Jan 1 2008

Letters to the Editor

‘Transforming Coverage’

I want to thank you for your superb recent article in Extra!, “Transforming Coverage” (11-12/07). I can’t imagine improving on your coverage of the current state of media coverage of transgender issues.

I was particularly glad to see you remind us all how media coverage has focused almost exclusively on highly successful, white male-to-female individuals undergoing transition. Even though I am a white MTF, and more or less professional, I am not terribly successful for my years, but rather I have watched my career erode mostly because of my gender identity issues.

I am just beginning my transition. Still, because I have the means, I am one of the more fortunate ones. The unfortunate but inescapable reality in the transgender community is this division along class lines. Though it is improving, current media coverage only serves to widen the gap.

Though this example pales in comparison to some of your examples, I recently wrote to NPR to point out their use of the phrase “sex change” rather than “gender reassignment” or “sexual reassignment” surgery (11/23/07), pointing out that it seems to be a favorite expression of the fundamentalist church community to describe what we go through. I’ll be listening to see if it had any effect.

Again, I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful and compassionate article.

Penelope _________

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

I just wanted to congratulate you, and especially Julie Hollar, for the wonderful piece she wrote, “Transforming Coverage.” This was the most concise and objective overview of trans-issues in the media I’ve yet to see.

As a transwoman, I’ve gone out of my way to write media about their coverage of trans-issues. So often this coverage falls under the subheads of either “Hell is paved with good intentions” (“we were trying to help you people”), “be thankful for whatever coverage we give you” (“you’re a weird, marginalized group of people, stop complaining”) or, unapologetically, “our readers want to read this stuff” (sensationalistic/ objectifying trans coverage).

I’ve had even self-identified progressive or LGBT media who, all too often, perpetuate the same stereotypes. So, again, thanks Julie and thanks FAIR. I’m so happy I get to write a positive letter for once.

Gina Morvay

San Francisco, Calif.

I have just read Julie Hollar’s article on “Transforming Coverage.” It was a good article, but still contained an issue that I do not consider fair. Throughout the article, the supposition is presented that the transgender is looking to transition in some fashion into living full-time as the opposite of their birth sex, even if it does not mean surgery. This excludes the majority of the transgender community: those of us who are crossdressers.

We have no desire to live full-time as women. By far the majority of us are heterosexual and married. We do not desire any type of surgery. We have an uncontrollable desire to wear feminine clothing, which most of us fight for years but are unable to resist. We do not understand this compulsion, nor do the therapists we seek to assist us with this desire. The majority of us are very closeted, yet when discovered we face the same persecution, misunderstanding and job discrimination as the transsexual.

While this article was informative about those wishing to transition, what about those of us who identify as transgender and have no desire to transition? Is it really fair to use the term transgender apparently to identify only those desiring to transition?

Michelle Stafford

Dallas, Texas

Relevant ‘Long Shot’

Peter Hart (11-12/07) does an excellent job of summarizing the way the mainstream media have undermined the public’s determination to end the Iraq War quickly. It is frightening evidence of the power of our preeminent journalists and TV commentators to divert and stifle our voice.

However, I was disappointed to see that Hart missed the opportunity to note that one of what David Broder calls the Democratic “long shots” in the presidential primary campaign, Bill Richardson, has consistently called for immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq. The media have just as consistently ignored him. Pointing this out would have been another way to make Hart’s point.

Moreover, Richardson has slowly risen in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls to third or fourth place, and has the lowest negative rating of all the Democratic candidates (Zogby poll).

Hart may feel this is irrelevant for the purpose of his article, but that is what bothers lots of people about the media— the “long shot” candidates are, for them, irrelevant. Richard-son, for example, is better qualified by experience than Clinton, Obama or Edwards, but doesn’t have “star power.” So? Neither did Harry Truman.

Richard B. Rice

Shasta Lake, Calif.

Population Amazement

I was a little amazed by Kerry Loud’s letter “Missing: Population Explosion” (11-12/07). I thought readers of Extra! had passed beyond the idea that the gods had flown a certain amount of wealth to the Garden of Eden and left it there with instructions to share it more or less equitably.

Surely population is one of the numbers we have to keep track of, but we must also remember that real wealth is not something we find buried in a hole in the ground or hanging from the upper branches of a tree, but is created by human beings. If there are not enough skillful and trained human beings, then the wealth per human will decrease! Decisions about what would be an ideal population should not be made lightly or based on ancient prejudice.

Gus Rabson

Haverhill, Mass.

‘Classic’ Study

I just got around to reading the October issue of Extra! Update and am wondering if I saw a typo or if you really meant to reference a 1980 story in the Columbia Journalism Review to critique the Wall Street Journal (page 4).

I’m sure the CJR “classic study” (as deft a euphemism for “old” as I can conjure) was accurate at the time, but after more than a quarter of a century I think it’s probably as relevant to today’s WSJ as . . . I dunno. A 1980 assessment of the economic health of the newspaper industry overall?

If that’s what you were doing, it was a stretch, and not worthy of your otherwise insightful critiques. Better try again. . . .

Andy Zipser,

A classic journalist (and former WSJ reporter)

Manassas, Va.

Misplaced Snark on IQ

In the “Soundbites” section of the October 2007 Extra! Update, the unnamed columnist takes Time reporter John Cloud to task over his opinions on relative spending on mentally disabled students versus gifted students. It’s a fair area for debate.

The columnist goes on to call Cloud’s genius under-nurtured for saying that comparison of a 160 IQ student to a 100 IQ student is akin to comparing a 100 IQ student to a 40-IQ “retarded girl,” and says that he’s trying to do a ratio, which, as a mathematical savant, the columnist says would show that 160 to 100 would yield a ratio of 100 to 63, rather than 40.

So, anonymous reporter, you are arithmetically correct, and factually wrong. A quick fact check under IQ in Wikipedia or most any freshman psychology book would have turned up that IQ scores are primarily described on a bell curve, with a mean (center) of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.

Say what you might about his politics, but Cloud was utterly correct to compare 160 to 100 as 100 to 40. The gap in either case is 60, or 4 standard deviations within the population.

So congratulations on mastering the divide button on your calculator. If you’re going to be snarky in a publication that purports to take reporters to task for not checking their facts, then start in-house.

It seems disingenuous to compare $8 billion in spending on the mentally disabled versus the Harvard endowment as well. You are comparing public versus private education, college versus K-12 schooling, and cite no meaningful normalized data such as spending per student. I really expect better from you all.

Duff Howell

Felton, Calif.

Your criticism of John Cloud in this issue’s “Soundbites” was downright embarrassing. The IQ score is normalized on Gaussian bell curve with an approximate average of 100 and a standard deviation of about 15. Calculating ratios using a number system normalized around zero and using it to criticize Cloud is absurd. His numbers are correct—someone 4 standard deviations above the mean and someone 4 standard deviations below the mean should compare to the mean in mostly equal but opposite ways.

Furthermore, the premise of his article is an important observation on our public schools. When I was in high school I never had reason for motivation and completed all of my school’s courses (save the remedial ones) before my senior year, and was then left to a senior year full of study halls and gym rather than anything of educational value. Someone without ambition because it’s too hard gets loads of help in the public school system. Someone without ambition because it’s too easy quite often gets pushed aside until graduation. This is an important issue that needs to be addressed, and your snarky attitude with simple statistical errors does nothing to help.

[Name removed by request]

Orangeville, Pa.

The editor replies:

It’s too bad that Cloud didn’t assert that someone with an IQ of 200 is to a person of average intelligence as an average person is to someone with no mind at all. It’s the same claim (200 is to 100 as 100 is to 0), but its silliness is more self-evident.

Poverty and the Campaign

After reading your article, I feel the need to say thank you for your observations on the lack of media coverage of poverty (9-10/07). This really is an issue that needs more serious work and attention.

I would also like to (shamelessly) add that as an avid supporter of John Edwards’ for president, we share a common thread. Poverty has been a cornerstone issue of Edwards’ platform, and he has led considerable work into finding and implementing solutions to end it. He has tried to keep the working poor and the people of New Orleans in the spotlight while other politicians seem to look the other way. His campaign receives a lack of media attention, and I believe it is in part due to his stance on poverty.

His plans to end poverty in America may seem crazy to some, but he has a thoroughly comprehensive, practical approach that is not just a redistribution of wealth. For more information, please see his campaign’s website: johnedwards.com/issues/poverty/

Susan Stewart

Greenbelt, Md.