A popular right-wing activist with extreme, discredited views about LGBT people is making the media rounds to talk about Caitlyn Jenner, peddling the myth that many transgender people end up regretting transitioning.
Walt Heyer, contributor for the rabidly anti-LGBT web magazine The Federalist, appeared on the June 2 edition of CNN Newsroom to comment on Vanity Fair's cover story about Caitlyn Jenner's decision to publicly identify as a transgender woman.
Heyer's life story has made him a pseudo-celebrity in anti-LGBT circles; in his forties, he decided to transition to living life as a woman, only to transition back to living as a man less than a decade later. Since then, he's pushed the debunked claim that transgender people often experience regret after transitioning, arguing that what transgender people actually need is "psychiatric or psychological help."
On CNN, Heyer warned that Jenner might regret her decision to transition, comparing transitioning to "going down to the bar" and "wak[ing] up with a hangover":
The Associated Press violated its own guidelines for how to refer to transgender people in a voyeuristic report about former Olympian and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner's appearance on next month's cover of Vanity Fair.
On June 1, Vanity Fair released a preview of its July issue cover story, headlined, "Call Me Caitlyn." The story is Jenner's public debut as Caitlyn following a highly-watched television interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer in which Jenner, who still identified then as Bruce, announced that she is transgender and detailed her experiences hiding her gender identity while appearing on the popular reality show, "Keeping Up With The Kardashians." The Vanity Fair story says Caitlyn Jenner now wishes to be referred to as a woman.
In its report on the Vanity Fair cover, the Associated Press violated its own guidelines on how to report on transgender people, which state that trans people should be identified by their preferred pronouns. Instead, the AP story refers to Jenner as a male and calls her Bruce. The report also objectifies Jenner by describing her as wearing "va-va-voom fashion" and highlighting her "ample cleavage:"
Bruce Jenner made his debut as a transgender woman in a va-va-voom fashion in the July issue of Vanity Fair.
"Call me Caitlyn," declares a headline on the cover, with a photo of a long-haired Jenner in a strapless corset, legs crossed, sitting on a stool. The image was shot by famed celeb photographer Annie Leibovitz. Prior to the unveiling of Caitlyn, Jenner had said he prefers the pronoun "he," but Vanity Fair contributing editor Buzz Bissinger, who wrote the accompanying story, refers to "she."
Jenner debuted a new Twitter account as well with: "I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me." In about 45 minutes, the account had more than 180,000 followers.
According to the magazine, which took to Twitter with the cover Monday, Jenner spoke emotionally about her gender journey: "If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, 'You just blew your entire life.'"
In addition to the corset, Vanity Fair released a black-and-white video on the making of the cover. It shows Jenner getting her hair done and posing in a long, off-the-shoulder gown with ample cleavage. [emphasis added]
Fox News largely ignored the controversy surrounding Josh Duggar following his recent admission that, as a teenager, he molested young girls, including several of his sisters. The revelations are particularly stunning given that, under the guise of protecting children, the Duggar family has played an active role in the fight against LGBT equality.
On May 21, In Touch magazine revealed that in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar - patriarch of TLC's hit show 19 Kids and Counting - had waited more than a year before telling police that his son, Josh, had confessed to molesting several female minors, including his sisters, when he was a teenager. TLC has since pulled episodes of 19 Kids from its schedule.
The revelations drew widespread criticism in the media, with many outlets pointing out the Duggar family's reputation as a torch-bearer for conservative values and strong involvement in Republican politics and anti-LGBT activism. The revelations look to many like hypocrisy from a family that's become a political powerhouse in socially conservative circles in recent years by wielding its reality show influence to stump for "family values," Republican politicians, and the repeal of legal protections for LGBT people.
But while MSNBC and CNN have reported heavily on the Duggar scandal, Fox News has largely ignored the story. According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox News spent less than two minutes covering the story between May 21 and May 25, compared to almost an hour of coverage from the other cable news networks.
During the May 24 broadcast of Media Buzz, Fox News' media critic Howard Kurtz even criticized other media outlets for "piling on" by highlighting the Duggar family's ties to prominent Republican politicians:
Fox News' Shannon Bream relied on a hate group's unsubstantiated talking points to stoke fears that churches could lose their tax exempt status if a Supreme Court ruling finds that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Bream has repeatedly relied on rhetoric from discredited anti-LGBT groups to peddle bogus and misleading information about issues related to LGBT equality.
On the May 6 edition of America's Newsroom, Fox News' Supreme Court correspondent Shannon Bream highlighted an exchange during oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that will determine the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage. During the exchange, Justice Samuel Alito asked U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli whether religious colleges would be able to keep their tax-exempt status if the bans are found unconstitutional and they continue to oppose same-sex marriage. Verrilli said although he didn't know all the specifics, "It's certainly going to be an issue":
Anti-gay conservatives are criticizing CBS News' Bob Schieffer for correctly identifying one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay "hate group," accusing him of "anti-Christian bias" for doing so. The outrage over Schieffer's disclosure highlights why it's so important for the media to hold extremists accountable for their views when they appear.
During the April 26 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer invited Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to discuss the Supreme Court's upcoming oral arguments on marriage equality. Schieffer began the interview by noting that FRC has been listed as an anti-gay "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and citing critics who argue that Perkins' extreme views don't represent the views of most Christians:
SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mister Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this -- and against gay marriage -- that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, "You don't speak for Christians." Do you think you have taken this too far?
An editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News offered an embarrassing defense for not bothering to correctly identify transgender people, arguing that widely accepted journalistic guidelines for talking about the transgender community are "confusing" and "misinform[s] the public."
In a May 4 column in The Dallas Morning News, editorial writer Tod Robberson criticized The New York Times and Associated Press for recognizing "the gender preference of transgenders in news copy." According to Robberson, identifying trans people using the pronouns they prefer "distort[s] the truth" in order to embrace "the politically correct transgender language of the day":
The New York Times and Associated Press, among other news organizations, have decided that they will recognize the gender preference of transgenders in news copy. Which is to say, when a male who has yet to undergo gender reassignment surgery nevertheless calls himself a female and is the subject of a news story, he will be identified as a female in all references.
See how confusing that gets? What is the actual, at-birth gender of the person we're talking about? And what gender will the person be identified as, once reassignment surgery is completed? Who knows?
There is a serious ethical discussion in this issue that we in journalism never really had. The orders came down from on high one day, and everyone just sort of jumped on board without questioning the implications. The first ethical issue is whether we journalists distort the truth by embracing the politically correct transgender language of the day.
Like it or not, the use of he/she, her/him, his/hers in print is a grammatical and journalistic necessity. We can't avoid it. But in doing so, choosing the correct word shouldn't be an option selected out of a sense of inclusion or demonstration of open mindedness about sexual identity. Our only choice must be to use the correct words to accurately and truthfully report the news.
On CBS' Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer accurately identified one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay "hate group," providing his audience with valuable context often missing from mainstream media interviews with anti-LGBT extremists.
On the April 26 edition of Face the Nation, Schieffer invited Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), and Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, to discuss this week's Supreme Court arguments over marriage equality. Scheiffer began the interview by noting that Perkins' group has been labeled an anti-gay "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):
SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mister Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this-- and against gay marriage that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, "You don't speak for Christians." Do you think you have taken this too far?
On April 24, ABC will air a two-hour interview between Diane Sawyer and Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Bruce Jenner. The interview is expected to address rumors that Jenner is transgender.
Given the tremendous amount of media attention the interview is expected to receive, here are a few reminders for media outlets who want to avoid making some of the most common mistakes found in coverage of major transgender news stories:
Jenner's story is a powerful opportunity to bring national media attention to the transgender community, but it's important to remember that Jenner's experiences are also unique. Most trans people are not famous, wealthy, white reality television stars. The transgender community -- and trans women of color in particular -- faces high levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence, which in turn contributes to higher levels of poverty, homelessness, and economic marginalization. Media outlets should recognize the particularities of Jenner's experiences and use them to initiate broader conversations about what life is like for transgender people in America.
Some of the ugliest, most exploitative coverage in the lead-up to the ABC interview has been speculation based on Jenner's appearance. Given Jenner's public profile as a reality television star, it's easy to fixate on the star's physical and cosmetic characteristics. But focusing on transgender people's appearances -- especially on how well they "pass" -- is degrading and objectifying. It turns trans people into spectacles and denies their basic humanity. The media has an important role to play in exposing cisgender audiences to transgender people and their stories, but nobody benefits when transgender people's appearances are made topics for public consumption.
NBC aired a series of segments presenting a sensitive, thoughtful, and well-researched look into the lives of families raising transgender children, demonstrating a number of best practices for talking about the transgender community.
On April 21, NBC Nightly News aired a segment titled "Jacob's Journey," an in-depth look at 5-year-old transgender boy, Jacob Lemay. Jacob's parents affirmed their son's "consistent, persistent, and insistent" desire to live as a boy, noticing Jacob's early discomfort with being asked to dress and be addressed as a girl:
NBC News' national correspondent Kate Snow looked at the details of Jacob's experience: his initial frustration with being identified as a girl, his parents' concerns about their child's future, and the way his parents came to understand and support their transgender son.
For the second time this year, an anti-LGBT hate group is hosting a trip to Israel that will feature prominent figures from the Republican Party. The event will also feature Fox radio host Todd Starnes.
On October 27, the Family Research Council (FRC) will host its first ever eleven-day "Holy Land Tour" -- a "unique, one-of-a kind tour" where guests will "explore the land of the Bible and the roots of our Christian faith" and meet with "some of Israel's political and religious leaders."
According to the tour's brochure, the $5,000 trip features "insightful Bible teaching" and meetings with Israeli leaders aimed at providing guests with "a better understanding of Israel's important role in current geopolitical affairs and biblical prophecy."
The tour will feature a number of "special guests" including former Senator Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, who has a history of acting as FRC's mouthpiece and peddling anti-LGBT rhetoric on Fox.
FRC was labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010 due to the group's peddling of false and damaging smears about the LGBT community. The tour will also feature FRC's president Tony Perkins, who has described pedophilia as a "homosexual problem," accused the "It Gets Better" campaign of trying to "recruit" kids into a "lifestyle" of "perversion," and praised Uganda for criminalizing homosexuality.
National Republicans were widely lampooned earlier this year for participating in a similar hate group-led trip to Israel. In February, the Republican National Committee faced criticism for sending national committee members on a 9-day trip to Israel paid for by the American Family Association (AFA), which has also been labeled a hate group by SPLC. Even conservative activists criticized the RNC for aligning with a group like AFA. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus eventually pulled out of the event, and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported that AFA demoted one of their most inflammatory spokesmen in the midst of the controversy.