Fox News manufactured outrage about trans athletes. Right-wing media repeated it and earned high engagement on Facebook.
Right-wing sources earned nearly half-a-million Facebook interactions in under two days on posts berating the White House for affirming that “trans rights are human rights”
After Fox News manufactured a week's worth of coverage fearmongering about trans athletes, a Fox radio reporter baited the White House press secretary with a misleading question about trans athletes; right-wing media ran with the exchange and earned high engagement on Facebook.
On February 9, Fox News Radio’s Rachel Sutherland attempted to bait White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki with a misleadingly framed question about President Joe Biden’s January 20 executive order on LGBTQ rights, insinuating that the order and trans athletes are a threat to women’s sports. In reality, the executive order tells federal agencies to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in numerous areas of public life, such as housing, health care, employment, public accommodations, and education.
Sutherland’s questioning came after Fox News Channel spent a week and over 19 segments -- totaling 51 minutes -- mischaracterizing the order as a move that would destroy women’s sports. Psaki, not falling for Fox’s bait, responded, “The president's belief is that trans rights are human rights.”
Right-wing sources were quick to echo Fox’s manufactured outrage, and they earned high Facebook engagement doing so
According to data analytic tool Crowdtangle, right-wing sources reporting on the February 9 White House press briefing exchange earned nearly half-a-million combined Facebook interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) in the days following the exchange:
- Fox News earned over 219,000 Facebook interactions on an article published to its website that failed to disclose that Sutherland is a Fox News Radio reporter, and that pushed the false narrative that trans athletes are harmful to women’s sports. The article earned nearly half of the total interactions Media Matters analyzed.
- The Daily Wire earned over 100,000 interactions on an article that mirrored Fox News’ framing of the February 9 exchange. Notably, Facebook posts associated with the site, including from founder Ben Shapiro and staffers Matt Walsh and Michael Knowles, drove the article’s Facebook engagement. The Daily Wire uses these profiles to regularly buck Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior policy and spread anti-LGBTQ disinformation on the platform. Shapiro later made a separate post to Facebook about the press briefing exchange (but not the Daily Wire article) that earned over 110,000 interactions.
- The Western Journal earned over 89,000 interactions on an article that misleadingly claimed that when it comes to athletics, Psaki “affirmed Tuesday that one group in the debate has rights.” Anti-LGBTQ commentator and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee posted the article to his Facebook page, earning over 34,000 interactions.
- Breitbart earned over 28,500 interactions on an article about Psaki’s response to Sutherland that cited anti-trans author Abigail Shrier, who claimed, “A new glass ceiling was just placed over girls.”
Right-wing outlets The Federalist, Townhall, The Post Millennial, and CNS News also published content echoing Fox’s framing of the February 9 press briefing, earning less than a combined 7,000 interactions on Facebook.
Fox News and other right-wing media obsessively attack trans athletes to oppose LGBTQ equality
Right-wing media, especially Fox News, have spent years targeting trans athletes in an attempt to skew public opinion against LGBTQ people and push back against nondiscrimination protections for them, including the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill likely to be considered by Congress in the coming weeks.
This obsessive coverage has made the topic of trans athletes one of the most dominant narratives about trans issues online. In fact, Media Matters studied Facebook content about trans topics that earned over 100,000 interactions over a one-year period and found 24% of that content was about trans athletes that came from right-wing sources. That right-wing content earned about 21 million interactions or nearly one-third of all Facebook engagement on top trans-related content studied.
Despite the right’s best efforts to demonize them, trans athletes “have been competing in women's sport at every level of competition all over the world for decades,” yet still have not dominated high-profile athletics, as noted by trans advocate and ACLU attorney Chase Strangio.
Fox News and right-wing media have focused on trans athletes in the past to distract from the critical protections that LGBTQ Americans are lacking. As efforts like Biden’s January 20 executive order and the Equality Act become major media stories, the public must not fall for the right’s manufactured outrage about trans people.