USA Today recently did something unprecedented in my or anyone else’s experience of professional journalism. After publishing an op-ed written by my client, Chelsea Mitchell, the publication retroactively changed key words and phrases. They did so unilaterally, without warning, and without apology.
Chelsea is an elite high school track runner. She was ranked one of the fastest girls in Connecticut. But when biological males began competing in the female category, Chelsea fell to 2nd and 3rd place repeatedly, missing out on championships and the wealth of future opportunities that goes with them. I and my employer, Alliance Defending Freedom, have been representing her and other girls in Connecticut for over a year to protect their right — and the right of all females athletes — to a fair playing field.
Chelsea’s op-ed in USA Today detailed her demoralizing experiences losing to competitors who had massive biological advantages. It was her story and her voice. To explain the situation clearly, Chelsea referred to her competitors accurately as biological males. Those words weren’t meant as slights in any way. They are simply the clearest terms for communicating the point at issue: that however individuals identify themselves, biological facts have consequences and can’t be ignored, particularly in sports.
Days after publishing the article, USA Today changed every mention of “male” to “transgender.” They placed an editor’s note at the top reading, “This column has been updated to reflect USA Today’s standards and style guidelines. We regret that hurtful language was used.”
This is mind-blowing on multiple counts.
First, the editors made these changes without warning Chelsea. This is grossly unprofessional. Publications like USA Today should seek to fairly present both sides of divisive issues, not censor those of a particular side and slander their account of the facts as “hurtful.” The paper’s move is especially boggling because poll after poll after poll shows that a large majority of Americans agree with Chelsea’s position.
Second, they claim the original violated their “standards.” If so, why wasn’t the change made before publication? Did it inadvertently slip through the cracks? Or are their “standards” a shifting haze that can be invoked whenever it’s convenient? Chelsea’s words didn’t violate their “standards” when first published, but they did a couple of days later and apparently always had. It reminds one of the old Soviet maxim that the past can be very hard to predict.
Third, they apologize for publishing “hurtful language.” This implies two outrageous claims. First, that Chelsea’s words were so horrible that the public has to be protected from them, and second, that Chelsea is hurting other people by speaking the truth. Citing an essential biological fact while discussing an issue of public interest is not “hurtful.” What’s hurtful to Chelsea and other female athletes is denying biological reality and implying that a young woman’s testimony is some sort of public menace. The message to Chelsea and those like her is clear: Your opinion is harmful and must be silenced.
Finally, there is the unconscionable fact that USA Today unilaterally changed Chelsea’s own words to give them a meaning she did not intend. Forcing her to say “transgender” rather than “male” undermines her message, obscures her point, and takes away her voice. USA Today informs readers that they can find “diverse opinions” on its opinion page, but in Chelsea’s experience, its “standards” for diversity don’t extend to opinions some of their editors don’t like.
Sadly, like Chelsea losing four state championship races to males, this act of censorship is the latest example of how things go awry when people attempt to ignore objective truth. Rather than acknowledging biological reality and defending policies that reflect the views of most Americans, many athletic conferences, politicians, and media outlets would rather deny truth to appease a small faction of transgender activists who shout until those like USA Today bend to their demands.
While all Americans are entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts. And they aren’t entitled to censor those they disagree with. It’s past time for publications like USA Today to stop cowering to those who want to create their own facts, and start allowing brave young leaders like Chelsea the opportunity for her ideas to compete on a fair playing field.
Christiana Holcomb is legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom (@Alliance Defends), where she represents Chelsea Mitchell and three other female athletes in Connecticut who are seeking to protect women’s sports.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.