The Associated Press violated its own guidelines while reporting on the homicide of a transgender woman in Florida, joining several state-based news outlets in misgendering the victim and referring to her as a "man dressed as a woman." The incident is the latest in a trend of media mistreatment of transgender victims of violence.
On the morning of July 21, 25-year-old transgender woman India Clarke was found dead in a park in Tampa Bay, Florida. Clarke suffered blunt-force trauma to the upper body, though the exact cause of death is still unknown. Before her death, Clarke publicly identified as female, used female pronouns, and presented as female in her photos.
But in its news release announcing a homicide investigation surrounding Clarke's death, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office referred to Clarke as a "male dressed in women's clothing." Speaking to BuzzFeed's Dominic Holden, Detective Larry McKinnon defended the Sheriff's Office's decision to identify Clarke as male:
"We are not going to categorize him as a transgender. We can just tell you he had women's clothing on at the time," Detective Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, told BuzzFeed News. "What his lifestyle was prior to that we don't know -- whether he was a cross dresser, we don't know."
Initial calls to 911 descibed the victim as a woman but a medical examiner later identified her as male, McKinnon said.
"He is a male," McKinnon continued. "I can't tell you he is a female."
In the 24 hours following the discovery of Clarke's death, state-based news outlets and the Associated Press repeatedly misgendered Clarke, referring to her as a "man dressed as a woman" and violating journalistic standards on how to refer to transgender people. CBS, ABC, and NBC affiliates in the Tampa area followed the Sheriff's report and also referred to India as "Samuel," using male pronouns, and referring to her as a male.
The Associated Press violated its own widely-cited guidelines and referred to Clarke as a "man wearing women's clothing," referring to her as "Samuel." AP's misgendering was repeated by state media outlets' that republished AP's report:
The practice of misgendering transgender victims of violence violates guidelines established by GLAAD and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and has been widely criticized by journalism experts.
And it's a practice that's become all-too-common in 2015, a year that's seen an unprecedented string of murders of trans women.
The cycle at its worst seems to be the same: a transgender person is found dead, law enforcement officials fail to acknowledge the victim's gender identity, and local news outlets follow law enforcement's lead, misgendering the victim despite often knowing how the victim wished to be publicly identified.
But failing to report the way Clarke is publicly identified deprives audiences of the information they need to understand her death in the broader context of violence against transgender women. In instances where misgendering is intentional, it's a statement that her gender identity is little more than a deceptive costume, not worthy of being taken seriously.
Media outlets downplayed the legal concerns swirling around Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's fundraising for his affiliated super PAC prior to his formal campaign announcement in their reports on the campaign's unprecedented fundraising success.
Several months into the 2016 presidential campaign, the media is frequently failing to fact-check statements by presidential candidates denying the science of climate change. Seven major newspapers and wire services surveyed by Media Matters have thus far failed to indicate that candidates' statements conflict with the scientific consensus in approximately 43 percent of their coverage, while the major broadcast and cable news outlets other than MSNBC have failed to do so 75 percent of the time.
The Associated Press' (AP) report on a meeting between lawless Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) completely ignored the nationwide controversy Bundy sparked in 2014 when he made a series of racist comments about "the Negro." Paul himself repudiated Bundy at the time for his "offensive" commentary, a fact that was also missing from the AP article.
According to the AP, Bundy and Paul met during a June 29 campaign event in Mesquite, Nevada. Bundy said of Paul to the AP, "In general, I think we're in tune with each other." Politico additionally reported that the two men spoke for 45 minutes.
In its report, AP described the April 2014 armed standoff between Bundy supporters and federal law enforcement agents as "one of the more dramatic conflicts over land rights in recent years," but made no mention of Bundy's infamous racist commentary or that Paul had previously condemned him:
Paul's meeting with Bundy recalled one of the more dramatic conflicts over land rights in recent years.
Hundreds of armed supporters joined Bundy in April 2013 to stop a roundup of his cattle near Bunkerville about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The Bureau of Land Management says he owes more than $1 million in grazing fees over more than 20 years. Bundy argues the federal government has no authority there.
Indeed, in April 2014 violence nearly broke out as armed militia members pointed guns at federal agents from the Bureau of Land Management over Bundy's decades-long refusal to pay grazing fees for his use of federal land despite several court orders. (While the AP article presents the question of whether Bundy owes fees as an open question, journalists who have covered the Nevada rancher's legal dispute say his claims are baseless.)
Significantly, the AP article made no mention of the major controversy after The New York Times reported on racist remarks made by Bundy. In comments to supporters about "the Negro," Bundy suggested that African-Americans may have been better off as slaves and that "[t]hey abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton." After the Times' report, Media Matters posted video of Bundy's comments, and Bundy's champions in conservative politics and media largely fled his cause.
Sen. Paul was among those who condemned Bundy, releasing a statement saying that the rancher's "remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him." While the AP excluded mention of the controversy and Paul's previous rebuke of Bundy, those details made it into reports on the meeting between Bundy and Paul by Politico and CNN.com. Politico reported that "Paul's presidential campaign did not respond to a request to explain why he held a private meeting with Bundy 14 months" after the controversy.
Watch video of Bundy's infamous comments below:
Many major media outlets reported that a new Environmental Protection Agency study found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing (aka "fracking") has had "widespread" impacts on Americans' drinking water, but did not mention the EPA's explanation for why the study doesn't necessarily indicate "a rarity of effects on drinking water resources." The EPA study identified several "limiting factors," including insufficient data, the lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
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]
Media outlets are baselessly linking an increase in murders in Baltimore and other cities to "increased scrutiny" of police, without noting the legitimate reasons why such scrutiny of local police departments is needed.
Homicides have spiked in the last month in Baltimore, with 43 killings reported in May, the most in one month since 1971 and the highest monthly per capita rate on record, according to The Baltimore Sun. At the same time, arrests have plummeted, with a WBAL-TV investigation finding arrests have gone down 32 percent since the curfew was lifted, and the Sun reporting arrests in May this year were less than half the number in May last year.
Several right-wing media figures are attributing these numbers to increased scrutiny of police, and this narrative is seeping into mainstream coverage. On the June 1 edition of Fox & Friends, during an interview with author Kevin Jackson, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle argued that "police are more concerned about their own well-being. They don't want to be arrested or persecuted for just putting on the blue every morning." She added that "when you have individuals like [Baltimore City State's Attorney] Marilyn Mosby going aggressively against the police," this "undermines the ability of law enforcement to keep people in the community safe," linking the increase in homicides to Mosby's decision to charge six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.
On the May 31 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday, National Review Online contributor Heather Mac Donald similarly claimed the U.S. is "in the grips of a hysteria against cops," saying "cops have gotten the message that they should back off of policing." She faulted the "mainstream media, the university presidents talking about assaults on blacks and of course the president and former attorney general." Mac Donald, who has a history of deeply offensive commentary on race, was discussing her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which she argued that the "most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months."
The previous week, National Review editor Rich Lowry also advocated for increased incarceration in response to the spike in violence, and cited anonymous police officers who "say they feel that city authorities don't have their back, understandably enough when city leaders are loath to call rioters 'thugs.'"
And now the Associated Press is adopting the same language. In a May 31 report on Baltimore homicides, the AP stated that "Some attribute the drop [in arrests] to increased scrutiny of police following the April death of Freddie Gray from injuries received in police custody."
Aside from the obvious problem with this argument -- that there is no evidence these feelings attributed to the police have resulted in an increase in murders -- this coverage has also missed a significant reason why people have called for increased scrutiny of police officers since the deaths of men like Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray: the fact that police killings and police brutality disproportionately affect people of color.
On May 30, the Washington Post released a study on police killings, which found that two-thirds of unarmed victims of police shootings were minorities, and "blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred." Their figures represent far greater total than the FBI statistics on police killings, which are "widely considered to be misleading and inaccurate": FBI records show about 400 shootings per year, compared to 385 so far this year in the Post's data. Three of the 385 shootings the Post reported on resulted in the officer being charged, or less than one percent. And over the last several years, the Department of Justice has found that numerous local police departments have engaged in a "pattern or practice" of improper discrimination against residents of color, and have disproportionately targeted them for stops and arrests.
Faced with stark numbers like these, any media outlet should feel compelled to at least contextualize claims of a "hysteria against cops" with this evidence of disproportionate police violence against minorities.
The Associated Press suggested it was unethical for then-first lady Hillary Clinton to push for tax breaks for those who donated to nonprofit organizations while the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for the Clinton administration's presidential library -- but its own article later undermined those claims, outlining how the proposed measure had been building momentum since 1997, three years prior to the alleged conflict of interest. In fact, as the AP admitted, the proposal in question would provide no "direct" benefit to the foundation.
Hillary Clinton endorsed a plan proposed by the Clinton administration to provide tax breaks to "private foundations and wealthy charity donors" while she was first lady, according to a May 22 report from the AP:
As first lady in the final year of the Clinton administration, Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed a White House plan to give tax breaks to private foundations and wealthy charity donors at the same time the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for her husband's presidential library, recently released Clinton-era documents show.
The AP suggested that the "blurred lines between the tax reductions proposed by the Clinton administration in 2000 and the Clinton Library's fundraising were an early foreshadowing of the potential ethics concerns that have flared around the Clintons' courting of corporate and foreign donors for their family charity before she launched her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination."
But the AP's own article went on to undermine its allegations of a conflict of interest that "blurred the lines" between the proposed tax reductions and donations to the Clintons' nonprofit. As a spokesperson for Bill Clinton's office explained, the "administration was not trying to incentivize giving to the foundation, but instead was spurred by a 1997 presidential humanities committee that urged tax breaks for charities to aid American cultural institutions," meaning that the proposal was born from a committee three years prior to the timeline the article used to suggest a conflict of interest.
As The New York Times wrote at the time, the nonpartisan committee had made the recommendations because "cuts in public, private and corporate spending on the arts and humanities [were] undermining cultural and educational institutions in the United States." Funding from donations to nonprofits accounted for "90 percent of the nation's cultural financing," and the proposed tax measures would have helped fund cultural institutions that the federal budget would no longer be able to support.
And as the AP's report later explained, quoting former economic adviser to Bill Clinton, Gene Sperling, not only were the nonprofit tax reductions "'developed at the Treasury Department, endorsed by experts and designed to encourage all forms of charitable giving'" but the foundation also "would not have benefited directly by the tax proposals" at all, and any indirect benefits would also have helped "many other U.S. charities."
The Associated Press and Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush spoke out against the proposal to bury nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, without mentioning Bush's ties to a nuclear industry group that actively supports the project.
Speaking in Nevada on May 13, Bush told a group of reporters that Yucca Mountain will not likely become the permanent storage location for the nation's nuclear waste. The Associated Press story quoted Bush saying the project "stalled out" and reported that he "said the waste dump shouldn't be 'forced down the throat' of anyone." And according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Bush also said "we need to move to a system where the communities and states want it."
What the AP and Review-Journal left out, however, is that Bush is currently listed as a member of a nuclear industry group called the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy), which has long advocated for Yucca Mountain -- and continues to do so. As recently as February 24, CASEnergy published a blog post declaring Yucca Mountain a "scientifically safe and sound option" for storing nuclear waste permanently, and "a critical component" of the nation's shift to nuclear energy.
Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston first detailed Bush's ties to the pro-Yucca industry group in March, in a blog post in which he wrote that Bush "was once part of a front group for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the main lobbying entity behind siting a repository at Yucca Mountain." Ralston further noted that Bush "signed letters opposing interim waste sites," specifically pointing to a November 2006 letter that said Senate legislation backing interim storage sites would constitute "a step backward in the long-standing federal policy to establish a permanent disposal facility."
In recent months, the Republican attorneys general in West Virginia and Oklahoma have been relentlessly working to block the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards for power plants, via an ongoing lawsuit, legislation, public relations activities, and Senate testimony. But the media coverage of these efforts has consistently left out a key aspect of the story: These attorneys general have formed what a New York Times investigation described as an "unprecedented, secretive alliance" with the fossil fuel industry against the Obama administration's environmental policies.
As media outlets across the political spectrum continue to assess the implications of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) contentious behavior toward reporters, much of the analysis does not explore what irritated the presidential candidate in two recent interviews -- the observation that support for unconditional abortion bans and fetal "personhood" laws cannot be reconciled with support for exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Almost immediately after announcing his candidacy, Paul's condescending behavior toward female reporters was widely criticized as sexist, when he "simplistically and condescendingly" refused to acknowledge his reversal on foreign policy toward Iran to Today Show host Savannah Guthrie -- a position that even the conservative National Review's Rich Lowry labeled a "flip-flop." Subsequent coverage of Paul's Today interview focused on his rudeness toward Guthrie, and even when outlets also noted he "bristled" and "ducked questions" in other interviews about his inconsistent record on exceptions to abortion bans, the extent of that contradiction was unexplored.
The questions about his support for abortion ban exceptions originated in an interview with the Associated Press on the same day as his Today interview, when Paul "dodg[ed] a central question about abortion: What exceptions, if any, should be made if the procedure were to be banned?" Paul's refusal to answer whether or not his broad support for abortion bans includes an accommodation for rape, incest, or the health of the mother continued on CNN's The Situation Room. In one exchange, Wolf Blitzer directly asked whether Paul supported an exception for victims of rape and incest. In response, Paul claimed that "there will be extenuating circumstances, and I've supported legislation both with exceptions and without exceptions":
Mainstream press are relying on a flawed timeline to suggest former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of an iPad to send State Department emails is a contradiction to her explanation that she established a private email account in order to use only one mobile device to conduct email correspondence. But such speculation ignores the fact that the iPad did not exist until the year after Clinton's private email account was established
Right-wing media outlets -- led by Fox's Megyn Kelly -- helped the GOP execute a whisper campaign falsely accusing Hillary Clinton of committing perjury when she left the State Department and demanding to see a separation document to prove their charge. After the Associated Press accepted the premise that a separation document should be produced, the State Department made clear that neither Clinton nor her predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, were required to sign that document.
Multiple media outlets have been forced to walk back and update initial reports scandalizing Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account during her tenure as secretary of state, after The New York Times kicked off the pseudo-scandal in an article the paper later acknowledged was "not without fault."
After the Associated Press waited over 14 hours before changing an erroneous story about Hillary Clinton, without issuing an update or correction, ZDNet's David Gewirtz has questions about the integrity of the outlet's reporting.
On March 4, the AP published a story claiming that Clinton used a fake identity, "Eric Hoteham," to register the domain name associated with Clinton's personal email address. This was later discovered to be a misspelled version of a real name, Eric Hothem, who is a former aide to Clinton.
Gewirtz documented a laundry list of changes made to the piece after the AP discovered this information, noting that the AP let the story "run through an entire day's news cycle, and then changed that story in the same article later that evening - without ever releasing an update or correction."
"What worries me," Gewirtz wrote, "is what this sort of drive-by journalism means for the future of news as a source of well-researched, vetted, and transparent reporting." From the piece (emphasis added):
The original assertion by AP that a former Secretary of State might have used a fake name for the probably equally incorrect premise that she has been hiding official email on a "homebrew" server in her house has been resolved, but not before AP let the story run for almost 15 hours, creating a new "Hillary Clinton is evil because..." myth. Then AP didn't bother to print a retraction -- it simply edited the piece and hoped we'd all forget.
But if the Clintons are anything beyond political animals, they're news-cycle survivors.
What worries me is what this sort of drive-by journalism means for the future of news as a source of well-researched, vetted, and transparent reporting.
AP's behavior with this story was a disappointment. It syndicates stories to a great many outlets, and I've always considered it to have the highest journalistic integrity. Now? I'll just chalk this one up to a bad editing mistake; but in the future, if it doesn't clarify substantive and important changes like it made to their Clinton article, we may have to question their credibility in other reporting.
Full column below: