Update (6/23/23): After publication of this piece, Fox News removed the fabricated language in the quote from Oregon state Sen. Lynn Findley and replaced it with the correct quotation from the original Associated Press article, along with adding an editor’s note acknowledging the change. As of publication of this update, the other altered language in the article — along with the language in the other 18 articles cited in this piece — remains uncorrected.
In an abhorrent bid to further its demonization of trans people and the medical professionals who provide medically necessary care, Fox News’ website is altering articles from The Associated Press and Reuters to replace the phrase “gender-affirming care” with the terms “sex change” or “sex reassignment” — phrases that the AP, trans journalists, and LGBTQ rights advocates deem outdated — and frequently removing or replacing references to “care” or “medical care.”
In one of the most recent examples, Fox fabricated a quote from an Oregon state senator, putting words in the mouth of an elected official. In changing the text of AP articles without disclosing the edits to its readers, Fox News is obscuring the true impact of legislation that removes a broad range of lifesaving treatment options for trans youth.
Both the AP and Reuters confirmed that altering their content to change the meaning or accuracy of the reporting violates their rules. A spokesperson for AP told Media Matters, “Customers have the ability to adjust AP headlines and stories as long as the changes do not impact the accuracy or facts of the AP journalism.” Additionally, the news organization confirmed that “quotes are not to be altered, in keeping with AP standards.”
A spokesperson for Reuters wrote, “The editorial meaning of Reuters content cannot be altered or distorted by our clients. Reuters is fully committed to covering all matters, including LGBTQIA+ issues, impartially and accurately, in keeping with the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.”
FoxNews.com has frequently replaced accurate terminology in the headlines of AP articles, changing terms like “gender-affirming care” to read “sex change,” or changing a headline describing a bill restricting “trans youth care” to instead frame it as a “youth sex change” ban.
However, starting with an AP article it reposted on April 27, Fox News seemingly began altering the text in the body of the wire services’ articles as well, replacing “gender-affirming” with either the terms “sex change” or “sex reassignment.” In total, over the last two months, Fox News has altered at least 18 articles from the AP and one from Reuters on anti-trans legislation that are credited exclusively to the respective outlets. No notes or citations are made clarifying any changes to the text credited to the AP or Reuters.
The changes are in-line with a right-wing strategy targeting language used by LGBTQ and medical professionals
Gender-affirming care is a broad term that encompasses an array of essential services for trans and nonbinary people that can include both medical care — such as therapy and medication — as well as nonmedical services, like changing the way you dress or what pronouns you use.
While the terms “sex change” and “sex reassignment” represent outdated language, correct terminology has also drawn conservative ire. The right has maligned the term “gender-affirming care” as part of its propagandizing efforts to deny the existence and humanity of trans and nonbinary people.
Following far-right backlash to Fox News’ firing of host Tucker Carlson last month, right-wing online outlet The Daily Signal castigated the cable network for its occasional “use of activist language like ‘gender affirming care’ in stories on its website, as well as the site’s consistent use of female pronouns for biological males.” Last year, Fox News’ Laura Ingraham similarly called on people to stop using the term, claiming it was a “misleading euphemism.”
Neither does the AP itself, which last year released a topical guide as part of an update to its AP Stylebook — an important reference tool used by many media outlets. The guide provided direction on how to accurately report on issues relating to trans people and instructed journalists not to use outdated terms, singling out “sex change” as one to avoid. Right-wing media responded to the changes with characteristic outrage.
Changes to language are possibly intended to mislead Fox News’ audience
Conservative attacks on gender-affirming care often focus attention on gender-affirming surgeries, which both have an extremely low rate of regret and are rarely an option for those under 18. Despite this, proponents of the record number of anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures this year often focus their rhetoric targeting gender-affirming care on surgery — despite those same bills frequently including write-outs allowing for doctors to perform non-consensual surgeries on intersex youth.
This attempt to sow confusion around the types of care under attack by right-wing media and politicians is also similar to Fox News’ changes to AP content. The terms used by the outlet — “sex change” and “sex reassignment” — have often been used in the past to refer to gender-affirming surgery.
In the most glaring example of editorial malfeasance, Fox News altered a quote from Oregon state Sen. Lynn Findley included in an AP article. The outlet changed a quote in which Findley, a Republican, asserted that under a compromised bill previously opposed by the state’s GOP, “parental rights will not be ignored regarding minors seeking abortion and gender-affirming care.” Fox News changed the last term to read “sex reassignment care” instead, without giving any notice to readers that the quote had been altered.
There are some signs that it is Fox News’ intent to mislead its audience. For instance, some of the same AP articles Fox News altered also have changed headlines that frame legislation banning all gender-affirming care for trans youth as being only about surgery. One article, which changes “gender-affirming care” to “sex reassignment,” focused its headline entirely on “sex reassignment surgeries.”
Replacing medically accurate terminology with language intended to play into the demonization and dehumanization of essential medical care is not a new strategy for the right. As part of their ongoing effort to restrict reproductive care (a push that frequently shares strategy with anti-trans activists), right-wing groups often use the term “chemical abortion” in place of “medication abortion,” the medically accurate term. In both cases, altering terminology has a clear goal — to undermine any trace of humanity or credibility present in the language used by health care providers.
Considering their association with surgical interventions, the terms inserted by Fox News into AP wire stories mask the extreme nature of the legislation being discussed. Bills seeking to ban gender-affirming care not only almost ubiquitously target any gender-affirming medical care available for trans youth but also increasingly aim to restrict social transition.
Fox News altered the following wire service articles to remove the term gender-affirming care:
- An April 27 Fox News version of an AP article discussing a failed gender-affirming care ban for trans youth in Kansas changes multiple mentions of “gender-affirming care” to “sex reassignment care.”
- Also on April 27, less than two hours after Fox News posted that initial altered AP article, the site posted a Reuters article on the U.S. Justice Department’s challenge to Tennessee gender-affirming care ban. The altered version replaced all uses of the term “gender-affirming” with “sex reassignment.”
- A May 3 Fox News version of an AP article alters a sentence stating that “15 states have banned gender affirming care” to read “15 states have banned sex changes for minors.”
- A May 4 Fox News version of an AP article discussing a legal challenge against Kentucky’s ban on “gender-affirming care” changes to “sex reassignment care” in the lead sentence and throughout the article.
- Also on May 4, a Fox News version of an AP article changes a mention of Iowa Republicans moving to ban “gender-affirming care for transgender children” in the lede to instead read “sex changes for transgender children,” but confusingly keeps the AP’s original term when it’s used once more later in the piece.
- A May 8 Fox News version of an AP article discussing gender-affirming care bans changes two mentions of “gender-affirming care for minors” to read “sex changes for minors.”
- A May 10 Fox News version of an AP article discussing a Vermont bill that would give legal protections to doctors who provide “reproductive and gender affirming health care services” removes “health” from the sentence, in addition to changing it to describe the bill as protecting medical professionals who provide “reproductive and sex change services.”
- A May 15 Fox News version of an AP article discussing a Nebraska proposal “that would ban gender-affirming care for minors” now claims that the bill would “ban sex changes for minors.”
- A May 16 Fox News version of an AP article that mentions a recently passed Arkansas bill “aimed at reinstating a ban on gender-affirming care for minors” changes the language to say the law is “aimed at reinstating a ban on sex changes for minors.”
- On May 17, a Fox News version of an AP article on Louisiana's state House passing a ban on “gender-affirming care” changes the term to “sex reassignment care.”
- A May 18 Fox News version of an AP article on a Democratic bill in Oregon that would extend protections for gender-affirming care changes “gender-affirming care” to “sex reassignment care.”
- A May 19 Fox News version of an AP article on an enforcement hold for Oklahoma’s gender-affirming care ban changes the term “gender-affirming” throughout to “sex reassignment.”
- Also on May 19, a Fox News version of an AP article on Nebraska’s legislature passing a ban on gender-affirming care changes all mentions of “gender-affirming” to the term “sex change,” including in the lede sentence where “restrictions on gender-affirming care for people younger than 19” are described as “restrictions on sex change procedures for children.”
- A May 24 Fox News version of an AP article on a walkout by GOP lawmakers in Oregon changed a mention of “a sweeping measure on … gender-affirming care that the conservatives particularly object to,” instead describing the bill as pertaining to “sex reassignment care.”
- A June 1 Fox News version of an AP article on the same walkout in Oregon again changed a mention of a “gender-affirming care bill” to “sex reassignment care bill.”
- A June 14 Fox News version of an AP article swapped the term “gender-affirming care” with “sexual reassignment procedures.”
- A June 16 Fox News version of an AP article replaced references to “gender-affirming care” throughout the article, removing the word “affirming” and replacing “medical care” with “procedures.”
- Another Fox News version of an AP article from June 16 replaced “gender-affirming” with “sex reassignment” throughout.
- A June 20 Fox News version of an AP article replaced “gender-affirming care” with “gender reassignments” and “sexual reassignment procedures,” at one point referring to it simply as “the practice.”