Fox News responded to threats against children's hospitals by amplifying the voices fueling them
Fox News' attacks on children's hospitals, based in misinformation about gender-affirming care, led cable coverage of the threats against the facilities
While children’s hospitals were facing a deluge of violent threats in August from an online campaign of intimidation and misinformation fueled by anti-LGBTQ trolls, Fox News repeatedly provided a platform for the individuals responsible for the harassment to amplify their attacks. Over the course of two weeks, Fox News — the most-watched cable network in the country — spent more time and ran more segments targeting three different children’s hospitals over false claims about gender-affirming care than CNN or MSNBC combined spent discussing the attacks.
Led by conservative social media figures including Chaya Raichik and Matt Walsh, an online campaign began by targeting Boston Children’s Hospital and Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.,with false claims that they were providing hysterectomies for trans youth. The unsubstantiated claims were debunked by independent fact-checking websites and refuted by the hospitals, which did not stop right-wing media figures from taking up the attacks to malign all gender-affirming care for trans youth as “mutilation.”
In reality, these hospitals do not provide genital surgery to trans youth. Rather, they follow the standards of care established by national medical organizations, offering medically necessary care that is supported by every major medical organization in America.
Fox News amplified the architects of the harassment campaign that resulted in threats of violence against at least three different children’s hospitals
Amid the influx of threats against children’s hospitals, Fox News adopted the attacks as part of its ongoing effort to demonize trans health care for political points and at the expense of trans children.
Between August 18, when the network’s first segment attacking Boston Children’s Hospital aired, and August 31, when Fox aired its most recent segment, attacking Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, the network aired 7 segments and spent more than 20 minutes vilifying the hospitals. Notably, three of the Fox prime-time shows featuring the attacks are in the top 10 most-watched cable news programs in the country — Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Ingraham Angle, and Jesse Watters Primetime.
And while other Fox News prime-time shows similarly repeated anti-trans attacks on the children’s hospitals, Tucker Carlson’s program has been the most responsible for amplifying the misinformation campaign and the figures behind it.
On August 18, the day after Vice News reported that far-right extremists were threatening to execute doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital over lies told about their gender-affirming care program, Carlson invited Chris Elston onto his show. Elston, a Canadian anti-trans extremist whose tweet kicked off the attacks on Boston Children’s Hospital, erroneously claimed gender-affirming care was “the biggest child abuse scandal in modern medicine history,” while Carlson called the care “sexual mutilation of children.”
A week later, Fox News ran 5 segments attacking D.C.’s Children’s National Hospital after it was targeted with a similar smear campaign prompted by Raichik, whose Twitter account “Libs of TikTok” has been instrumental in fueling Fox News’ anti-LGBTQ messaging. After the hospital reported its staff had received threats of violence, Carlson invited Raichik onto the August 30 edition of his show.
During the segment, Carlson falsely claimed Children’s National Hospital was “castrating young people, minors for no legitimate purpose whatsoever” and asserted that Raichik was “committing actual journalism.”
The night Carlson’s interview with Raichik aired, Boston Children’s Hospital was targeted with a bomb threat.
The next night, propagandist Chris Rufo earned a spot on Carlson’s show after falsely claiming that Lurie Children’s Hospital was promoting “‘trans-friendly’ sex toys for children” based on a resource document provided exclusively to teachers.
Carlson opened the segment by saying, “Most people trust children's hospitals implicitly. They just didn't know the details — but thanks to the internet, we now do.” He went on to claim that “some of these hospitals are performing horrifying experiments on children,” including “things you think would be crimes but that apparently aren't and that are going on in children's hospitals in the United States.”
Fox News’ attacks on children’s hospitals have outpaced mainstream cable network’s coverage of the threats
Coverage of the targeted harassment and threats against multiple major children’s hospitals from CNN and MSNBC lagged behind Fox News’ attacks against the same facilities. Not only did Fox spend more time (over 20 minutes) attacking and spreading misinformation on children’s hospitals over gender-affirming care than the other two networks spent covering the attacks (less than 19 minutes), but no show on either mainstream network has aired more than one segment on the attacks. Meanwhile, Tucker Carlson Tonight alone has aired 3 segments attacking the hospitals. In fact, Carlson’s show spent more time (just under 12 minutes) attacking children’s hospitals than CNN spent discussing the attacks across all programming (just over 5 minutes). MSNBC spent just over 13 minutes discussing the story.
While Carlson repeatedly hosted guests pushing anti-trans misinformation against gender-affirming care, only one show segment on either CNN or MSNBC interviewed a medical professional. The August 18 edition of MSNBC’s The 11th Hour With Stephanie Ruhle spoke with a doctor about the struggle of providing essential health care for trans youth while facing a barrage of threats.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel for any of the terms “hospital,” “clinic,” “health,” “care,” “surgery,” “affirm,” “hysterectomy,” “castration,” or “puberty” within close proximity to any of the terms “trans,” “transgender,” or “gender” from August 9, 2022, when Chris Elston first posted about Boston Children’s Hospital, though September 6, 2022.
We timed segments, which we defined as instances when gender-affirming care provided by hospitals was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of gender-affirming care provided by hospitals. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed gender-affirming care with one another.
We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned gender-affirming care without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about gender-affirming care scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.
We then reviewed all mentions, teasers, and segments in their entirety for whether they included the perspective of a medical professional or someone with a history of targeting hospitals over gender-affirming care, and whether a host, correspondent, or guest spread misinformation about gender-affirming care or access thereof provided by a hospital. We define misinformation as claims that medical care approved by major medical organizations like the American Medical Association and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health is not medically necessary; descriptions of such care with words that carry negative connotations, such as “mutilation” or “castration”; and unverified claims that hospitals are providing surgeries for minors that conflict with stated hospital policy and available evidence.