The media has repeatedly overlooked Wash U's lies
If journalism is history's first draft, then this one will need a lot of revisions.
In February 2023, in the wake of explosive allegations by Jamie Reed (founder of the LGBT Courage Coalition), the Attorney General of Missouri asked Washington University in St. Louis to pause medicalizing gender-dysphoric youth at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Leaders of BJC Healthcare (which runs the hospital) and Wash U responded days later in a joint letter. They claimed they couldn’t institute a moratorium because their hospital was the “only place in the entire state of Missouri where transgender youth can access the care they need to ensure their mental and physical well-being.”
If reporters had just googled it, they would have found that was false. But in a review of local press coverage of this letter, we found that not one news outlet reported on the lie. (Here is one story.)
At least one outlet, the Missouri Independent, now knows the truth. Yesterday it published a piece acknowledging there are (or at least were) five providers in the state, including MU Health at the University of Missouri. The story did not note that Wash U has lied about being the state’s only provider in February.
Nothing can change the past. But it is reasonable to at least imagine different outcomes. What if on February 15, 2023 newspapers in Missouri ran these headlines;
“St Louis Children’s Hospital Falsely Claims it is the Only Gender Center in the State” or
“President, CEO, and Chancellor’s False Claims and Why They Matter”
If the public had learned right away that Wash U wasn’t credible, then reporters, investigators, and patients could have viewed all its later claims with more skepticism. Which brings us to its internal review …
“No one younger than 18 undergoes surgery”
On February 10, 2023, the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article on Reed’s whistleblower complaint. It paraphrased a Wash U endocrinologist, Christopher Lewis, claiming “no one younger than 18 undergoes gender-affirming surgery.” In April, Lewis stated to the same outlet: “Surgery is not offered to anyone under 18.” The reporter placed this quote right after a line from Reed’s affidavit about Wash U making referrals for surgeries, suggesting Reed had gotten it wrong.
Fast forward to April 2023. Wash U released the results of an internal review of its gender clinic. A key set of findings suggested Wash U physicians had performed double mastectomies on minors. For example:
The report referred to patients “under the age of 18” throughout its findings, yet switched to the term “adolescents” when copping to the surgeries. In context, it appears that the report was still talking about minors — but avoiding a clear admission.
A reporter could have gotten to the bottom of it by asking Wash U for a quick clarification. But as far as we can tell, none did. No one reviewing coverage of this controversy would know that Lewis lied unless they downloaded Wash U’s internal report and read it themselves.
Again, nothing can change the past. But journalists can always write a new story tomorrow — and finally alert their readers to the truth about Wash U.
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