How CBS Botched A Positive Story About Transgender Youth

CBS Sunday Morning provided a cautionary example for what media outlets should avoid when covering transgender issues, providing an anti-LGBT hate group leader with a history of misleading news outlets a forum to attack transgender accommodations during an otherwise commendable segment highlighting the lived experiences of transgender children.

During the June 9 edition of CBS Sunday Morning, correspondent Rita Braver interviewed transgender youth, family members, and a medical doctor who treats trans children for a segment titled “Born this way: Stories of transgender children.” That framing - and Braver's willingness to let transgender children speak for themselves - offered a refreshing contrast to media coverage that all too often excludes transgender voices from discussions of transgender issues.

Inexplicably, however, Braver saw fit to interview Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Sacramento-based anti-LGBT hate group. But Braver didn't identify Dacus as a hate group leader, instead describing him as the leader of “a conservative legal group” and allowing him to attack transgender rights as “ludicrous” and “really unreasonable”:

DACUS: You're saying under [California's transgender non-discrimination] law that a 13-year-old or 14-year-old girl in a locker room has to change and dress and be naked in front of, say, a 16-year-old boy simply because a 16-year-old boy who's a biological boy, but inside has a mental condition called gender identity dysphoria and thinks that he's a girl. This is ludicrous and really unreasonable.

Braver accepted at face value Dacus' assertion that he believes “transgender kids should be treated with compassion,” as long as they aren't allowed to use facilities appropriate for their gender identity. But if Braver had done her homework on the PJI, perhaps she'd have treated that profession of compassion with appropriate skepticism.

Dacus is a man who has stated that LGBT people are under “Satan's dominion,” and his group has shown a willingness to stoop to any low to fight LGBT equality. During the debate over California's law allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, the PJI fabricated a story about a transgender Colorado high school student harassing her peers in the girl's restroom. The storm of negative publicity the PJI's lie brought to the girl led her to be placed on suicide watch.

That lie wasn't enough to stop right-wing media figures like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity from continuing to treat the PJI as a credible organization. And it apparently wasn't enough to prevent the PJI and Dacus from being treated seriously by mainstream media, either. In an email to the PJI's supporters, Dacus expressed his excitement at the chance to sit down with CBS and urged readers to watch the interview:

I'm excited to announce that due to our involvement in this issue of children's privacy, I was asked to sit down with the national CBS Sunday Morning show for an interview. My interview will air tomorrow morning on their show. You can check your local listings to see what time the show will air in your city. I hope you are able to watch it!

It's not difficult to discern why Dacus was so enthusiastic about the segment. Even if CBS devoted the vast majority of its segment to telling transgender kids' stories, Dacus knows that the mere opportunity to peddle transphobic talking points on a mainstream news program lends his organization an aura of credibility - no matter how ill-deserved.

Meanwhile, CBS and other mainstream outlets might want to consider the possibility that if telling both sides of a story means giving a platform to hate group figures, perhaps both sides aren't worthy of being taken seriously.