Most major media outlets failed to note that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) opposes the Equality Act while reporting on her recent comments that she “was wrong” to oppose marriage equality in the past. TV news reports from CNN, MSNBC, and NBC -- along with print and online news coverage from 19 of the 21 top U.S. newspapers that carried the story -- ignored Cheney’s opposition to the legislation that would expand nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
During her 2013 bid for U.S. Senate, Cheney famously stated her opposition to marriage equality during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, describing herself as “not pro-gay marriage.” Cheney’s comments led to a public spat with her sister Mary Cheney, a lesbian who the year prior had married her longtime partner Heather Poe. However, in a September 26 interview on 60 Minutes, Cheney reversed her stance, stating in part, “I was wrong. I love my sister very much.”
Despite Cheney’s reversal of her position, she voted against the two most recent iterations of the Equality Act, including most recently in February of this year.
The Equality Act, which the House passed almost entirely along party lines, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity “in both the public and private sectors, offering civil rights protections in businesses, hospitals and welfare services,” among other areas. This includes critical protections such as preventing an employer from firing someone or a landlord from denying housing to someone for being LGBTQ, as well as prohibiting a medical provider from denying someone emergency care for being transgender or living with HIV.
Coverage from TV news networks CNN, MSNBC, and NBC ignored Cheney’s anti-LGBTQ position
From September 26 to September 28, Media Matters reviewed all original programming on cable channels CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. During that time frame, CNN covered Cheney’s comments in support of marriage equality for over four minutes across three segments, MSNBC covered it for eight minutes across three segments, and Fox News ignored the story entirely.
All three of CNN’s segments ignored the fact that Cheney opposes the Equality Act. In one report, CNN host Kate Bolduan aired a portion of Cheney’s September 26 interview and said, “You can see how Liz Cheney was getting emotional there. It was really an important part of that interview.”
Only one of MSNBC’s three reports on the topic noted Cheney’s stance on the Equality Act. During the September 27 edition of Deadline: White House, host Nicole Wallace said, “I don’t think she voted for the Equality Act when it came out. I mean, she still has some distance to travel in terms of voting what she says her values and beliefs are now.”
Media Matters also reviewed morning and evening corporate broadcast TV news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC from September 26 to September 28. NBC was the only broadcast network that covered Cheney’s comments. On September 27, Today co-anchor Hoda Kotb noted Cheney’s reversal but did not mention her opposition to the Equality Act.
The majority of top U.S. newspapers that reported on Cheney’s comments did not mention her vote against the Equality Act
Print coverage of Cheney’s comments did not fare much better. Of the top 50 U.S. newspapers, as identified by average Sunday circulation according to the Pew Research Center, five had a news report in print on Cheney’s comments about marriage equality, but only one of them, The Washington Post, mentioned her vote against the Equality Act. The four newspapers that did not mention her vote in their news coverage — which included two of the top five newspapers by circulation — were The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Arizona Republic, and USA Today.
A supplementary search of online-only content showed at least 16 of the top newspapers carried the story on their websites, with only one, the New York Daily News, discussing her vote against the Equality Act. The 15 outlets that carried digital content not mentioning her vote were:
The Buffalo News, the Houston Chronicle, the Detroit Free Press, The Indianapolis Star, The Kansas City Star, the Los Angeles Times, the San Antonio Express-News, the New York Post, the Omaha World Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Sacramento Bee, The San Diego Union Tribune, The Seattle Times, the Star Tribune (Minnesota), and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Of the papers that covered Cheney's comments but not her vote, 12 of the articles — one in print and 11 online — were reprints of an Associated Press piece that discussed Cheney's history of opposing marriage equality but did not mention her votes against the Equality Act. This example shows that the failure of wire services to property report a story can have far-reaching consequences.
One particularly egregious example came from The Seattle Times, which carried on its website the Washington Post article on Cheney’s comments that noted her votes against the Equality Act but cut off the last sentence of the Post’s article that mentioned her votes.
The majority of the coverage, even that which did mention Cheney’s opposition to the Equality Act, framed the stories around the change in her previous opposition to marriage equality. This framing, and the failure of most outlets to mention her voting record alongside her comments, does not adequately contextualize the U.S. representative’s stance on LGBTQ rights. It is vital that news outlets report critically on statements made by public figures and not prioritize comments that can feel hollow in light of their actions and the tangible consequences they can have.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream and Kinetiq video databases for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press; and PBS’ NewsHour and for all original programming on cable networks CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the term “Cheney” within close proximity of any of the terms “marriage,” “equality,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “LGBTQ,” or “same-sex” from September 26 through 28, 2021.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when Cheney’s comments on marriage equality were the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of the topic. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed Cheney’s comments with one another. We did not count passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned Cheney’s comments without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Cheney’s comments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We searched articles in the Nexis and Factiva databases for the top 50 U.S. newspapers as compiled in Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report for the term “Cheney” within the same sentence or paragraph as any of the terms “marriage,” “equality,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “LGBTQ,” or “same-sex” from September 26 through 28, 2021.
We also conducted subsequent searches of each paper’s website using Google and the sites’ integrated search features to review web-only content. This search was not exhaustive.
We included news articles about Cheney’s comments, which we defined as articles printed in each paper’s news section that mentioned the comments in the headline or lead paragraph. We did not include editorial, op-eds, opinion, or letters to the editor.
We then reviewed all identified segments and articles for whether they also mentioned Cheney’s voting record for the Equality Act.