By Harry Storm
On December 16 last year, a documentary called “Adult Human Female” was due to be screened at Edinburgh University. However, transactivists and their allies managed to have the event cancelled. The cancellation was big news across Britain, but strangely, there was no mention of it in The Student, Edinburgh University’s student newspaper.
Four days later, the editor of that newspaper, Lucy Jackson, wrote an article published in The Spectator defending her decision not to report on the film or its cancellation despite its newsworthiness for the university’s student body.
Adult Human Female is a film by “gender critical” women about how women’s sex-based rights have been impacted by the recent imposition of so-called transgender rights. Though surely not her intent, Jackson’s explanation provides a textbook example of what has gone wrong with journalism today, not just on university campuses but in much of the mass media in the Anglosphere generally: an unwillingness to inform readers dispassionately about issues and events and instead only cover those stories that support a left identitarian agenda.
The article was prompted by what Jackson described as “something of a backlash” to her decision not to report. To be fair, much of the backlash was also misguided: Jackson was accused of being “fascist” – a much overused and abused term, as in this case – as well as “an enemy of free speech.” But as she correctly points out, editorial decisions have nothing whatsoever to do with free speech; if they did, people could claim censorship on just about anything editors leave out on a regular basis.
No, Jackson didn’t fall afoul of freedom of speech rights, nor did she engage in censorship. She made an editorial decision, as is her job as an editor. But the decision she freely admits to making and her rationale for making it were an outrage to the practice of journalism as it has been understood until recently.
Jackson rightly notes that editors prioritize what they believe “is most important, or interesting, to their readers.” Her readership is the student body at Edinburgh University. Does she seriously think that a report on a controversial documentary would not be important or interesting to students, regardless of how they view the transgender issue? Apparently, Jackson believes that the vast majority of students share her views on trans rights. I suspect that isn’t true, and that there are many students who disagree but may not be willing to express their own opinions in public. But even if she’s correct, why does she think a review of a film they strongly disagree with would not be of interest?
I can relate something from my own recent experience to illustrate my point. I am not a fan, to put it mildly, of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Meghan and Harry). As such, I had no interest in reading Spare or watching the Harry & Meghan documentary on Netflix. But I was keenly interested in reading about how both were received, and watched several Youtube videos about them. I certainly would not have appreciated some Youtube editor deciding for me that such videos weren’t worth watching.
Jackson goes on to disingenuously claim that the accusation that she ignored the film was untrue, even though that’s precisely what she did; nor does she provide any evidence to the contrary. She justifies her decision as follows: she did not want to “legitimize” its “questionable” claims. After all, she says, there is no obligation for journalists to report on things that might cause harm to others.
There’s much to unpack in that assertion: if the claims are “questionable,” then clearly the issues raised in the film aren’t settled and are still being debated, even though Jackson believes otherwise, as she asserts later in the article. But let’s give Jackson the benefit of the doubt and assume that when she wrote “questionable” when what she really meant was “false” – also problematic, as I’ll explain shortly.
The assertion that journalists needn’t report on things that “might” cause “harm” to others is profoundly misguided. Lots of things that are reported might cause harm; it’s not the journalist’s job to determine that, for which he or she has little or no expertise. I’m inclined to be a wee bit more generous about her reference to “harm”; she is, after all, a university student, and on campuses these days, just looking at someone the wrong way may be considered a microaggression that causes “harm.” Still, journalists ought to be more precise in their language, and it’s difficult to see how any report on a film – whether positive or negative – could be harmful to anyone.
She then inanely asserts that because Adult Human Female describes itself as being about “the clash between women’s rights and trans ideology,” its real message is that trans people are “apparently undeserving of rights,” which “vilifies and dehumanizes trans people,” and “encourages the perception of trans people as a threat.” Again, no evidence is provided to support this rather silly and formulaic assertion, so apparently, readers are expected to accept it as a given because Jackson does. She then states that such gender critical views incite “the risk of violence” against transgender individuals. Not only does this reveal a serious misunderstanding of the word “incite” – violence can be incited; a “risk” cannot be – it’s unclear how defending women’s sex-based rights could or would “incite” anything more than asking a trans-identified male to leave the ladies room or withdraw from a women’s sporting event.
The muddled thinking hardly ends there. Jackson writes that the idea that “the difference between the two sexes is based solely on biology dangerously neglects the distinction between sex and gender.” I’m afraid not, as it should be obvious that sex differences – as opposed to what she would refer to as gender differences — are in fact based solely on a person’s sex.
On the other hand, gender, being a term far more open to interpretation, is and should be subject to inquiry and debate. But not for Jackson, who calls out the “false idea that there is such a thing as a trans debate.” (When I was in Journalism School and then a working editor at a national daily, use of words like “false” were not allowed, because they implied a certainty of knowledge that the journalist couldn’t possibly have.)
According to Jackson, any debate whatsoever about transactivism and transgenderism in general make views opposed to hers “somehow acceptable” when they are, to her mind, hate speech. This is, of course, her opinion only, and quite a remarkable thing for anyone purporting to be a journalist to say, given that the film she refused to report on was made by and for people who do not share her beliefs, which in itself is proof that there IS a debate, and one that a significant majority of people outside university campuses (and a significant, if quiet, number on campus) are on the other side of.
Like the transactivists whose belief system she has swallowed hook, line, and sinker, Jackson entirely misrepresents what women advocating for sex-based rights say and advocate for – namely, safety of women in prisons, changing rooms, etc., and fairness in sport – and shrugs off all of the above as “harmful rhetoric.” Doing so justifies referring to those views as unacceptable hate speech unworthy of debate, without even mentioning what women’s sex-based rights are or why so many women (and men) feel so strongly about protecting them.
Although Jackson self-righteously maintains that her “journalistic principles” were behind her decision to not report on Adult Human Female, it’s plain to see that no principles of journalism were involved in her decision; rather, her personal beliefs – based on little more than emotion and ignorance of the real issues the transactivist movement raises for women — were the only motivating factor.
That this ideologically-driven claptrap masquerading as journalism afflicts universities across the Anglosphere is bad enough. Sadly, it now also infects much of our media, as evidenced by how major issues and events are blatantly ignored if they don’t support a left/identitarian agenda.
It’s unlikely our media can or will revert to their original purpose: informing the public. Bad news for us, to be sure. But – should she choose to pursue it — a stellar career likely awaits Lucy Jackson in the new “journalism.”
Update: This article in Spiked examines how legacy media like the Washington Post are abandoning long-held ethics like objectivity.