The Guardian has said its decision to pull a section of an interview with gender academic Judith Butler, in which she controversially compared “anti-gender ideology” to fascism, was the result of a failure to adhere to its own editorial standards.
The interview with Butler, published on Tuesday, was carried out by Jules Gleeson, whom the Guardian describes as a “queer historian”, and presented as a Q&A. Butler is most well known for her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, published in 1990.
An entire question and answer was removed from the article by Guardian editors, which included Butler’s reference to so-called “TERFs”, or trans exclusionary radical feminists, considered a pejorative term by some.
One Twitter user said they found it “ridiculous that the Guardian would interview Judith Butler about womanhood and not expect very frank comments about TERFs – the redaction is pathetic but unsurprising…”. Others also criticised the decision.
The redacted response included the following comment by Butler: “The anti-gender ideology is one of the dominant strains of fascism in our times.
“So the Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.”
Gleeson had referenced the incident at Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, in her question. Claims that a trans-woman had exposed themselves in the women’s section of the spa went viral and led to violent protests, the Guardian has previously reported.
Indecent exposure charges have since been filed by the LAPD and a warrant for arrest issued, the Guardian reported last week.
Gleeson asked: “It seems that some within feminist movements are becoming sympathetic to these far-right campaigns. This year’s furore around Wi Spa in Los Angeles saw an online outrage by transphobes followed by bloody protests organised by the Proud Boys. Can we expect this alliance to continue?”
It was the mentioning of this incident and the failure to include the latest facts in the case that led to The Guardian taking the question and answer down in full, a spokesperson told Press Gazette.
In the UK legal proceedings are considered active once an arrest warranted is issued, after which reporting can risk prejudicing a jury trial. It is usually considered unlikely that a UK publication’s reporting could influence a foreign court, but the Guardian does also publish in the US.
The Guardian spokesperson said: “On 7 September 2021, the Guardian edited a Q&A with Judith Butler as one question, posed by the Guardian, failed to take account of new facts regarding the incident at Wi Spa, which emerged late last week after the interview took place and the piece was written.
“In light of those developments, the question regarding Wi Spa in the interview should have been reviewed again prior to publication, but this did not happen. This is a departure from our usual editorial standards.
“We have not censored Judith Butler but addressed a failure in our editorial standards. This particular question omitted the new details that had come to light, and therefore risked misleading our readers.
“For that reason we decided to remove both the question and Judith Butler’s answer. As it was only this one question that referred to the Wi Spa incident in LA, the rest of the Q+A remains in place. Judith Butler has written for us several times in the past.
“The Guardian remains committed to reporting on the rights of trans people in the US and globally, including the worrying attacks on trans people and their allies by far right groups.”