Broadcast news failed to mention crucial context in coverage of Colorado Springs shooting at LGBTQ nightclub
In the 3 days after the shooting, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS ran a combined 32 segments, but only 6 mentioned the demonization of LGBTQ people or high rates of violence
A Media Matters review found that national broadcast news largely failed to place the Colorado Springs mass shooting in the context of the concerted right-wing campaign that has been targeting LGBTQ people with violent rhetoric and harmful legislation, and the networks also overwhelmingly failed to report that the community faces disproportionate levels of violence because of this hatred and bigotry.
At least five were killed and 17 injured in a November 19 shooting at Club Q, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, LGBTQ nightclub that was hosting a drag show. The shooting came after years of right-wing figures targeting LGBTQ people, after a recent monthslong hate campaign against drag queens specifically, and in a year that has seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures by Republican lawmakers. Queer people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be the victims of violence, and as Media Matters has previously documented, right-wing media’s vicious fear campaign buttressing Republican attacks has contributed to real-world violence.
From November 20, the morning after the shooting, through the evening of November 22, Media Matters found that the major broadcast news networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS — ran a combined 32 segments on the shooting on their morning, evening, and Sunday programs. But only 6 of those segments met our criteria for including adequate context, mentioning at least one of the following facts about LGBTQ people: They face high rates of violence, they have been demonized by right-wing media, and they have been targeted with discriminatory legislation.
On November 20, the morning after the shooting, none of the Sunday morning political talk shows on ABC, CBS, or NBC connected the shooting to violent rhetoric from right-wing commentators and politicians, anti-LGBTQ legislation, or the disproportionate violence LGBTQ people face. (PBS does not have a Sunday morning political talk show.) CBS’ Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press read brief generic headlines about the shooting to open the show but did not mention it again, and ABC’s This Week ran a headline report placing the shooting in the larger context of gun violence in the U.S.
In total, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS aired 32 segments about the shooting. Of NBC’s 11 total segments, just 1 met our criteria for including adequate context. The segment, on its evening program Nightly News, reported that the shooting is “likely part of a disturbing trend” of surging anti-gay crimes, but it did not mention the myriad causes contributing to violence against LGBTQ people, such as vitriol from right-wing media and discriminatory legislation.
ABC and CBS fared slightly better than NBC, though both networks still overwhelmingly failed to provide adequate context, with just 2 out of 11 (ABC) and 2 out of 8 (CBS) segments meeting our criteria. One of the segments that met our criteria, on ABC’s World News, vaguely alluded to right-wing rhetoric online, but it did not identify the concerted effort from Republican politicians and some of the most popular pundits on the right, saying simply that the shooting comes “at a time when anti-gay rhetoric is among the most prevalent and violent content online.” PBS aired 2 segments and just 1 met our criteria.
Though Media Matters’ analysis found that broadcast network coverage as a whole failed to put the shooting into the context of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, legislation, and violence, a couple broadcast segments showed how to spotlight right-wing rhetoric and legislation contributing to an atmosphere of hate.
On November 21, CBS' flagship evening news program opened with a report on the shooting that noted that “the shooting comes amid a number of anti-LGBTQ bills targeting transgender people for discrimination.” The segment also included a clip of U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, saying political rhetoric is fueling violence: “You can't target a group to be feared and to be hated, and then act surprised when a disturbed person or who knows goes out and follows that through with physical violence.” However, the segment did not report on the increased levels of violence LGBTQ people face or point to right-wing media’s efforts to bolster legislative attacks.
PBS interviewed Nadine Bridges, the executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado, and discussed the impact on the community and how violent rhetoric has incited hatred and violence against trans youth and drag show story hours in particular. PBS’ correspondent asked Bridges about the Human Rights Campaign’s report that 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been killed this year and asked whether the Club Q shooting would be a “wake-up call.” Bridges became visibly emotional and stated, “I wish I could say that this is a wake-up call but I don’t know,” and pointed to attacks on drag queen story hours and the right wing’s rhetoric targeting LGBTQ people. The segment, however, didn’t note the record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country.
Some cable news coverage did a better job connecting anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from right-wing media and online personalities to real world violence against LGBTQ people. On MSNBC, NBC News disinformation reporter Ben Collins discussed how a rise in right-wing media and online anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has real-life impacts and called the shooting an “inflection point” for reporters.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes for ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ CBS Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, Meet the Press, and Sunday Today; and PBS’ NewsHour and NewsWeekend for any of the terms “shot,” “gun violence,” “death,” or “attack” or any variation of any of the terms “shoot,” “wound,” “kill,” “injure,” “gunfire,” or “terror” within close proximity of any of the terms “Colorado,” “LGBT,” “LGBTQ,” “gay,” “lesbian,” or “Club Q” or any variation of either of the terms “nightclub” or “Aldrich (including misspellings) from November 20, 2022, the morning after the shooting, through 8 p.m. ET November 22, 2022.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when the Club Q shooting was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the shooting. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the shooting with one another.
We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the shooting without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the shooting scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We then reviewed all segments about the shooting for claims that mentioned right-wing media and Republican politicians' concerted campaign to target LGBTQ people with violent rhetoric, that noted that legislators in the U.S. have filed numerous anti-LGBTQ bills, or that noted that LGBTQ people are disproportionately vulnerable to face physical violence.
We defined a claim as a block of uninterrupted speech from a single speaker. For host monologues, correspondent reports, and headlines, we defined a claim as the speech between read quotes or played clips. We did not include the speech within a read quote or played clip unless that speech was positively affirmed by a speaker either directly before or after the quote was read or the clip was played.
Club Q has asked that people interested in donating to victims and the local community do so through a contribution to the Colorado Healing Fund, available at this link.
Correction (11/28/22): The subheadline of this piece originally said the study was over two days rather than three, and some additional language has been added to the summary for clarity.