Media

Columnist Fired for Stating Sex Is Binary

(Pixabay)
Happy George Orwell Day!

The Denver Post is looking for new opinion writers. The job advertisement sounds enticing, does it not? Megan Schrader, the Post’s opinion editor, claims to “value having a wide variety of voices in our pages,” asserts that the paper is “looking for both conservative and liberal writers,” and insists that there isn’t “any type of political litmus test for our columnists.” But is this description accurate?

Jon Caldara, president of Colorado free-market think tank the Independence Institute, who was one of the Post’s most-read writers from 2016 until he was fired this week for stating the obvious, and with whom I spoke yesterday, doesn’t think so. Coincidentally, Tuesday was “George Orwell Day.” Writing in the mid-20th century, Orwell warned us about totalitarian abuses of language and urged people “to see what is in front of one’s nose.” Caldara attempted to do exactly that — specifically: by stating that sex is binary — but doing so cost him his job.

For the past three years, Caldara has written for the Post on a range of issues, especially those related to political and economic freedom. This week, however, Caldara was told that his most recent column (criticizing the lack of transparency among Colorado Democrats on their sex-ed curriculum) would be his last. He had written that gender ideology ought not to be forced into classrooms by the back door. “What are the protections for a parent who feels transgender singing groups and teddy bears with gender dysphoria might be ‘stigmatizing’ for their kid?” he wrote.

In his previous column, Caldara had complained about left-wing bias in the media: “One only has to listen to NPR reporters and their pee-your-pants excitement at covering Trump’s impeachment to conclude they still have no idea so much of America considers them the enemy.” Furthering his argument that the liberal press is now woefully out of touch, he referenced The Associated Press’s decision to state in its style guide “that gender is no longer binary.” He said that this was blatant “activism,” since there “are only two sexes, identified by an XX or an XY chromosome.”

That sex is binary is not a belief. Nor an opinion. It is a fact. That sex is binary is — per Orwell — “in front of one’s nose.” Which is perhaps why Caldara did not realize that expressing something so obvious would cause him serious problems. “I went over a tripwire I did not know existed,” he tells me by phone.

Caldara leans libertarian on many issues and considers himself a live-and-let-live kind of guy. He supports euthanasia, gay marriage, and transgender rights. He feels “saddened” by the Post’s decision to fire him but, nevertheless, describes his editor as “a delightful woman” who “cares deeply” about those who have been victimized. Still, compelled speech is totalitarian, no matter how nice the perpetrators are. “My frustration is that [Schrader] doesn’t quite understand that the speech code she’s pushing is having an opposite effect, I think, of what she wants,” he says. I’ll say!

“It’s a little Stalinist in that you don’t know you’ve committed a crime until you’ve been executed,” he says. “I can’t speak for [the editors at the Post], but I was in no doubt that the idea that sex is binary was in their mind a bigoted hate crime.” Later he admits that he would “probably have written it differently, if I had known that it was a firing offense to speak my mind on this issue in the words I wished to use.” After all, Caldara has a teenage daughter and a son with Down syndrome to support, and the financial hit from losing his position has been significant. Besides, transgenderism is simply not something he feels particularly passionate about.

Caldara has become associated with the resistance to transgender overreach by accident. But that is the precise nature of overreach; it affects things that it oughtn’t. Through his columns, Caldara had intended to make a point about political transparency and the role of the press in arbitrating debates. But he attempted to do so by using language that is no longer considered acceptable by the speech police, and on a subject in which there is zero tolerance for dissent. Caldara worries that those on the left, even “delightful” editors like Schrader, think that “the ends do justify the means.” “Intolerance is ugly,” he tells me. “But they don’t see this as intolerance.”

Fittingly, in his previous columns, Caldara had referred to George Orwell’s idea of “newspeak.” Orwell included an appendix to his dystopian novel, 1984, explaining this concept:

It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [the totalitarian government] — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

“I’m just a columnist. I’m an editorial guy,” he says. “I’m supposed to have provocative thoughts, and I’m supposed to have provocative debates.” Quite so. If columnists can’t state facts plainly, then who can?

Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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