I want to tell you three stories.
Three short stories from these last days of summer that explain better than any pitch deck why The Free Press exists—and why the work that we’re doing matters.
The first is about Jamie Reed.
Perhaps you’ll remember that name. Six months ago, we published an explosive story by Reed—an insider account about the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Reed was a former employee of the clinic, and she came to The Free Press to blow the whistle.
What Reed described was alarming. She wrote of vulnerable teenagers with multiple mental health problems who were rushed into life-altering treatments that included possible sterilization. The situation was, in her words, “morally and medically appalling.”
Reed did not have an ax to grind. Quite the opposite: she identifies as queer, her partner is a trans man, and politically she is “to the left of Bernie Sanders.” She has spent her entire career working to help vulnerable people.
Still, Reed knew what would likely happen to her as a result of speaking out. “I am doing so knowing how toxic the public conversation is around this highly contentious issue—and the ways that my testimony might be misused,” she wrote. “I am doing so knowing that I am putting myself at serious personal and professional risk.”
And that is exactly what happened.
Jamie Reed was demonized and disavowed. Meanwhile, Missouri’s attorney general announced an investigation into the gender clinic the day after we published her piece. But prominent journalists, instead of following up on this important news, denounced us.
Cut to August.
Two weeks ago, The New York Times substantiated Reed’s account, citing patients who sought to reverse their transition, and young people with complex mental health problems being put on powerful drugs. (The New York Post graciously took notice of the “vindication” with this editorial.)
It’s professionally gratifying to have our reporting followed.
But this isn’t just any story. It’s the kind of story that the mainstream has actively avoided telling because it is morally knotty and because, as Jamie Reed learned, those who pursue it are punished.
We exist to pursue exactly these stories—the ones that others are afraid to touch. The ones that everyone quietly wonders about—how did this become the medical consensus? And can teenagers really consent to decisions they can’t fully grasp?
By covering these hard topics in a sober, fair way, we force others to follow. And in doing so, slowly, we believe we are changing the conversation in the culture and the country.
This isn’t the first or only time this has happened. Far from it.
And perhaps the darkest example: last year, there was growing outrage over a story about mass graves of indigenous children found in Canada. The Washington Post and The New York Times covered this credulously. Flags in Canada were lowered to half-staff for the longest period in that country’s history. Pope Francis apologized on behalf of the Catholic Church, which operated over 70 percent of Canada’s residential schools for indigenous children. (Meanwhile, dozens of churches across Canada were burned in apparent retaliation for the church’s sins.)
But the facts were stubborn. And so was journalist Terry Glavin.
Terry appeared on our podcast, Honestly, to report that the story was a hoax—that despite the intense and even violent reaction the story had inspired, there was not, in fact, any physical evidence that it was true.
When we say that The Free Press has a special mission to run after the stories others are afraid to touch—and to do so in a way that’s honest and fair—this is exactly what we are talking about.
We also pride ourselves on setting the record straight.
That’s what Terry Glavin did. And that’s what Free Press reporter Rupa Subramanya did when she visited a certain bluegrass singer. . .
Like every other outlet in the country, we were dying to get an interview with the man of the moment: “Rich Men North of Richmond” singer Oliver Anthony, who emerged from the woods of Virginia with a song that captured the nation.
While the GOP presidential candidates were being asked about the song’s resonance at the first Republican debate, our Rupa Subramanya was flying from Ottawa to Virginia to show up at Anthony’s concert and see about an interview.
She got him—not just first, but best.
Among the revelations in Rupa’s profile are that the song’s politics—and Anthony’s own—are far more complicated than those vilifying him on the left or lionizing him on the right would suggest.
That’s just what The Free Press is about: nuanced, fair, and allergic to the convenient stereotypes that flatten the complicated reality of actual human beings.
The last story is about hope—and about the future.
It’s no secret that The Free Press also began as a reaction.
What we learned, very quickly, is that telling you what’s wrong with the country and the world is insufficient.
It’s crucial to expose the brokenness all around us—that’s how we make decisions about where to live, about where to send our children to school, about who to trust, and about who not to. But we also have to elevate the voices of those who are busy building the world anew.
That is what three teenagers did so beautifully last week in these pages, in response to our first-ever high school essay contest. Isabel Hogben with I Had a Helicopter Mom. I Found Pornhub Anyway. Caleb Silverberg with Why I Traded My Smartphone for an Ax. And Ruby LaRocca with her winning essay: A Constitution for Teenage Happiness.
We were gratified at the outpouring of responses.
David French wrote about Isabel’s “powerful essay with a provocative title” in The New York Times. Arianna Huffington wrote at length about Ruby’s essay in her newsletter: “It’s actually a great guide for all of us, proving that, contra (another great essayist) Oscar Wilde, wisdom doesn’t only come with age.” Most importantly, deans from schools across the country have reached out to us asking to get in touch with these promising young students.
And though none of these essays were behind a paywall, you all understood their value. Hundreds of you became paying subscribers, and many of you told us why. Mike R. wrote: “I am upgrading to a paid membership because of the teenage essay competition, which was tremendous. It gives me great hope for the future. Thank you for sponsoring such a meaningful exercise.”
The Free Press began as a question: do Americans still want real journalism? Fearless, fair, independent journalism that treats readers like adults? Journalism that presents the facts—even the uncomfortable ones—and allows people to draw their own conclusions rather than serving them premasticated mush?
Not to drag the metaphor too far but: could Americans still chew?
The answer from nearly 450,000 of you has been a resounding yes.
And that number grows every day.
But the work we do takes real investment. Hiring the most talented reporters and editors in the country; putting people on planes so they can talk to sources face-to-face; hunting down archival tape for our podcasts; paying our interns a fair wage—we need your support to do those things.
So if you read our stories or listen to our podcasts and say: yes.
That speaks for me.
Or: that provoked me.
Or: that elevated me.
Or: that woke me up.
Or: that surprised me.
Or: that was important to read, even though I disagreed. . . subscribe.
If you believe that free people deserve a Free Press, join us today.
Our work here is just beginning.