USA Today newspapers quietly delete GOP senator's op-ed on trans athletes without telling him

EXCLUSIVE – Several Louisiana newspapers that are part of Gannett-owned USA Today’s network quietly deleted a published op-ed on transgender athletes from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., without notifying him.

Communications reviewed by Fox News Digital showed the Republican was told his op-ed criticizing biological men playing women’s sports contained “inflammatory” speech that didn’t meet company standards.

Gannett Opinion Editor and Vice President of Standards and Ethics Michael McCarter stood by the decision to remove Kennedy’s piece.

“The opinion teams across the USA TODAY Network are focused on delivering local, timely, relevant, and diverse opinion pieces. We recognize the importance of sharing varying perspectives and the vital role we play convening conversations. Sen. John Kennedy’s submitted opinion column did not meet our ethical guidelines, which state we will treat people with respect. After further review, our editorial team removed the column from our website. Sen. Kennedy has been given the opportunity to revise his language – not his viewpoint – to adhere with our standards,” McCarter told Fox News Digital. 

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Sen. John Kennedy hits USA Today

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., penned an op-ed in several Louisiana-based newspapers within the USA TODAY Network, which was quietly taken down without telling him.  (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

After Fox News Digital reached out seeking comment, Gannett added a disclaimer to the once-broken links noting the content “has been removed because it did not meet our editorial standards.”

Kennedy told Fox News Digital in a statement that “USA TODAY Network apparently does not like the way I express myself.”

“They think they are the speech police. Drunk on certainty and virtue, they think they are our moral teacher. This attitude is why so many Americans have lost confidence in the media. The media is not going to win that trust back until they return to neutrality instead of advocacy,” Kennedy said. 

“Most people don’t support allowing biological men to participate in women’s sports because they think that will bastardize sports, skew the results, and hurt women. Other people disagree,” he continued. “Gannett should simply report the two sides and not try to silence the position it disagrees with.” 

On May 11, eight Louisiana-based papers owned by USA Today’s parent company Gannett ran a piece authored by Kennedy titled “Is transgender inclusion more important than women’s sports?” 

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Kennedy began the piece with an analogy of New Orleans Pelicans star player Zion Williamson joining a youth basketball league “simply because he identified as a 12-year-old,” noting that “no middle school boys” would be able to stop the NBA star from winning and would “probably end up injured if they tried.”

“Men and women don’t compete for the same reasons. Yet transgender activists want athletic institutions to ignore these obvious physical differences so transgender athletes can feel included, even if it hurts biological girls in the process,” Kennedy wrote in the op-ed.

The piece went on to list the biological differences between men and women, outlining the unfair advantage for biological men and citing notable examples in recent years of trans athletes competing in women’s sports, including NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas.  

“Many fair-minded people reject the idea that women and girls who work hard to develop their athletic talents must sacrifice their opportunities, privacy and safety to promote gender activism. I’m one of them,” Kennedy told readers. 

Lia Thomas 2022 NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship

Kennedy cited NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas in his op-ed objecting to transatheletes competing in women’s sports. (Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

“Louisiana is full of fair-minded people. We recognize that it’s common sense for boys and girls to compete in separate leagues,” he continued.

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Kennedy’s op-ed, which received no notes from Gannett editors upon its submission according to his office, was featured on the website of the Gannett-owned Shreveport Times, and reposted on Lafayette’s The Daily Advertiser, Houma’s The Courier, Thibodaux’s The Daily Comet, Alexandria’s The Town Talk, Monroe’s The News-Star, Opelousas’ Daily World, and Gonzales’ Weekly Citizen, all of which also fall under Gannett’s USA TODAY umbrella.

However, by May 14, Kennedy’s office noticed that the links to his op-ed were broken. Posts on X from The Daily Advertiser and Houma Today sharing the op-ed took readers to an error message; the links now bear the language about not meeting editorial standards.

Emails reviewed by Fox News Digital showed Kennedy’s office inquiring about the broken links and was told by its point of contact, a reporter for Gannett’s Lousiana’s papers, it would be investigated. But after not getting a formal response, his office sent another follow-up email on May 20. 

“The editors took it down after determining that it didn’t meet the company’s standards because of some inflammatory speech,” the reporter told Kennedy’s office. 

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The reporter then connected Kennedy’s office to Misty Castile, who serves as the executive editor of the Shreveport Times.

In phone conversations with Kennedy’s office, Castile blamed the op-ed’s publishing on “process flaws” and said there were “people above my head involved in this as well,” according to a source familiar with the matter.

Castile claimed there was a “concern” about the lack of citations in Kennedy’s piece despite the fact that the op-ed reviewed by Fox News Digital had 17.

Gannett USA Today flags

Kennedy is accusing Gannett and its USA Today Network of silencing him after scrubbing his op-ed from their papers’ websites. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

In a follow-up email viewed by Fox News Digital, Castile walked back the citations claim, telling Kennedy’s office the citations “were not visible to us then” but went on to share what “our standards department” had told her.

According to the email, the standards department took issue with Kennedy’s Zion Williamson analogy comparing men competing in women’s sports to the NBA player identifying as a young child competing against other children, telling his office that “mocking how someone identifies is not acceptable.” Williamson stars for Kennedy’s home-state New Orleans Pelicans.

They also claimed Kennedy’s use of the terms “biological male” and “biological female” goes “against our standards,” claiming they were “loaded language” and citing the Associated Press Stylebook, which alleges such terms “are sometimes used by opponents of transgender rights to portray sex as more simplistic than scientists assert.”

“Should the Senator wish to resubmit the editorial without the loaded language, we would be happy to consider it,” Castile wrote. 

The Gannett network of Louisiana papers did publish a separate op-ed from Kennedy in March on his opposition to children receiving so-called “gender-affirming” procedures without issue.

USA TODAY’s handling of the Republican lawmaker’s op-ed contrasts with how it handled an op-ed in 2021 from Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams.

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Stacey Abrams

USA TODAY took heat in 2021 for allowing Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams to retroactively edit a published op-ed without public disclosure.  (Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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In March 2021, USA TODAY published an op-ed from Abrams, who appeared to support boycotts against her state during the uproar at the time over a GOP-backed election reform law. After the MLB pulled its All-Star game from Atlanta in protest of the law, USA TODAY allowed Abrams to retroactively edit her op-ed to water down her boycott support without placing an editor’s note. 

A spokesperson for Gannett at the time told Fox News Digital, “We regret the oversight in updating the Stacey Abrams column. As soon as we recognized there was no editor’s note, we added it to the page to reflect her changes. We have reviewed our procedures to ensure this does not occur again.”

Gannett did not respond when asked for comment about Kennedy’s situation compared to Abrams.

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