The majority of TV news networks failed to interview a single trans person while covering Arkansas’ ban on best practice medical care for transgender youth.
MSNBC and PBS were the only two networks to include a trans guest in their coverage, while ABC and CBS each covered the story for only a minute or less and NBC failed to report on the ban at all. Fox News produced the most coverage on the ban at 17 minutes, the majority of which spread medical misinformation about trans youth, while CNN aired eight minutes, the least amount of coverage of the cable networks.
On April 6, Arkansas state legislators in the Republican-controlled House and Senate voted to override a veto from Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), thus passing a law which bans trans youth from accessing gender-affirming medical care before they turn 18 and which will “cut off care from trans youth already receiving treatment.” In a Washington Post op-ed, Hutchinson said that the law “puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health-care experts.”
Hutchinson did, however, sign a law on March 25 banning trans women and girls from competing in school sports that align with their gender identity and another law on March 26 allowing doctors and other medical professionals to refuse treatment to people for a variety of reasons, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Trans advocate and American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio called the ban “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.” And after the bill passed the House, a pediactric doctor in Arkansas reported that there were “multiple kids in our emergency room because of an attempted suicide.” Gender-affirming medical care for trans youth is accepted as a safe, effective, and lifesaving treatment that is widely supported by medical professionals and yields mental health benefits.
MSNBC and PBS were the only networks to include trans people in their coverage of the ban
Media Matters reviewed news programming from March 30 -- when the ban was transmitted to the governor’s office-- through April 8, between 4 a.m. EDT and midnight on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. During that time frame, the networks spent a total of 51 minutes covering the ban -- 10 minutes on broadcast networks and 41 on cable networks.
Key findings from national TV coverage of Arkansas’ ban on affirming medical care for trans youth include:
- Only three segments, from PBS and MSNBC, featured a trans person. A segment on MSNBC’s The Week With Joshua Johnson featured trans advocate Raquel Willis, and a segment on MSNBC’s The Sunday Show With Jonathan Capehart featured ACLU campaign strategist Arli Christian. PBS’ NewsHour featured The 19th reporter Kate Sosin. Notably, all of the segments featuring trans guests occurred before lawmakers overrode Hutchinson’s veto.
- Of the broadcast networks, PBS covered the ban for eight minutes across three segments, two of which were headline updates that featured no guests. CBS covered it for one minute across two segments, and ABC covered it for less than one minute during one segment; all of CBS’ and ABC’s segments were headline updates that did not feature any guests. NBC did not cover the ban.
- Of the cable networks, Fox News covered the ban for 17 minutes across five segments, followed by MSNBC with 16 minutes across four segments. CNN spent eight minutes across six segments discussing it.
- Nearly all of Fox’s coverage came from two segments on Tucker Carlson Tonight which lasted about 15 minutes combined. Carlson hosted Hutchinson in one and criticized him for vetoing the ban. Carlson also spread medical misinformation about health care for trans youth in both segments, lying that “there is not a single study that I'm aware of that shows an improvement in the mental health of children who take puberty blockers who are chemically castrated.” Fox has obsessively covered trans issues, mostly to fearmonger about trans athletes or lie about best practice health care for trans youth; a Media Matters study found that the network aired 86 segments about trans issues from January 20 through March 18.
Anti-trans bills are at a record high, and they require robust media attention
According to a Human Rights Campaign report, state legislators introduced over 80 bills targeting trans people in the first couple months of 2021, the highest number of anti-trans bills in history. The ACLU has found that at least 28 state legislatures have introduced anti-trans legislation this year. So far, such legislation has been adopted in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has signed an anti-trans executive order.
These bills have been fueled by years of attacks from right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups, which have demonized and spread misinformation about trans people. But as media outlets and advocates have noted, these attacks have increased since the GOP lost the Senate and White House in 2020 and now seeks to make up that ground in the 2022 election.
As the right obsesses over trans issues and villainizes the community in an apparent attempt to score political points, major media outlets have repeatedly failed to include trans people in reporting on major news events related to the trans community.With more anti-trans legislation in the pipeline, it is crucial that news outlets interview trans people and report on the harm that these measures will cause.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC and all original programming for ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press; and PBS’ NewsHour for any of the terms “transgender,” “trans,” “Arkansas,” or “Asa Hutchinson” from March 30 through April 8, 2021.
We did not include Fox Broadcasting Co. because it airs only a Sunday morning political talk show, Fox News Sunday, and no other morning or evening national news programming.
Additionally, we conducted similar term searches in the Nexis database; however, this was limited, as transcripts for Fox News’ and MSNBC’s daytime coverage are not available in Nexis. We searched for the above terms between 4 a.m. and midnight on CNN, between 5 p.m. and midnight on Fox News and MSNBC, and on the aforementioned shows on ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS.
We also searched transcripts in the Kinetiq media video database for segments on broadcast networks ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS for the above search terms.
We included segments about Arkansas’ medical care ban, which we defined as instances when the ban was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the ban. We defined “significant discussion” as any back-and-forth exchange between two or more people; we did not include passing mentions in the analysis. We excluded teasers, which we defined as short mentions from the host of segments coming up later in the broadcast.