Transgender homicide victims are frequently misgendered in local media reports about their deaths. Though some news outlets may be motivated by transphobia and bias, others -- like The Kansas City Star -- have justified the practice of misgendering transgender people by using shoddy appeals to journalistic integrity.
On August 15, Tamara Dominguez became one of the latest transgender woman of color to be murdered in the United States when she was repeatedly run over by an SUV. According to local reports, the Kansas City Police Department identified Dominguez using both her birth name and her preferred name, Tamara.
The Kansas City Star identified Dominguez as a "man" in its initial report on the murder - violating GLAAD and Associated Press guidelines and contributing to the widespread problem of misgendering transgender victims of violence in local news reports. In response to criticism from the LGBT community, The Kansas City Star eventually removed the problematic language from its report.
On August 18, Kansas City Star's Public Editor Derek Donovan published a defense of his paper's initial report, which exemplifies the problematic ways that local media outlets can justify the practice of misgendering transgender victims of violence.
Central to Donovan's defense is his argument that news outlets can't know with certainty if a victim of violence is transgender, especially when the victim is deceased:
Police directly told the reporter they did not know whether Dominguez identified as male or female. And as the victim is deceased, it's now impossible to get a firsthand answer to that question.
KCTV interviewed the victim's friend, who used female pronouns. The Star didn't have that (as of this writing at least). I've spoken to the newsroom, and they're following through on the story.
But as Donovan notes, other local media outlets, including KSHB and KCTV, reached out to Dominguez's social circle, including her roommate, to confirm her identity. Other reporters have used social media to confirm victims' gender identities. In other words, when faced with a question about how a subject identified, they did actual reporting rather than just making a snap judgment about Dominguez's gender identity.
That kind of reporting is important beyond merely respecting the victim. Ignoring a victim's gender identity can hamper police investigations, and it makes it harder for the public to understand the nature and frequency of violence against transgender people.
Donovan also argues that gender identity isn't always clearly defined, so journalists' attempts to define a victim's gender identity would require them to make a "journalistically unsound" assumption:
[T]here are also people who fall somewhere else along a continuum. Some identify as both genders simultaneously -- or even neither. Some identify as female but have male alter-aliases, and vice versa. Some continue to identify as their birth gender while cross-dressing. Sometimes even those closest to these people don't know exactly how to answer the intensely personal questions of gender identiy. [sic]
The police report was succinct, identifying the victim as Jesus -- the only legal name known, according to police, and noting the alias. It would have been premature, and ultimately journalistically unsound to make any assumption.
It's important that Donovan acknowledges the fluidity of gender expression and identity, especially for people who identify as non-binary. But that isn't an excuse for intentionally ignoring a news subject's gender presentation and preemptively choosing "male" over "female." According to Donovan, the police could not tell his paper "whether Dominguez identified as male or female," so when the Kansas City Star called Dominguez a "man," it made a "journalistically unsound" assumption about her gender identity, too. Rather than respecting gender fluidity as Donovan suggested they should have, they failed to determine how the victim would want to be identified, substituting a news subject's chosen identity with a reporter's own assumptions and biases, based apparently on nothing more than the name "Jesus."
Donovan claims that identifying Dominguez as a woman would ignore "basic reality," distinguishing her gender identity from her "legal identity":
And it's wrong to ignore a basic reality: This issue is inherently confusing and tricky. Legal identities do matter, both in trans people's lives and in reporting the news. Despite what one may glean from the always black/white world of Twitter, trans activists speak at great length about the murky details of names, passports, and birth certificates that are serious issues trans people deal with -- financial and social barriers to changing one's legal identification, for example. Pretending they don't exist is absurd.
It is true that it's often difficult for transgender people to have their gender identities legally recognized.
But that isn't an argument for refusing to acknowledge the way they prefer to be identified, especially after their deaths. The legitimacy of a transgender person's identity isn't contingent on a passport or birth certificate.
News outlets don't ask for legal documents when they talk about cisgender people. Reporters don't ask for passports or birth certificates to verify the names and identities of cisgender news subjects. Forcing transgender people to legally prove their identities before being taken seriously isn't tied to a widely-accepted journalistic norm, and it trivializes trans people by reinforcing the idea that trans identities shouldn't be taken seriously.
Donovan concludes by explaining that properly identifying transgender victims of violence can be difficult, even for reporters who make an effort to reach out to the victim's loved ones:
You could argue the story shouldn't have run at all until this detail was known, via an interview with a family member or someone who can be verified as a friend of Dominguez. And no, self-proclaimed "friends" in social media don't count. Dominguez does not appear to have had a public social media presence under the name Tamara or Jesus -- both rather common names, complicating matters.
[A]ctivism is too often hijacked by loud, irresponsible voices, even from people who mean well. I've heard from some today criticizing The Star for being behind on this story, yet ironically using terminology that transgender people generally consider offensive. It's impossible for everyone to be on the same page.
It's a sentiment that's been echoed by other journalists -- determining someone's gender identity can be burdensome, especially when law enforcement misgenders a victim in initial press releases. In local news environments that prioritize quick, breaking news reports, stopping to investigate a victim's gender identity is a lot to ask. And journalists don't want to incorrectly identify someone as transgender if they aren't sure.
In those cases, the solution is to avoid using gendered terminology to describe the victim, as several outlets did in their reports of Dominguez's death. Using gender-neutral descriptors, and then amending reports once the victim's gender identity is confirmed, allows local media outlets to avoid making harmful or lazy assumptions in their coverage.
2015's unprecedented streak of homicides of transgender women has brought renewed attention to the problem of misgendering in news media. But journalists have been grappling with how to identify trans people, and specially trans victims of violence, for years. As the trans community continues to gain visibility, ethical journalism will require that reporters let go of their excuses and do the necessary work of figuring out how to accurately and responsibly identify trans people from the very first draft of any article.
Influential conservative Iowa talk radio hosts Steve Deace and Jan Mickelson attacked Fox News over its handling of the first GOP presidential debate. Deace slammed the news channel for asking candidates to pledge their loyalty to the eventual GOP nominee and rule out a third party run, while Mickelson characterized the moderators' sometimes sharp questioning of candidates as "an inquisition."
Conservative opposition to the internationally-negotiated deal to limit Iran's ability to obtain a nuclear weapon has been the subject of numerous editorials and op-eds in U.S. newspapers that have pushed false information about the agreement and warned that it compromises U.S. and Israeli security, despite widespread praise from nuclear arms control experts who say the deal is "excellent compared to where we are today."
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent referenced Nazi Germany's propaganda operation to claim that the worldwide outrage sparked by the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe is a "lie." He made the remarks during a media tour which saw him repeatedly defended the lion's killing by a hunter who paid guides to help him shoot big game.
Nugent has been one of the very few defenders of the paid hunt that killed Cecil -- a beloved, 13-year-old lion who was a major tourist attraction at Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Critics have expressed outrage about several aspects of the hunt, including its questionable legality, the fact that the hunters used bait to lure Cecil out of the preserve where he was protected, that Cecil was wounded by an arrow and suffered for two days before hunters tracked and killed him with a gun, that the hunters reportedly attempted to destroy Cecil's GPS collar signifying his participation in a scientific study, and that the hunters only took Cecil's head, leaving his body to rot.
During an Aug. 4 appearance on conservative Michael Berry's radio show, Nugent said, "Every word uttered by the 'Propaganda Ministry' about this lion kill is a lie. Every word is a lie, and I can take it lick-for-lick. Lured for a game preserve? Hello, that's why they have game preserves."
The "Propaganda Ministry" (Propagandaministerium) is one name used to describe propaganda efforts in Nazi Germany run by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Nugent frequently invokes Goebbels in his inflammatory attacks.
Later during Berry's show, Nugent compared the killing of Cecil to the phrase, "Black Lives Matter." Nugent said, "The entire episode is such a lie. It's like 'Black Lives Matter' ... I suppose those who claim 'Black Lives Matter' don't believe that that the black lives in Chicago matter or Baltimore or Detroit or New Orleans or Washington, D.C., because as black lives are slaughtered by the hour, not a peep. Same with lions. Thousands and thousands of lions were killed in the exact same legal manner, and not a peep for one reason and one reason only, because they didn't have names."
Nugent's appearance on Berry's show was just one of a series of interviews he has recently given in which he defended the killing of Cecil. During an Aug. 3 appearance on The Frank Beckmann Show, Nugent even unfavorably compared modern-day Zimbabwe to its former incarnation as Dutch-ruled Rhodesia to help rationalize the lion's killing.
Without mentioning that Rhodesia, the territorial predecessor to Zimbabwe, was ruled by a white minority that subjugated the black African population, Nugent complained about Zimbabwe game officials who have launched an investigation into Cecil's killing.
He said, "Do you know that Zimbabwe, right after it came from Rhodesia -- they changed because [President Robert] Mugabe's gangsters took over all the Dutch African farms? It was the bread basket of Africa, the entire continent. It was the most agriculture, productive country in Africa and then when Mugabe and his Crips and Bloods moved in, it's become nothing but a cesspool of violence and murder and rape and they don't produce squat. Somebody choose a system. If you are on Mugabe's side you're weird."
Image via Flickr user Vince O'Sullivan under a Creative Commons license.
Iowa's CBS 2 TV news failed to challenge a claim by a spokesperson for Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA) that a bill co-sponsored by Blum -- the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) -- would not legalize discrimination against single pregnant women and same-sex couples, despite the fact that experts say the bill's language would allow private businesses and non-profit organizations to discriminate against them on the basis of religious or moral beliefs. By comparison, Iowa's ABC 9 fact checked Blum's claims and reported that FADA's language could, in fact, create a legal defense for discrimination.
An LGBT activist in Houston, Texas shut down a local TV news host's misleading questions about the city's non-discrimination ordinance, dismantling a right-wing lie about non-discrimination protections that has infected local and national media coverage of the fight for LGBT equality.
In July, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) - which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and a host of other factors - must be repealed or put on the ballot for a vote in November. Opponents of the ordinance have spent months falsely claiming that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender - a myth that local media outlets have been all too willing to run with.
But during the August 2 edition of Houston's ABC 13 Eyewitness News' "City View," local LGBT activist Noel Freeman shattered the transgender bathroom myth:
FREEMAN: Non-discrimination ordinances that are LGBT-inclusive have existed in the United States for more than 40 years. And in those 40 years across the entire country, zero, zero times has somebody committed an act in a bathroom and claimed a non-discrimination law as a defense.
It's simply not true. The fact of the matter is it has never happened across the entire country in 40 years. It's never happened. Plano went through this about a year ago. They said it was going to happen, it didn't happen. San Antonio, two years ago, didn't happen. Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, 10, 15 years ago - didn't happen. It's just not true.
Somebody who's intent on breaking the law doesn't care what the law is. But the reality is that Houston has laws that makes that illegal. And so the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance isn't anything about this lie and this bathroom myth that's being presented by opponents of the issue.
Freeman is right: in state after state and city after city with LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances, conservative horror stories about public restrooms have never come true.
But Houston media outlets continue to take the right-wing "bathroom lie" seriously, uncritically repeating it in their coverage of the HERO debate despite the fact that it's been proven false in every other Texas city that's adopted a similar non-discrimination law.
So while it's great that Freeman was able to debunk that lie so effectively, he shouldn't have had to.
Iowa radio host Steve Deace is frequently interviewed as a political analyst by mainstream media outlets like NPR, MSNBC, and The Hill when they need an insider's perspective on the GOP primary and Iowa political landscape. However, these outlets may not all be aware that Deace gained his insider status in conservative circles by broadcasting full-throated endorsements of extreme right-wing positions on his radio show and writing online columns filled with intolerant views that he never reveals during main stream media appearances.
On July 22, the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) annual meeting will once again see corporations and state lawmakers gather to discuss and vote on model legislation meant for introduction in state legislatures across the country. On the eve of the three-day conference in San Diego, Media Matters looks back at five examples of great reporting by local news teams who pulled back the curtain and held ALEC accountable for hosting lobbyists and legislators in secret meetings -- where they wrote corporate-supported bills blocking minimum wage hikes, attacking unions, and eliminating environmental regulations -- and previews this year's agenda.
Tampa Bay Fox television station WTVT left out the fact that Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its story about an ailing young boy whose family might have to struggle to pay for health care as a result of reductions in federal Low-Income Pool (LIP) funding, even though experts say that expanded Medicaid would cover many such people at risk.
In a July 13 report, WTVT - which is owned and operated by parent company 21st Century Fox -- profiled a seriously ill young boy whose medical care could be jeopardized by reductions in federal LIP funding - money provided by state and federal resources "to support health care providers that provide uncompensated care to Florida residents who are uninsured or underinsured." While the report noted that federal matching funds for LIP would be phased out in the near future, it made no mention of the fact that expanding Medicaid in Florida -- which the state legislature and Gov. Scott has rejected -- would protect many families and individuals affected by LIP funding reductions:
Experts agree that expanding Medicaid could solve many of the problems created by reduced LIP funding. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, reductions in LIP funding are a result of the ACA's "creation of an explicit pathway for Medicaid coverage for adults with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line, which changed CMS's (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) criteria for approving state plans to fund uncompensated care." As Politifact Florida reported, the two programs are not directly connected, but Gov. Scott's acceptance of the Medicaid expansion funds could mean continued health care coverage for many who currently benefit from LIP funding (emphasis added):
The LIP started in 2005 and was renewed until 2013. But when it came time to negotiate another extension for 2014 and beyond, Florida upped the funding request to a whopping $4.5 billion to expand the program. This was after the state refused some $51 billion in Medicaid expansion money over 10 years under the Affordable Care Act, to expand that program to anyone making up to about 133 percent of the poverty level, as the Obama administration wanted. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled states had a choice whether to take the money or not.
In many ways, LIP isn't associated with Medicaid expansion, [Joan] Alker said, given that LIP started while Jeb Bush was governor and George W. Bush was president. But an expanded Medicaid would cover many of those patients, or use preventive care to keep them out of the hospital to begin with, she said.
Washington and Lee University professor Timothy Jost added that money for the Medicaid expansion was guaranteed by law in the Affordable Care Act, something not true about the program that created LIP, which is doled out as discretionary spending. (Jost supports the health care law.)
Of course, it's technically possible the federal government could change the law to do away with whatever program they like, including Medicaid. But that would require both houses of Congress and the president to agree on the terms, something "that isn't likely to happen anytime soon," Jost said.
Now Florida faces a tough set of choices: Find a new source of LIP funding, end the program altogether or negotiate with CMS to either revamp the program or get another extension, possibly for as short as one month. Florida also could decide to cover those patients by expanding Medicaid.
From the July 15 edition of KEYE TV's K-EYE News at Ten:
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Journalists planning to cover the upcoming Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa should be aware of the extreme anti-gay rhetoric regularly voiced by several of the event's sponsors and speakers, including host Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader and one of the most influential conservative activists in Iowa. Attendees will also hear from Tony Perkins, the head of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council and Brian Brown, the head of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, among others.
In the years since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, political spending has skyrocketed, much of it in secret. The ruling has kept the media and public from knowing where this "dark money" comes from and what conflicts of interest exist. However, if President Obama decides to issue an executive order requiring contractors to disclose their political donations, as he is reportedly considering doing, journalists will soon be able to expose the hidden relationships between contractors and elected officials.
Citizens United opened the financial floodgates to dark money groups - organizations that raise unlimited money from donors to pay for political advertising and campaign organizing but are not obligated to disclose where the money came from. The decision has allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to have enormous influence over elections because it allows them to get around the legal direct donation limits to candidates and parties, creating what many view as a corrupting influence.
As a recent New York Times editorial noted, President Obama is considering issuing an executive order that would force federal contractors to disclose donations to dark money groups. The editorial, which advocated for an order "requiring federal contractors to disclose their donations to political candidates," also noted that House Republicans are currently crafting legislation to further decrease transparency in political spending. Because of entrenched Republican opposition to campaign finance reform, the proposed executive order requiring disclosure on the part of federal contractors may be the only forthcoming measure to address the crisis of money in politics.
[Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 7/14/15]
Some of the larger implications of the Citizens United decision and the ability of federal contractors to skirt federal law have been the subject of investigative reporting by national media, who have looked into the origins of dark money groups. But federal contractors' political spending has received little coverage, mostly because so little reliable information is available, given the secretive nature of the donation process. That is slowly changing, thanks to a renewed push by media outlets and advocacy groups for executive action to force contractors to disclose donations. Their efforts could soon produce results and give media the power to report on how contractors try to gain influence by supporting candidates through dark money groups.
Citizens United gave federal contractors a huge incentive to contribute to these third-party groups as a way to curry favor with politicians who award lucrative government contracts. Washington hands out hundreds of billions of dollars annually in federal contracts and grants, and a vast majority go to large corporations. According to the Brennan Center, "Since 2000, the top 10 federal contractors have made $1.5 trillion from the government." In some states, these federal contractors are an outsized influence on the local economy.
Though the law says 23 percent of federal contracts must go to small businesses, large defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have found ways to qualify as small businesses in certain circumstances. Nine of the top 10 contract winners so far this year have been defense contractors whose political action committees (PACs) were among the largest contributors to federal candidates in the first quarter of 2015:
Requiring contractors to disclose donations would not only affect companies that survive off of federal contracts, like many defense firms, it would also shed light on companies for whom contracts are only part of a larger business model, such as the billionaire Koch brothers-controlled Koch Industries, which has a history of winning federal contracts.
The potential conflict of interest inherent in allowing contractors to donate to politicians who decide which companies get government contracts was acknowledged as far back as 1940. As The Brennan Center for Justice's Ciara Torres-Spelliscy reported, the 1940 Hatch Act made it illegal for contractors to donate "directly or indirectly to make any contribution of money or other things of value, or to promise expressly or impliedly to make any such contribution to any political party, committee, or candidate for public office or to any person for any political purpose or use." However, courts have decided that a contractor may set up its own super PAC as a separate entity to get around the Hatch Act. As the Brennen Center explained in a report on one of the legal challenges to the law:
In 2013, Public Citizen launched a complaint against Chevron for giving $2.5 million to a super PAC called the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). This expenditure was the largest one from a for-profit publicly traded company in the 2012 election cycle.
This should have be a slam dunk of a case since Chevron is a government contractor covered by the Hatch Act. But the FEC did not see it that way. As Mother Jones reported, "The FEC bought the company's argument, which is that Chevron Corporation (the organization that donated to CLF) and Chevron U.S.A. (the organization with government contracts) are entirely different entities." It did not matter that Chevron U.S.A. is 100 percent owned by Chevron Corp. Now it is open season for government contractors to spend in federal elections since all they have to do is spend through a different subsidiary. The Hatch Act is now barely worth the paper it's written on if this is how the FEC is going to "enforce" it.
And while super PACs are transparent, listing publicly where they got their funds, the donors to super PACs can be dark money conduits like 501(c)(4)s or 501(c)(6)s. Consequently, federal contractors could be hiding among the donors of $600 million in dark money that has been spent in the past four years.
While an executive order would not eliminate contractors' ability to donate to dark money groups, as the Brennen Center points out, it would give journalists and citizens a clearer view into which organizations are supporting which candidates, and could go a long way toward deterring corrupt pay-to-play practices:
Such disclosure [of federal contractor's donations] would not bring all dark money to light, but it would expose a type of dark money that should be especially troubling: campaign contributions that could have been given to influence a contract awarded by the government.
WisconsinWatchdog.org marked Republican Governor Scott Walker's presidential announcement with an article that made no mention of the economic struggles Wisconsinites have endured under his tenure and praised Walker campaign chair Michael Grebe without disclosing its conflict-of-interest connection to him.
While many members of Wisconsin's media have warned of Walker's "extreme" politics, "polarizing character" and disappointing economic record, WisconsinWatchdog.org cheered the governor's presidential campaign announcement in a July 13 article that praised his recall election survival and touted his successful crippling of unions. Watchdog.org said Walker is "once more on the precipice of history, set to bring his big government-reform message to the national stage."
WisconsinWatchdog.org also made little mention of Walker's shaky economic record in its discussion of his qualifications to become president. The article praised him for enacting damaging tax cuts and dismissed widespread criticism that he drained the state of revenue by parroting the state Republican party's argument that the tax revenue "came from the hard-earned money of Wisconsin taxpayers, and it belongs to them."
As local Capital Times reporter John Nichols told Media Matter's Joe Strupp, "The Wisconsin economic story is not a particularly good story. Wisconsin trails a lot of neighboring states in economic vitality; its job growth is not particularly good."
WisconsinWatchdog.org previously tried to distort Walker's economic record by relying on a methodologically flawed report produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The "Rich States, Poor States" report by ALEC has been called "snake oil" by The Iowa Policy Project and labor advocacy group Good Jobs First for its promotion of deregulation and reliance on cutting public services. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal called the maps in ALEC's report "a joke" because they ranked strong states like New York and California at the bottom of the list, and said, "ALEC is ranking states based on each state's level of deregulation and awarding the most deregulated states, but the outcomes seem to have very little bearing in where companies actually want to launch and do business."
Bloomberg's more objective state ranking index, the Economic Evaluation of States, places Wisconsin in 38thplace using indicators like home prices and wage growth. Even by his own measure, Walker's record on job creation has come up short. His campaign promise to bring 250,000 new private sector jobs by the end of his first term "failed miserably" according to former mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak, writing in an op-ed for The Hill. Fewer than 150,000 jobs were created during Walker's first term.
The governor's strong stance against raising taxes in the face of deficit spending created a budget fight that delayed his presidential candidacy announcement. While neighboring Minnesota has raised taxes and seen economic growth, Walker's continued push for spending cuts had members of his own party rebelling against his budget, which passed with the largest legislative Republican opposition so far in his tenure.
The Walker budget that finally passed last week included controversial and possibly economically harmful changes. Chief among these are a $250 million-dollar cut to higher education, provisions to weaken tenure protection at state schools, elimination of wage protections for construction laborers working on state projects, and the replacement of a provision that said workers must be paid a "living wage" with wording that says workers must only be paid "minimum wage." Current minimum wage in Wisconsin is projected to remain at $7.25 per hour until at least 2018.
WisconsinWatchdog.org's support of Walker comes as no surprise -- the website formerly known as the Wisconsin Reporter has a long history of defending him. During the "John Doe" investigations into possible campaign finance violations during Walker's 2010 and 2012 campaigns, WisconsinWatchdog.org ran more than 180 articles pushing back against his critics.
As part of the Franklin Center's Watchdog.org media group, WisconsinWatchdog.org operates aspart of a collective of state-based media outlets that use funding from the likes of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers to push conservative views and misinformation into state policy conversations. The Franklin Center also receives funding from the Bradley Foundation, which is run by Walker's campaign chairman, Michael Grebe. Though WisconsinWatchdog.org's article mentions Grebe, his position, and a reprints a quote from the Weekly Standard praising his experience, it never discloses Grebe's position as president and CEO of the Bradley Foundation.
From the July 6 edition of iHeartRadio's The Michael Berry Show:
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