Fox News SCOTUS Title VII coverage
Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Fox News barely covered historic Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ discrimination

Fox championed Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court but has been mostly quiet on his ruling in favor of LGBTQ workers

  • Update (6/17/20): This piece has been updated with additional data from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT on June 15.

    Fox News covered the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination for only 15 minutes across seven segments on June 15, the day it was decided. In comparison, MSNBC covered the decision for 2 hours and 3 minutes over the course of 21 segments, and CNN covered it for 43 minutes across 11 segments.

    In a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court decided that workplace protections on the basis of sex in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act extend to also protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination. The decision was a combined ruling on several cases; two were on behalf of men who were fired for being gay and a third was about a woman who was fired for being trans.

    Conservative Justices John Roberts and Neil Gorsuch voted in favor of the decision alongside liberal members of the court, and a wide swath of media coverage focused on the vote of Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion in favor of LGBTQ Americans. Fox has championed President Donald Trump's conservative judicial appointments, but Gorsuch's surprising decision is at odds with the network’s coverage and Trump's record on the judiciary, which has been a major election issue for his right-wing and evangelical base.

    After the announcement, many right-wing media figures took to Twitter and elsewhere to criticize the decision. However, you wouldn’t have noticed that if you were watching Fox News’ evening programming -- typically the most-watched hours of cable news -- which barely covered it all. Fox News has a history of anti-LGBTQ coverage and a cozy relationship with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented a client in one of the cases.

  • 6.17 updated SCOTUS cable coverage
  • Fox News’ evening programs covered the decision for less than two minutes

    During seven hours of coverage between 5 p.m. EDT and midnight on June 15, Fox News covered the Supreme Court’s decision for less than two minutes over the course of two segments, in news updates by anchors Bret Baier and Shannon Bream.

  • Evening cable SCOTUS LGBTQ decision time count
  • CNN covered the ruling for 12 minutes across five segments, and MSNBC covered it for 40 minutes across seven.

    It is particularly surprising that Bream devoted so little time to the court’s decision on her show. The Fox News @ Night anchor joined Fox News in 2007 as a Supreme Court correspondent and remains the network’s chief legal correspondent. (She did cover the decision during daytime programming.)

    ADF lawyers and clients are a regular presence on Fox News and particularly on Bream’s show, where they have appeared on at least eight episodes since June 2018. Bream covered one of the cases at the center of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in April 2019 and misgendered Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff in that case. 

  • Fox News has championed conservative judges and court cases

    The lack of coverage on Fox News’ marquee programming is notable, as the network has shown a marked interest in a conservative judiciary and championed Gorsuch during his nomination. 

    Fox News personalities like Bream aided in the successful campaign to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016, which paved the way for Gorsuch’s appointment. During the week of Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation hearings in 2017, Fox hosted 14 pro-Gorsuch guests in prime-time programming, more than CNN and MSNBC combined; in contrast, Fox hosted only two guests who opposed Gorsuch’s nomination during that time frame. Additionally, Fox dominated coverage of Trump judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke, an allied attorney with ADF, and whitewashed his extreme anti-LGBTQ record by claiming that he had been smeared by the left. 

    The Supreme Court’s new Title VII ruling is at odds with Fox’s history of anti-LGBTQ coverage, including on its purported “news” side, and the network’s past support for Gorsuch. Trump, whose administration asked the Supreme Court to rule against LGBTQ workers in the June 15 case, and Senate Republicans who supported Gorsuch’s nomination have been tepid in their comments about him and the decision. 

    In fact, appearing on One America News, Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino criticized Gorsuch but also highlighted her support for him and said that he makes conservative votes “the vast majority of the time.” She continued, “I think every justice is going to get them wrong sometimes. He got it really wrong this time.” Her group reportedly spent $10 million to back Gorsuch’s nomination, and it supports placing conservative judges on other local, state, and federal courts. 

    Trump has made it a priority to appoint conservative judges as an important part of his reelection campaign. The New York Times reported that as “Trump seeks re-election, his rightward overhaul of the federal judiciary — in particular, the highly influential appeals courts — has been invoked as one of his most enduring accomplishments.” And in 2016, The Washington Post wrote that exit polling showed that “a majority of those who saw the president’s ability to nominate justices to the high court as the most important factor in their vote backed Trump,” with 26% of Trump voters citing Supreme Court nominees as “the most important factor in their voting.” In 2018, 76% of voters said that “Supreme Court appointments are ‘very important’ to their vote.”

    Bream and others in Fox's prime-time lineup often speak directly to evangelicals, who make up a core part of Fox's audience -- and Trump's voting bloc. Fox has not shied away from covering anti-LGBTQ stories that drive evangelicals, particularly when ADF is involved, including topics such as trans athletes, religious exemptions, religious schools, and denying trans people’s identities

    It's surprising, given the network's general support for a conservative judiciary, that Fox didn't decry a decision -- written by a conservative darling justice -- that could upend some of the legal basis for many anti-LGBTQ policies that conservatives push. And all of this is happening right before a consequential election in which many voters will be motivated by an interest in appointments of conservative judges.

  • Methodology

    Media Matters searched the SnapStream video database for transcripts on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the hours of 10 a.m. EDT and midnight on June 15, the day of the Supreme Court’s Title VII decision, for the terms “supreme,” “court,” “SCOTUS,” “Gorsuch,” “decision,” or derivations of the word “rule” within 20 seconds of the words “LGBTQ,” “LGBT,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” “gender,” “orientation,” “rights,” or derivations of the word “sex” or “discriminate.” We included segments in which the decision was the stated topic of discussion or in which there was significant discussion of the ruling, where two or more people discussed it with one another. We did not include passing mentions of the decision or previews for upcoming segments in the analysis. Times have been rounded to the nearest minute.