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Why The Free Press Exists, in Three Stories Bari Weiss

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(Photo via Getty Images)

I want to tell you three stories. 

Three short stories from these last days of summer that explain better than any pitch deck why The Free Press exists—and why the work that we’re doing matters. 

The first is about Jamie Reed.

Perhaps you’ll remember that name. Six months ago, we published an explosive story by Reed—an insider account about the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Reed was a former employee of the clinic, and she came to The Free Press to blow the whistle.

What Reed described was alarming. She wrote of vulnerable teenagers with multiple mental health problems who were rushed into life-altering treatments that included possible sterilization. The situation was, in her words, “morally and medically appalling.”

Reed did not have an ax to grind. Quite the opposite: she identifies as queer, her partner is a trans man, and politically she is “to the left of Bernie Sanders.” She has spent her entire career working to help vulnerable people.

Still, Reed knew what would likely happen to her as a result of speaking out. “I am doing so knowing how toxic the public conversation is around this highly contentious issue—and the ways that my testimony might be misused,” she wrote. “I am doing so knowing that I am putting myself at serious personal and professional risk.”

And that is exactly what happened.

Jamie Reed was demonized and disavowed. Meanwhile, Missouri’s attorney general announced an investigation into the gender clinic the day after we published her piece. But prominent journalists, instead of following up on this important news, denounced us. 

Cut to August.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times substantiated Reed’s account, citing patients who sought to reverse their transition, and young people with complex mental health problems being put on powerful drugs. (The New York Post graciously took notice of the “vindication” with this editorial.)

It’s professionally gratifying to have our reporting followed. 

But this isn’t just any story. It’s the kind of story that the mainstream has actively avoided telling because it is morally knotty and because, as Jamie Reed learned, those who pursue it are punished. 

We exist to pursue exactly these stories—the ones that others are afraid to touch. The ones that everyone quietly wonders about—how did this become the medical consensus? And can teenagers really consent to decisions they can’t fully grasp?

By covering these hard topics in a sober, fair way, we force others to follow. And in doing so, slowly, we believe we are changing the conversation in the culture and the country.

This isn’t the first or only time this has happened. Far from it. 

Nearly a year after we broke the story of the cancellation of David Sabatani, a world-renowned cancer researcher, the Boston Globe Spotlight team followed our reporting.

Three months after we took you to Lia Thomas’s swim meet, the legacy press followed.

Two months after we covered the battle at the Audubon Society, the legacy press did the same.

Several months after we took a deep dive into the consequences of the nation’s Adderall shortage, others took notice.

And perhaps the darkest example: last year, there was growing outrage over a story about mass graves of indigenous children found in Canada. The Washington Post and The New York Times covered this credulously. Flags in Canada were lowered to half-staff for the longest period in that country’s history. Pope Francis apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church, which operated over 70 percent of Canada’s residential schools for indigenous children. (Meanwhile, dozens of churches across Canada were burned in apparent retaliation for the church’s sins.)

But the facts were stubborn. And so was journalist Terry Glavin. 

Terry appeared on our podcast, Honestly, to report that the story was a hoax—that despite the intense and even violent reaction the story had inspired, there was not, in fact, any physical evidence that it was true.

Again, we were pilloried. Again, we stood by the story. And again, we were proven right

When we say that The Free Press has a special mission to run after the stories others are afraid to touch—and to do so in a way that’s honest and fair—this is exactly what we are talking about.

We also pride ourselves on setting the record straight. 

That’s what Terry Glavin did. And that’s what Free Press reporter Rupa Subramanya did when she visited a certain bluegrass singer. . . 

Like every other outlet in the country, we were dying to get an interview with the man of the moment: “Rich Men North of Richmond” singer Oliver Anthony, who emerged from the woods of Virginia with a song that captured the nation.

While the GOP presidential candidates were being asked about the song’s resonance at the first Republican debate, our Rupa Subramanya was flying from Ottawa to Virginia to show up at Anthony’s concert and see about an interview. 

She got him—not just first, but best.

Among the revelations in Rupa’s profile are that the song’s politics—and Anthony’s own—are far more complicated than those vilifying him on the left or lionizing him on the right would suggest. 

That’s just what The Free Press is about: nuanced, fair, and allergic to the convenient stereotypes that flatten the complicated reality of actual human beings.

The last story is about hope—and about the future.

It’s no secret that The Free Press also began as a reaction.

What we learned, very quickly, is that telling you what’s wrong with the country and the world is insufficient. 

It’s crucial to expose the brokenness all around us—that’s how we make decisions about where to live, about where to send our children to school, about who to trust, and about who not to. But we also have to elevate the voices of those who are busy building the world anew.

That is what three teenagers did so beautifully last week in these pages, in response to our first-ever high school essay contest. Isabel Hogben with I Had a Helicopter Mom. I Found Pornhub Anyway. Caleb Silverberg with Why I Traded My Smartphone for an Ax. And Ruby LaRocca with her winning essay: A Constitution for Teenage Happiness.

We were gratified at the outpouring of responses. 

David French wrote about Isabel’s “powerful essay with a provocative title” in The New York Times. Arianna Huffington wrote at length about Ruby’s essay in her newsletter: “It’s actually a great guide for all of us, proving that, contra (another great essayist) Oscar Wilde, wisdom doesn’t only come with age.” Most importantly, deans from schools across the country have reached out to us asking to get in touch with these promising young students. 

And though none of these essays were behind a paywall, you all understood their value. Hundreds of you became paying subscribers, and many of you told us why. Mike R. wrote: “I am upgrading to a paid membership because of the teenage essay competition, which was tremendous. It gives me great hope for the future. Thank you for sponsoring such a meaningful exercise.”

The Free Press began as a question: do Americans still want real journalism? Fearless, fair, independent journalism that treats readers like adults? Journalism that presents the facts—even the uncomfortable ones—and allows people to draw their own conclusions rather than serving them premasticated mush?

Not to drag the metaphor too far but: could Americans still chew? 

The answer from nearly 450,000 of you has been a resounding yes

And that number grows every day.

But the work we do takes real investment. Hiring the most talented reporters and editors in the country; putting people on planes so they can talk to sources face-to-face; hunting down archival tape for our podcasts; paying our interns a fair wage—we need your support to do those things.

So if you read our stories or listen to our podcasts and say: yes

That speaks for me. 

Or: that provoked me. 

Or: that elevated me.

Or: that woke me up.

Or: that surprised me.

Or: that was important to read, even though I disagreed. . . subscribe.

If you believe that free people deserve a Free Press, join us today.

Our work here is just beginning.

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WATCH: ‘This Is My First Rodeo’ | Ben Meets America Ben Kawaller

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In the latest stop on his cross-country quest to understand America, Ben Kawaller watches men hurl cows to the ground.

Last month I attended The American Rodeo in Arlington, Texas, a city of around 400,000 souls situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. This was my first rodeo, and it did not take me long after entering its host venue, the gargantuan Globe Life Field, to realize that I did not know what a rodeo was. If you’d asked me six weeks ago to define the term, I would have said something like, “It’s when you watch someone career around an enclosed pen on an animal.” 

Which is actually not too far off. But what I hadn’t realized is that a rodeo is actually a sporting event. 

You see, some people are especially good at bending these animals to their will, and if you are one of those people, you can win competitions for things like making the animals run very fast, or tying the animals up very quickly, or not dying while trying to sit on one of the animals.

Of course, I wasn’t really there for the games; I was there to talk to the crowd about what makes our society so divided. If you’re tuning in for the first time to my new series—“Ben Meets America”—I was born and raised in progressive Brooklyn, I now live in West Hollywood, and I will admit to being soft in some fundamental way. Suffice it to say I get a more transcendent high from watching a torch song than I do from watching a man hurl a small cow to the ground.

But, in fact, theater and rodeo have their similarities. If you’ve been to a play in recent years, you will have suffered the degradation of a “land acknowledgement.” This is when the audience is told before the show—either in an announcement or in the program notes—that they’ve gathered on land stolen from whatever Native American tribe existed there years ago. My sense is that some of this is rooted in the idea that America itself is fundamentally illegitimate. Whatever’s behind it, the inclusion of a land acknowledgement has become de rigueur.

I did not think conservatives did land acknowledgements, so I was surprised when the Native American actor Mo Brings Plenty appeared before the start of one of the competitions and performed a minute or two of indigenous wailing. I believe the intent of this was to, well, acknowledge the fact that Native American bloodshed was central to the expansion of the American West. What I did not expect was the incongruence of what came after. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. I’m still puzzling over its significance.

In the end, however, I decided I prefer the conservative version of a land acknowledgement. Unlike the inane liberal sacrament, it appears to be capable of expressing two truths at once: that oceans of indigenous blood were spilled in the creation of this country, and that we live in one of the greatest nations on earth.

Even if one of our favorite spectator sports is man versus cow.

Only paid subscribers can see Ben’s video on The American Rodeo. Become one today and scroll down to watch.

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April 14, 2024 Garamond

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Senate spotlight: A Trump Republican’s China problem Judd Legum

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November’s election will not only determine which party controls the White House but also the United States Senate. Currently, the Democratic caucus holds a narrow 51-49 advantage. Control of the chamber will come down to a handful of competitive races. This is the first installment in a series that takes a deep dive into the issues shaping these campaigns. 

In Ohio, businessman Bernie Moreno (R) is attempting to unseat Senator Sherrod Brown (D). Ohio, once a swing state, has been trending Republican. Moreno’s campaign strategy is to attach himself at the hip to Donald Trump. He refers to himself as the “Trump endorsed Republican nominee for US Senate from Ohio.” This helped him easily win the Republican primary against a field of more politically experienced opponents.  

In a potential second term, Trump is vowing to declare economic war on China, promising to “tax China to build America up.” Trump’s plan is to revoke China’s most favored nation trading status and impose a tariff on Chinese goods of up to 60%. (The policy would cost the typical American household thousands of dollars annually and increase inflation.) Imports of “essential goods” from China, including electronics, steel, and pharmaceuticals, would be completely banned

Moreno has taken a similar approach, saying he is running for Senate to “Beat Communist China.” To bolster his anti-China credentials, Moreno claims to have a history of combating Chinese power. These stories, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Moreno made his fortune through buying and selling car dealerships. As his wealth increased, so did his interest in Republican politics. In 2011, former Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) appointed him to the board of trustees at Cleveland State, one of Ohio’s public universities. Moreno served as chairman of the Cleveland State board from 2016 to 2018.

Confucius Institutes, which offer “Chinese language and culture programs,” were established at numerous U.S. universities beginning in 2005. They were partially funded by the Chinese government. Over time, there were bipartisan concerns that Confucius Institutes were being used to promote Chinese government propaganda or even to facilitate espionage. On the campaign trail, Moreno has repeatedly claimed that, in his role as chair of Cleveland State’s Board of Trustees, he eliminated the university’s Confucius Institute.

Here is how Moreno described his role in a March 2023 campaign event:

I chaired the board of trustees at Cleveland State University, and I’m very proud of the fact that when I was there, we got rid of our Confucius Institute. We made certain that we focused everybody on student achievement, and we respected free speech on campus.

He made a nearly identical claim in October 2023. But it is a lie.

Moreno’s service on the board ended in May 2018. Cleveland State did not shut down its Confucius Institute until 2021. The truth is, while Moreno was on the board, he repeatedly approved funding for Cleveland State’s Confucius Institute. In 2016, when Moreno was still vice chairman, he voted to approve $38,000 in funding for the school’s Confucius Institute. The following year, as chairman, Moreno voted to re-up the funding. Minutes from these meetings show that Moreno did not express any concerns about the Confucius Institute

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Moreno told the Columbus Dispatch that he deserves credit for the elimination of the Confucius Institute at Cleveland State because of “his role in the hiring of Harlan Sands, who was Cleveland State’s president when the institute closed.” There are a couple of issues with this response. First, this is not what Moreno said previously. He clearly said that the board “got rid” of the Confucius Institute while he was chair. Second, Cleveland State did not eliminate the Confucius Institute because of the initiative of President Sands. Cleveland State, along with nearly all other universities, closed its Confucius Institute after Congress passed legislation in 2018 and 2020 limiting federal funding for universities that maintained the Confucius Institutes. From 2019 to 2023, the number of Confucius Institutes operating in the United States went from about 100 to fewer than 5.

The truth about Moreno and Chinese-made SUVs

“When I was a General Motors dealer, I sold Buicks. The Buick Envision was made in China. I told General Motors I wouldn’t sell one of them, don’t even ship it to me,” Moreno said during a February 10, 2024 radio interview. “They threatened me and sent me all kinds of nasty notes… we have to actually take this stand…”

That story, which Moreno also told during his brief run for Senate in 2021, is a lie. 

In reality, Moreno sold the Buick Envision at his dealership for at least five years — from 2014 to 2019 — and promoted the vehicle repeatedly on its social media channels, an investigation by NY1 revealed

A December 13, 2016 video published on the “Bernie Moreno Companies” YouTube page begins with this testimonial: “My name is Kayla McCullough. I purchased a 2017 Buick Envision from Buick GMC of Beachwood… I highly recommend you visit the team at Buick GMC of Beachwood, a Bernie Moreno company.”

Moreno’s campaign “acknowledged to Spectrum News that his dealership did sell the Chinese-made SUVs.” It claimed that “in response to the closure of the Lordstown Plant here in Ohio [in March 2019],  Bernie made a decision to stop any new inventory of Envision’s from being sold at his dealership. After he sold off the inventory he already had on the lot, he refused to take orders for more Envisions.” This explanation, however, makes little sense as the Envision was also produced in China and never at Ohio’s Lordstown Plant. Moreno’s dealerships also continued to advertise for the Envision months after the closure of the plant. 

 

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