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.
Mainstream media distorted Ret. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell's Benghazi testimony to the House Oversight Committee, seizing on a partial remark that "we should have tried" to rescue the victims and ignoring the fact that Lovell later explained that he did not mean the military response was insufficient.
From the May 1 edition of ABC's ABC World News:
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The starting point for any allegation of executive office cover-up, like the one surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is always the same: What did he know and when did he know it?
Eleven weeks after Christie held a marathon press conference to address questions about the bridge scandal that has enveloped his administration, we still don't know the answer to the central question in the case: When did Christie find out that the city of Fort Lee had been brought to a four-day stand still when at least one senior member of his staff teamed up with his appointee at the Port Authority to purposefully clog traffic lanes?
The release today of a self-investigation undertaken by Christie's handpicked attorneys, and at a cost of at least $1 million to New Jersey taxpayers, does little to exonerate Christie on that question.
In fact, the report confirms that David Wildstein, the Christie appointee at the Port Authority who remains at the center of the scandal, insists he told the governor, in real time, about the lane closures on September 11, 2013, and had detailed that meeting to one of Christie's aides in December. Christie claims he doesn't recall that conversation and from that he said/he said stand off, the internal probe generously declares Christie version is be believed and that he didn't find out until weeks later about the Fort Lee fiasco.
Miraculously, in a scandal that brought weeks of relentlessly bad news for Christie in January and February, as revelation after revelation painted a picture of a deeply corrupt administration, his new paid-for investigation couldn't find much bad news for the governor. The report, according to Christie's attorney Randy Mastro was "a search for the truth." It just so happens the reports is also "a vindication of Gov. Christie," as Mastro stressed to reporters today.
Fact: Mastro served as a New York City deputy mayor under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been perhaps Christie's most public defender since the scandal broke in January.
Christie aides are hoping the new report, which reads more like a legal brief on the governor's behalf and which failed to interview key players, represents a political turning point for Christie who has aspirations to run for president in 2016. But whether that strategy works depends a lot on how the national press treats the new report and the public relations push behind it. (Fact: The Beltway press has a long history of showering Christie with adoring coverage.)
For the first time since the scandal broke in January, Christie sits for a one-on-one interview with a national media figure, Diane Sawyer, which will air on ABC's World News With Diane Sawyer tonight. The interview will be a good indication of how the Beltway press treats the new report and if it's willing to allow Christie to clear himself of any wrongdoing before the U.S. Attorney's office and New Jersey lawmakers in Trenton complete their own investigations.
ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer stated that "the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow" to the Head Start program -- by implementing the automatic spending cuts commonly known as the sequester -- before noting that "critics say" the cuts could have been avoided. While Sawyer did note that the cuts were linked to sequestration, she framed them as an action taken by the Obama administration while failing to highlight the responsibility Republicans in Congress share or mentioning the White House's long standing offers first to avert sequestration and now to replace it.
On August 18, The Washington Post reported that as many as 57,000 children lost access to Head Start's health, nutrition, and early education programs due to the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration. While covering that story, Sawyer claimed on ABC World News' August 19 broadcast that "an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program head start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education."
SAWYER: And now back here at home an uproar is building tonight after an announcement that the Obama administration may be dealing a bruising blow to the program Head Start designed to helped preschool children catch up on education. Word tonight: the administration says the sequester forced cuts, but critics say there may have been another way. And tonight 57,000 children are facing the possibility they will no longer get educational support.
Sawyer appeared to lay blame squarely on the Obama administration's shoulders, or at least ignored the responsibility held by Republicans. Sawyer reported that "critics say there may have been another way," but in fact, Obama offered another way with a plan to avert sequestration. Republicans refused to budge on a deal and some even said the cuts were necessary. Once sequestration hit, Obama called on Congress to replace it with a more balanced approach. The president has also been an advocate of early childhood education and even mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union.
ABC's coverage was brief -- a common problem in the media's sequestration reporting that Media Matters has previously noted -- but left out critical context that gave the appearance of laying the blame on Obama.
Last week, Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that hinders enforcement of federal light bulb efficiency standards that were signed into law by President Bush in 2007. Conservative media have repeatedly misled consumers about the standards, and now ABC's flagship nightly news program is adding to the misinformation.
On ABC World News, Diane Sawyer called the measure "a small victory ... for those who like their light bulbs the old-fashioned way." Jonathan Karl suggested that the "light bulb ban" would require consumers to buy "new bulbs [that] are funny looking, dimmer and more expensive."
In the rush to cover the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that received a loan guarantee from the federal government, many news media outlets have misrepresented or omitted key facts.
From the February 23 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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During an interview with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer whitewashed the extremism on display during the 9-12 protests by asserting that people at the protests were "saying things like, look at the reality. We're facing a $1.6 trillion deficit. If you're facing IOUs to other countries, where suddenly they own America, our children are imperiled." In fact, far from simply complaining about the deficit, numerous protesters at the 9-12 rallies held signs featuring inflammatory attacks on Obama and other Democrats, and Good Morning America itself previously interviewed 9-12 protesters who said that "every Democratic politician is working for the mafia" and that Obama is a "communist."
From the August 6 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
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In an interview with members of the Obama health care team, GMA's Diane Sawyer did not ask any questions based on progressive concerns about health care reform.
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Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer did not challenge an assertion by McCain campaign senior adviser Nicolle Wallace that the "fervor with which the Democratic-leaning blogs and a few in the mainstream media pursued" questions about Gov. Sarah Palin's pregnancy " forced the Palin family ... maybe ahead of a schedule that worked best for the family, to make this news yesterday about their daughter." But contrary to Wallace's claim, according to The New York Times, the McCain campaign released the information about Palin's daughter's pregnancy on Labor Day because that was when the media were focused on Hurricane Gustav and because "the nation was busy with family and social activities."
Good Morning America's Robin Roberts and Diane Sawyer echoed Republican talking points mocking the stage at Invesco Field in Denver, where Sen. Barack Obama plans to give his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for president, for including a structure with columns. But Roberts and Sawyer failed to mention that the stage at the Republican National Convention in 2004 also included columns.