where now that Succession and Yellow Jackets are back on the air, we are declaring another golden age of television. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Y’all keep telling me it’s good. I haven’t seen not either one of them yet. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Look, I’m just going to lie to you about the plot. I’m just going to sell you on this plot however I need to, because you have got to watch Succession. I can’t be living this life with only one of us watching Succession. [music break]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, the head of Israel’s military was fired for speaking out against a plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system. Plus, the latest installment of the John Wick saga annihilated its box office competition. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: But first, terrible storms continued across the Deep South on Sunday, two days after intense tornadoes blew across Mississippi and Alabama on Friday. Reports said that the tornadoes completely destroyed multiple rural towns and at least 26 people are dead in one of the poorest areas of the country. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Okay, so let’s start with Friday’s tornadoes. Tell us what happened there. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so there were multiple tornadoes on Friday, but the biggest one was in Mississippi and apparently tore through 90 miles of land and stayed on the ground for about an hour. That’s kind of unheard of. It is a very rare occurrence. USA Today reported that, quote, “Houses were torn from foundations. Trees were stripped of branches. Cars were flipped like toys. Entire blocks were wiped out.” The mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, a town about 60 miles outside of Jackson, told CNN, quote, “My city is gone.” Many of the places that were hardest hit were in largely poor and Black parts of the state as well. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Now, you said that one was the big one. Tell us a little bit about some of the others that happened on Friday. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So in total, there were more than a dozen in that area on Friday alone. They were part of a supercell, which The Washington Post calls a, quote, “rotating thunderstorm” and these tornadoes were especially fierce. Also, one of them lifted debris to about 30,000 feet, which seems wild to me. That’s how high you are on a plane when they let you take your seatbelt off. Like that is really, really high in the air. Right. And it seems likely the worst tornado, the one that we talked about a few minutes ago, was a wedge tornado, which means it’s wider than it is tall. AccuWeather says that, quote, “Some of the largest and most destructive tornadoes in history were wedge tornadoes.” 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So a lot of destruction there. What about on Sunday? What happened then? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Well, storms continued on Sunday and tornadoes continued to hit the south, including Alabama and here in Georgia. Several people were injured. Lots of damage was done to houses and neighborhoods. And wildly, two tigers were briefly unaccounted for in the Pine Mountain Animal Safari here in Georgia, luckily, those tigers have returned home because the only thing worse than a tornado is a tiger and a tornado. Not really cool. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Has the Biden administration taken any steps to support the people who’ve been impacted by these storms yet? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So the administration has issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi that ensures that federal funding will be available to Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties in the state. And Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell were in Mississippi on Sunday to see the damage for themselves. Quote, “In disasters like this, there are no strangers. Everyone comes together, everyone is a neighbor and everyone is family,” Mayorkas said on Sunday. “They cannot do it alone. And the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will be here as long as it takes. The entire federal family is here to support these communities.” So I’m not usually a big Department of Homeland Security fan, but I am glad to see some quick response on the federal level. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. I share that hesitation and concern that you have. We know the history of these institutions, um particularly when communities of color, especially right, need this type of support after these issues. So hopefully they get the resources they need as soon as possible. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: That’s right. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Now on to a different story. Over the weekend, Sunday marked the beginning of trans week of visibility and action, an effort created by civil rights attorney Chase Strangio and writer and activist Raquel Willis, both former guests on the show. We’ll put links to their episodes in the show notes. The week first created back in 2021, aims to digitally mobilize folks to confront the ever increasing legislative attack on trans people, especially trans youth. We’ve spoken about it at length on the show already. It leads into International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is on Friday and quite intentionally, right, they want to insert direct action and political education into the, quote, “menu of ways that the community can show up for each other and allies can join in the fight for trans justice and liberation.” A week like this is important because, as I discuss in my book, We See Each Other, a Black trans journey through TV and film out May 9th and available for preorder wherever you get slay worthy books. Even where you get basic books as well. It’s everywhere. Visibility is a paradox, right? Because as we see trans people enjoying the most visibility and culture perhaps ever, state legislatures across the country are trying to erase us. More than 400 bills have been introduced across the country, attacking trans youth specifically from the criminalization of lifesaving health care to the investigation of families for affirming their children. To banning trans youth from school activities, not to mention the host of legislation otherwise attacking the queer community from drag bans to the, quote unquote, “don’t say gay” laws. The truth of the matter is that visibility alone has not and will not save us as trans people because it has not and will not save the rest of y’all. And so it’s imperative that we all also take action. You can’t just talk the talk. You got to walk the walk as well. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: That’s right. It’s not enough to tweet or care in your heart. It’s time for everybody to show up and support these communities, particularly the trans community, which has been the subject of so much cruelty across the country historically and especially recently. And all of us should be doing what we can to express and show our support. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. So with that, I want to encourage everyone under the sound of my voice to go follow @trans_week on Instagram and Twitter. Every day of the week they have action items that you can take to support trans justice and trans survival. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Followed. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Now, as I’ve mentioned, we’ve covered this legislative assault at length on the show. And on a recent episode, we talked about how media and in particular The New York Times has contributed to this hellscape. That was an interview with journalist Katelyn Burns, and we talked about how some of the reportage of the supposed paper of record perpetuates anti-trans bias that has literally been cited in state legislatures as justification for their hatred and transphobia. Well, the morning that interview came out, a collective of contributors to the Times released an open letter sent to the publication calling out its editorial bias regarding reporting on transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people. That was on February 15th. In the little over a month since then, tens of thousands of folks have signed on. But The New York Times has basically ignored the group, choosing instead to conflate their letter with a different one that the media monitoring organization GLAAD spearheaded, that also came out the same day. Because it’s been a few weeks, I wanted to follow up on this story to see about the Times’s response. Spoiler alert it ain’t a good one. So I sat down with two of the coauthors of the original letter, freelance journalist Harron Walker and freelance TV critic Sean Collins. I started by asking Harron about how their group came to the decision of writing the open letter in the first place. 

 

Harron Walker: When I would just write an individual op-ed critiquing, say, one article or a few recent articles by a single publication, I was essentially throwing something out there that was important to say and is important to name and call out, but that would then enter a sort of discursive space where bad faith journalists who disagreed with me would sort of take it, turn that into column fodder. And the whole point of what I was maybe trying to argue would kind of just get lost in the fray of like debating this abstract concept of transness, which is one of the many critiques we have of the New York Times’s coverage of Transness, as it often exists as an abstract concept, as something that doesn’t affect real people or isn’t embodied by real people. With a contributor letter, I really felt that we got to sidestep all of that and just say, We are people who write for you, we illustrate for you, we photograph for you, we contribute to your publication. The call is coming from inside the house, essentially. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Tens of thousands of folks have since signed on to the letter, and they did it rather quickly, from my estimation, in my view. I wonder if y’all were expecting that type of response from the broader community of writers and readers of the Times. 

 

Harron Walker: I mean, I went into this with a certain level of optimism that said, I am also realistic. So I was fully ready for this to maybe be a splash in the bucket, you know, the Times to ignore it, nothing would happen. But what was really encouraging and heartening for me about it was how nobody else was ignoring it. You know, I personally as someone, like I said, who has been on an individual level writing on like a trans media criticism beat for many years now, found it really, really, really encouraging to see so many people within my industry who are peers, people I didn’t even know, people I respected. I’d read their work, I’d seen their work, agree with the same points. So I definitely also didn’t expect uh over 34,000 signatures from non contributors, from media workers, readers of the Times subscribers. 

 

Sean Collins: Yeah. If I recall correctly, I think I had some of the high end estimates on the numbers we would get. Like, I was like, you know, I bet we could get all the way up to 10,000 signatures total on this day. It’s really taken off. And then, of course, then the response was overwhelming compared to like our most optimistic estimates, which was wonderful. It did not go ignored by the wider media world. You know, it was covered nationally. It got a lot of people talking, which is kind of a bit of what we hoped to accomplish by publishing it as an open letter in the first place, um that it would draw some attention, because as further reporting has come out on the situation within the Times, a lot of people have tried to go through the so-called proper channels and been paid lip service maybe, and then basically ignored. Going public in such a loud way and having it catch on the way it did. I do think sort of forced the Times to acknowledge it in some way. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Now, at this point, you all the collective of folks who wrote the initial letter, have released a number of responses to like comments that The Times has made in press reports. But I’m curious, have you all, as the writers of this letter, had any interaction directly with the Times at all? Have they acknowledged or responded directly to the concerns and criticisms that you all have surfaced? 

 

Sean Collins: Beyond the direct response that we did eventually get from Philip Corbett. No. Well, it was substantive in the sense that he basically refuted or denied everything that we said. And in that sense, it wasn’t surprising because by the time we got his response, they released a public statement. People way, way, way high up on the masthead released an internal memo. By the time we did hear from him, the whole hierarchy of the paper and its like public external communications wing had already established what the party line was. And indeed, he just echoed what they had already told us, which is we deny this and we think everything’s fine and we don’t deal with activists. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Anything to add there Harron?

 

Harron Walker: Using the label of activist or advocate to dismiss a journalist as opinionated, as not objective, as not neutral enough to be maybe paid attention to if you disagree with them. It was curious to us because all of us, including the about 1200 other people who ended up signing the letter on the contributor side of things. The Times had deemed us all, you know, objective, unbiased, worth listening to enough to contribute to their publication until we offered what I think was a very evenhanded, fair, good faith critique of a very specific aspect of their coverage. Then suddenly we were activists, then suddenly we were advocates. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And I want to kind of broaden this conversation out just a little bit, as journalists what is it do we feel like publications like The Times and others, reporters elsewhere, should be doing in their coverage of trans issues? How do they go about being more responsible in their coverage of our issues, especially as we know, right, with all this shit happening on the legislative front, that these issues will continue to be covered? I’ll come to you first, Harron.

 

Harron Walker: First and foremost, I’ll be the millionth person to say this. They could start by hiring more trans people in meaningful resourced capacities so that we’re in their newsrooms at multiple levels, not even just the most expendable entry levels who got laid off in the annual layoff bloodbath at every institution in media, good industry. I mean, I would assume that it would be very difficult to treat trans people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people, as abstract concepts if you are literally faced with our embodied personhoods on a daily basis, having to like, engage with us as people in pitch meetings. So that’s first and foremost. Do we get a range of ideas from us that would actually exist outside of the narrow debates about like transness, should it exist? Trans people, how many should there be? Trans health care? Should they have it? 

 

Sean Collins: I guess I would add that, you know, one of our chief complaints is the broader context in which this coverage is appearing or in some cases not appearing like, for example, just in the past like couple of weeks, state after state has either advanced or passed legislation targeting trans people, trans kids, trans adults, and in state after state, that’s happened with no reporting on it from the Times. You would think that the big crisis is like, oh, no, some kids getting prescribed puberty blockers, maybe? Where there’s an attempt being made to legislate trans people out of existence in many states in this country, that’s the crisis. Report that. At least give your readers a sense of what the actual problem is. You know, it’s not just what they’re writing, it’s what they’re not writing about. 

 

Harron Walker: Yeah. Like, for example, February 28th, Mississippi signed into law a ban on gender affirming care for minors. The Times didn’t report it. Same day Oklahoma was advancing this bill banning insurance coverage for trans care. The Times did not report on that. It’s kind of a pattern of coverage or if the Times does end up covering something like on March 2nd, Tennessee also banned gender affirming health care for trans children. The Times only on the sixth in an op ed mentioned the health care ban. And as the Times reported earlier this year, in a story that was much broader in its scope about like GOP lawmakers pushing anti-trans bills, there was a quote from Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, which is one of the organizations that, per The Times’s own reporting in that story is behind a lot of this legislation across the country. He literally said that his group’s goal is the elimination of gender affirming health care for everyone, not just trans kids, But the focus on trans kids is because, in his words, it’s a, quote, “political winner and they’re going to go where the consensus is.” So perhaps there could be some like connecting to synapses there within the Times’s editorial decision makers that they have it on their own, on record through their own publication, of what the end goal of this kind of legislation is for trans people and then recognize how their actual coverage is ignoring it and allowing that to ferment or when they do weigh in, kind of giving a hmm. Got to hear both sides. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: That was my interview with journalists Harron Walker and Sean Collins. For more updates about their group’s efforts, check out NYTletter.com. All right. Time for a little ad break. We will be back in a bit. [music break]. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Protesters across Israel have taken to the streets once again after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly fired his own defense minister for speaking out against the controversial plan to reform the country’s judicial system. As we’ve mentioned on the show over the past few weeks, critics of the proposal say it would undermine Israel’s democratic foundations by giving the government greater power over who to appoint to its Supreme Court. This latest development unfolded on Saturday night when Yoav Gallant, who oversees Israel’s military, went on TV to denounce the plan, calling it a, quote, “immediate, intangible danger to Israel’s national security.” He was removed from office the very next day. So far, he is the only member of Netanyahu’s cabinet to speak out publicly against the reforms. As we went to record the show Sunday evening, demonstrators blocked off a major highway in Tel Aviv. And some union leaders in Israel have called for a general strike to put more pressure on the government to stop the overhaul. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Ukraine is demanding an emergency meeting with the U.N. Security Council following another chilling statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin over the weekend. Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus this summer following the British government’s pledge last week to provide Ukraine with armor piercing bullets made from depleted uranium. For all my fellow non scientists out there, spent uranium is much, much denser than other metals, which unfortunately makes it great against tanks and heavy vehicles. However, while it does carry the risk of radioactive contamination, it cannot trigger an explosion, unlike what Moscow claims. But if all this talk about nuclear weaponry is stressing you out, there is this, many military experts say Putin is bluffing because there have been no signs that Russia is actually trying to move any of its nuclear arsenal anywhere. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: You know, I don’t like banking on people bluffing when it comes to, you know, nuclear arms. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I don’t either. It’s not great. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So, you know, stay vigilant nonetheless. Okay? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Is that wind in Los Angeles or collective sigh of parental relief? As of late Friday, schools reopened for 420,000 students after the Los Angeles Unified School District reached a deal with members of the striking Service Workers Union. The strike lasted three days from Tuesday to Thursday of last week before a deal was announced to prevent another potential walkout. Crucially, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass stepped in to mediate talks on Wednesday after the district superintendent accused the union of stonewalling negotiations. Representatives with SEIU Local 99 confirmed that if members agreed to the multi-year deal, it will amount to a 30% wage increase for most workers, as well as increased health benefits, while the union is set to renegotiate their contracts again in 2024. Union leadership has indicated that another strike of this scale would be a last resort. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Though wickedly talented, Keanu Reeves punched, kick, stabbed, shot and exploded through the box office as his action film, John Wick Chapter Four raked in a killer $73.5 million in its opening weekend. The John Wick franchise, which debuted its first movie in 2014, has been lauded as a box office anomaly, and that each consecutive film has grossed more than its predecessor. And its latest installment was reportedly the most expensive to produce yet. With a budget of over $100 million dollars and a runtime of 2 hours and 49 minutes. Between the success of John Wick, as well as sequels like Creed 3 and Scream 6, it seems like AMC Theater’s spokesperson Nicole Kidman may not be getting the entire theater to herself for much longer. While movie theaters still haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels, ticket sales this March are up nearly 25% from the same time last year. The movies are almost mostly back. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Josie. I need to hear your thoughts. 2 hours and 49 minutes. Is it worth it? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: I was just about to give you my thoughts, so thank you for asking because you were going to get them either way. [laughter] That is way too long for a movie. Edit your movies down. Life is short, okay? Climate change is coming for all of us. Who knows how much time is we have left? I cannot spend 2 hours and 49 minutes in the theater. That’s crazy. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] I love it. And those are the headlines. 

 

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Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Avenge your pet dog by any means necessary and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading and not just the concensus on whether or not we’re allowed to have a crush on Roman Roy like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 

 

[spoken together] And every movie should be 90 minutes. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: What are we doing? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Except those that shouldn’t be. 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Oh. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: You know? 

 

Josie Duffy Rice: Good point. [laughter] I watched a kids movie tonight that was 2 hours. That’s crazy. 2 hours is like half my child’s life. [laughter] [music break]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. 

 

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