Politico published what it called a “Special Report” over the weekend, chronicling the experiences of families with transgender-identifying youths who have moved because of state laws that place restrictions on wrong-sex treatments for underage children. As when reading all corporate media coverage, readers should ask: What narrative is this writer pushing? But in this one-sided, pro-trans, and anti-science article, Politico leaves no doubt.
Underpinning the story lies the premise that encouraging children to undergo complicated medical procedures to attempt to change their sex (impossible) provides unalloyed benefits to the youths in question. But just because Politico says something doesn’t necessarily make it so.
I should preface my comments by stating that I do not have a medical background in endocrinology or otherwise. I won’t pretend to know the “right” way or “wrong” way to treat someone with gender dysphoria, although I hope that all God’s children get treated with dignity and respect.
But as someone who works in health policy, I have noticed several instances in recent months in which high-profile people have begun questioning the effects of puberty blockers and treatments that involve extensive hormone therapies and gratuitous surgeries that irreversibly damage people. Having come across these data points during my health policy work, I found the Politico piece striking for what it excluded.
While the section of Politico’s story discussing (or, more accurately, promoting) the medical merits of wrong-sex therapeutics began by referencing one recent expose in another national publication, it quickly minimized the concerns that story raised: “Even though the New York Times reported that some research suggests the treatment could seriously weaken bone health in youths, multiple mainstream medical organizations … have taken the position that gender-affirming care is a medical necessity.” By dismissing the Times article as solely related to “bone health,” Politico omitted discussion of other topics addressed in the story, including growing concerns in Europe regarding transgender interventions, and the lack of Food and Drug Administration approval for using puberty blockers on children.
In addition to the Times piece, Reuters in October published a nearly 8,000-word article on the growth of cross-sex procedures and the lack of research into these interventions’ long-term effects. Reuters noted that of the 39 parents it spoke with about their experiences seeking transgender procedures and drugs for their children, more than two-thirds (28) “said they felt pressured or rushed to pursue treatment.” Politico did not mention this in-depth investigation at all.
The story quoted three individuals — two doctors and the director of transgender justice at the ACLU — all of whom spoke favorably of the processes involved with transitioning children; one of the doctors claimed there was “undertreatment” of transgender youth. By contrast, the Times and Reuters stories quoted at least nine separate medical experts who showed some degree of skepticism toward puberty blockers or other types of cross-sex treatment. Politico did not quote these skeptics nor any other doctors questioning the procedures involved in transitioning children in its self-proclaimed “Special Report.”
One of the medical experts Politico did cite, Marci Brown, is president of the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH). Politico quoted Brown as saying that “gender-affirming care unequivocally positively affects the lives of those it treats.” But Politico did not note, as the October Reuters piece did, that WPATH’s new standards of care guidelines acknowledge the lack of evidence examining long-term outcomes of hormones and admit that in the absence of such evidence, “the decision to start gender-affirming medical interventions may not be in the long-term best interest of the young person at that time.”
Politico cited the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Physicians, as some of the “multiple mainstream medical organizations” supporting the necessity of these risky, experimental procedures. However, unlike the Times and Reuters stories, Politico did not mention that England’s National Health Service has shut down its main facility tasked with providing wrong-sex hormones and transgender surgery and that Sweden and Finland have limited access to similar treatments over concerns about not just physical ramifications from the drugs, but whether doctors are prescribing them without first assessing patients’ mental health.
One of the article’s three co-authors, Joanne Kenen, is the Commonwealth Fund’s journalist-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University. The Commonwealth Fund, as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit, must remain nonpartisan — but like other think tanks, that does not make it non-ideological. Commonwealth embraces much of the leftist agenda — for instance, by “highlight[ing] policies and practices needed to achieve an antiracist health system”— and has published research in various forms providing largely unqualified support for transitioning children. At no point in the article did Politico disclose Kenen’s relationship with Commonwealth or the fund’s ideological leanings.
Between them, the Times and Reuters have, in the past two months, published approximately 13,000 words highlighting potential drawbacks to, and consequences of, allowing children to undergo the process of so-called gender transition. For Politico to publish a “Special Report” on transgender interventions featuring three bylined reporters, and 13 other credited individuals, with only one passing and dismissive reference to the debate over the ramifications of such interventions, suggests either egregious sloppiness, ideological bias, or both.
Constructing a Narrative
Politico did not respond to my request for comment by deadline. They might, however, claim that the article focused largely on transgender youth and families themselves, with any discussion of the medical merits of the treatments at issue as secondary. They might also point to quotes from lawmakers who have proposed legislation blocking medical interventions for transgender-identifying youth — including Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican state legislator from Florida, and an attempt to solicit comment from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — as showing the publication’s desire for ideological balance.
But a skeptic might argue that this attempt at “balance” takes pains to avoid disrupting the article’s narrative — and indeed, the larger leftist narrative on this issue. If the article intends to advance a narrative suggesting Neanderthal legislators pass laws that bully and harass transgender youth, then interviewing some of those Neanderthal legislators nods at balance — at least superficially — without jeopardizing the narrative.
By contrast, raising any significant doubt about the medical effectiveness of prepubescent or pubescent transgender interventions would undermine that broader narrative because it could make restrictions on providing such drugs and procedures to youths seem appropriate. That provides one possible explanation why the discussion of the medical merits of transitioning children, while brief, was almost entirely one-sided and why the three Politico reporters failed to quote any medical experts skeptical of it, ignoring the recent work of other major news publications in doing so.
To end where I began: I don’t hold any medical expertise, least of all on matters like endocrinology and transgender medicine. But having read two lengthy, recent, and prominent exposes about the potential hazards experienced when young people undergo the process of so-called transition, even this non-expert realizes that Politico could and should have done far better than stating opinion as fact and blithely ignoring concerns that medical experts have raised.
Medical degree or not, I can recognize garbage reporting when I see it — and the Politico piece certainly qualifies.
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