Do you think journalists should always strive to give every side equal coverage? That’s the question asked in a recent Pew Research Center study that found a striking difference between the answer from journalists and non-journalists.

While 76% of the public believes every side should be represented in the news, only 44% of journalists surveyed said that every side deserves equal attention. Now, if you believe that news is biased, this discrepancy is hardly shocking, but if you add the nuance that the question lacks, it’s not as simple.

Think of the recent story about the Wisconsin school board that dismissed a book about Japanese American incarceration during World War II because it provided “only one side.” When the other side is racism, that should be an easy call. Same goes for when the other side is sexism or xenophobia or homophobia — or just plain obtuseness.

Some may quibble about lumping together a flat-earther with a climate-change denier, but we gain nothing by listening to either extreme view.

Yet, although I believe journalism provides a public service when it separates the wheat from the chaff, there is also a risk, when drawing that line, we will end a discussion before it’s begun.

Take transgender rights (don’t worry, we will tread gingerly).

David Mastio, former deputy editorial page editor at USA Today, recently authored an Op-Ed in the New York Post detailing how he was demoted after he tweeted, “People who are pregnant are also women.” According to Mastio, his bosses told him that, “the LGBTQ Employee Resource Group and the newsroom diversity committee” believed he should be fired.


Now, I’m not defending that tweet, it’s trollish and snarky and unproductive — just like Twitter — but it’s a problem when someone whose job it is to have opinions can’t have one (however dumb you think it is).

That was my position as I was telling a journalist friend about the kerfuffle, but she was not having it. To her, Mastio represents his employer, and that employer can disapprove of any public opinion that goes against its values. Fair enough.

But, for any newspaper that ideally is serving the wider community, is discussion of an idea forbidden if that idea is politically incorrect? If the community is still earnestly working through the concept, isn’t it better to have that conversation?

Because, make no mistake, while we may live in the Seattle bubble where there is a race between neighborhood little free libraries and virtue signaling yard signs, a large swath of America is still grappling with the idea of changing gender.

Singer and actress Bette Midler, who got her start performing in gay bathhouses and is no slouch on progressive issues, got into trouble recently for tweeting, “They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators,’ and even ‘people with vaginas’! Don’t let them erase you!”

Both Mastio and Midler are referring to the fact that since a trans man can become pregnant, then for the sake of inclusion, you should say pregnant people. If that doesn’t seem strange to you, then good job, you progressive angel. If that does feel strange to you, that’s all right and you’re not alone. Of course, what matters is what you do with that feeling.


This is a diverse world. As that diversity is recognized, respected and empowered, things will invariably change — that doesn’t mean we’ll all change at the same time.

When I told my friend that what Mastio should have done is write a column expressing his misgivings, she asked why would a newspaper print that? If trans rights are human rights, why would you give a platform to someone who would deny that? Those ideas are retrograde, she said.

I disagreed. Not that the ideas are wrong, but with the position that they don’t deserve open discussion in a public forum.

There is, of course, real damage being done. Trans people are subjected to discrimination, bullying and fatal violence because of who they are. That cannot change fast enough. But in calling people names because they’re not as far along as we are, we lump together those who need time to accept something new and those who will never change.

By calling them retrograde, for example, all we do is push people toward hardening their positions. We push them toward the loons who call LGBTQ folks and their allies “groomers” and to those who would, Texas-style, seek to prosecute parents for wanting to support their child’s gender transition.

If we want change, we need to bring those who disagree with us along to our point of view, and that means listening, along with talking.

As for my friend, I cut her some slack on her absolutist reaction. After all, we talked a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned the constitutional right to access an abortion and after Justice Clarence Thomas questioned the right to contraception. So, it had been a rough week for women.

Sorry, I mean people.