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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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Disenchanted with Democrats: The Black Voters Going for Trump Bari Weiss

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For the past few decades, it’s been conventional wisdom in D.C. that “demographics are destiny.” That the increased share of immigrants, young people, and racial minorities across the country would build a bulletproof coalition for the Democratic Party, swelling their ranks and keeping them in power forever.

Those who deviated from this expectation could expect to be called sellouts, race traitors, and Uncle Toms. Recall Joe Biden’s infamous interview with radio host Charlamagne tha God, when he said: “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or for Trump, then you ain’t black.”

But in the past year, Donald Trump has been winning over more minority voters than any Republican in decades. Recent polls have consistently shown that Trump has reached a shocking 20 percent support among black voters. That’s compared to the 8 percent he got in 2016. And Biden’s polling with black voters has dropped dramatically.

This is a monumental, and to many, unexpected turn. And it was noticeable at the RNC. When Michael Moynihan went to the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland, the audience was more monochromatic. While certainly not as racially diverse as the Democratic coalition, the convention in Milwaukee felt younger and less white.

Monday night, Amber Rose opened the proceedings. Tuesday night, Madeline Brame, the mother of a murdered veteran, gave a thunderous speech explaining why she’s supporting Trump. She said: “Our eyes have been opened, just like so many other poor minorities across America. Donald Trump shares our values, love of God and family and country. He’s been a victim of the same corrupt system that I have been and my family has been.”

What’s behind this shift? Why do Biden and the Democratic Party seem to be losing their edge with black voters? And could this end up making a real difference for the 2024 election?

Last night, Michael Moynihan went to an event at the RNC put on by the Black Conservative Federation to ask them why they think that MAGA conservatism is appealing to black voters.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

 

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Abigail Shrier: California’s New Law Lets Schools Keep Secrets from Parents Abigail Shrier

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Protests at a Chino Valley Board of Education meeting on gender policy on July 20, 2023, in Chino, California. (Photo by David McNew via Getty Images)

Child predators follow a common playbook: target the victim, gain their trust, fill a need, and, crucially, isolate the child from her parents. For several years, this has also been standard California state protocol with regard to schoolchildren questioning their gender identities. On Monday, this scheme became law.

The “SAFETY Act,” AB 1955, signed by California Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, legally forbids schools from adopting any policy that would force them to disclose “any information related to a pupil’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression to any other person without the pupil’s consent.” Schools may not, as a matter of policy, inform parents of a child’s new gender identity unless the child volunteers her approval. The law also prohibits schools from punishing any school employee found to have “supported a pupil” hurtling down a path toward risky and irreversible hormones and surgeries.

The law effectively shuts down the local parents’ rights movement in California by eliminating its most important tool: the ability to organize at the community level to stop schools from deceiving them. No longer can families hope to convince their school boards to require schools to notify parents that their daughter, Sophie, has been going by “Sebastian” in class; that her teacher, school counselor, and principal have all been celebrating Sebastian’s transgender identity; that they’ve been letting her use the boys’ bathroom and reifying the sense that she is “really a boy.” 

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the law supports the priming of minor children for a secret life with a new gender identity. This includes having school-aged children participate in sexualized discussions and make identity declarations with school faculty, which are often actively hidden from the child’s parents. Elon Musk called the law “the final straw” for families and announced his intention to move both SpaceX and X, two of California’s most prominent tech companies, out of the state as a result. “The goal [of] this diabolical law,” he tweeted, “is to break the parent-child relationship and put the state in charge of your children.”

While researching my book, Irreversible Damage, and in the four years since its publication, I have talked to hundreds of parents whose daughters suddenly identified as transgender. Many of their daughters were encouraged in this revelation by school counselors and teachers in school districts across America. One parent told me a California school counselor had given her son the address of an LGBTQ youth shelter and suggested he emancipate himself from parents who were loving but skeptical of his sudden transgender identity. Another recent California law, AB 665, would have made reclaiming that young man from the youth center all but impossible because he was over the age of twelve.

In California, instruction in sexual orientation and gender identity has been mandatory for all public school students K–12 since the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2016. Because such instruction typically occurs within the required “anti-bullying curriculum” rather than the sex education curriculum, parents cannot elect that their children opt out of what is, in practice, a full-bore indoctrination into gender ideology. 

When a child then predictably decides in class that she too may be nonbinary or transgender, this revelation will often trigger schools’ gender support plan, effectively a school-wide conspiracy to promote the child’s new name and gender identity without tipping off Mom and Dad. Official documents and emails and report cards are sent to parents to preserve the child’s birth name and pronouns, concealing the social transition from parents. 

I have talked to parents who discovered their middle-school daughters had spent the better part of an entire academic year known to the entire school as “Spencer” or “Ethan.” One of these girls had even roomed with the boys on an overnight school trip.

I have investigated many cases in which social transitions were concealed from families. In no case did the girl flourish with this new identity. Maintaining a new, secret identity more often became a weight and burden to the girls. Inexplicably to the parents, their daughters became morose, dropped activities they once loved, wore baggier clothing, and begged to cut their hair shorter. The parents became desperate and unsure of what to do. The hidden transition resulted in children’s alienation from loving parents trying to protect them. 

But in the years since I first reported on this practice, political opposition has grown. Parents whose daughters were socially transitioned behind their backs have filed lawsuits against the school districts in California and Florida and Michigan. California public school teachers have sued school districts to block policies that could result in their firing if they inform parents that their children’s names and identities have been changed behind their backs. And a recent statewide initiative in California to require parental notification before a school changes a child’s gender identity as well as ban puberty blockers and gender surgeries for minors garnered over 400,000 signatures, falling just short of making it onto the ballot. 

The SAFETY Act would significantly stymie, if not eliminate, this local pushback to the increasingly unpopular practice of schools playing adoptive parents with other people’s children. (Although already, the Chino Valley Unified School District has filed suit against Newsom over this act.) The plain text of the California law claims that it merely prevents schools from adopting policies that “forcibly out” trans kids—as if confused fifth-grade girls are in the same position as closeted gay adults in decades past who risked arrest and firing for being outed. 

The law’s clever sponsors are typically quiet on the subject of “outing” to whom. The entire school already knows that Lily is now “Tyler.” Teachers will cheerfully share that information with each other, school mental health staff, administrators, and other students. The only ones who don’t get to know are the parents.

A favorite talking point of activists on the left is that with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, schools must keep secrets with young children to protect them from transphobic and homophobic parents. Even in the most progressive of states, the claim that parents who discover that their child is transgender might abuse or kick her out is used to justify a policy that would otherwise be difficult to understand and impossible to justify.

Aurora Regino is a single mother in California who last year sued the Chico Unified School District for secretly pushing social transition on her then–11-year-old daughter. Regino told me that the “phobia” rationale seemed “ridiculous.” She added, “How is it not outing a kid if you’re telling an entire school that they’re a different sex? That’s outing right there. So everybody knows except the parents? That doesn’t really make any sense to me.”

Erin Friday, a California attorney and author of bills in several states requiring parental notification for any change in a child’s gender identity at school, vented exasperation at the idea that California parents are so homophobic or transphobic they cannot be trusted. “This is California, for crying out loud.”

Regino agreed. “Both my girls are very active. We do swimming, theater, soccer, softball. We are in connection with I don’t know how many families. And there’s not one family that I can think of that we are around that would kick out their kid because they thought that they were ‘nonbinary’ or trans or gay,” she said. “I mean, to me, that’s an extreme statement that these kids are going to get kicked out. Are we saying one in ten thousand? So we’re going to risk the rest of the children and separate them from their parents during the time that they need them the most?” Her now–13-year-old daughter no longer wants to be a boy.

One might think Newsom would realize that a policy this unpopular for Democrats could easily become a political albatross in an election year. Perhaps realizing this, the governor—who is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential candidate if Biden drops out—when defending the bill resorts to dissembling. On Wednesday, the governor’s press office declared on X that the bill “protects the child-parent relationship by PREVENTING politicians & school staff from inappropriately intervening in family matters & attempting to control if, when & how families have deeply personal conversations.” The bill only “protects” the parent-child relationship if you assume that relationship depends on the parents’ being entirely ignorant of their child’s growing attachment to this new, secret identity.

Governor Newsom also declared: “Under California law, minors CANNOT legally change their name or gender WITHOUT parental consent.” That’s placing a lot of weight on the word legally. The obscurantist governor is correct only in the most technical sense: yes, a child’s legal name can be changed only on official records with parental approval. But in the world of the SAFETY Act, the parents may be the only ones in a child’s life who use that name. 

In the past few years, moderates across the American political spectrum have awakened to the pernicious effects of gender ideology on children. England, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have, in recent years, warned the public of the risks of pediatric gender medicine, banned the use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in children, or restricted their use to research settings. The Cass Review, published this year by one of England’s premier physicians, noted the serious risks and specious benefits of pediatric gender transition. My own investigation, published four years earlier, reached the same conclusions. The Cass Review also acknowledged that social transition is an active intervention that puts many children on an inexorable path to medical transition. 

Recent polling shows that voters across the political spectrum believe that schools should be required to inform parents if their children are using different gender pronouns at school than they are at home.

But California Democrats appear ready to drag their party down with them. Parents’ best hope may be federal legislation mandating parental notification before a school can reassign a child’s name and gender. Candidates for president and vice president ought to be asked whether they would support such a bill.

Until her daughter was socially transitioned behind her back, Regino had been a lifelong progressive Democrat. “Now, I’m a registered Republican,” she said.

Abigail Shrier is the New York Times bestselling author of Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up

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July 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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