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  • Only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ opponents of the Trump-Pence administration's plan to define away trans identities

    While MSNBC aired segments featuring six LGBTQ people, Fox News hosted anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins and two anti-trans gay women

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY

    Melisa Joskow / Media Matters

    The Trump-Pence administration is “considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” which would be “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people,” according to an October 21 New York Times report. When TV news reported on the proposal, only MSNBC hosted LGBTQ guests to condemn it, while Fox hosted primarily anti-trans voices, including two gay women and major anti-LGBTQ group leader Tony Perkins.

    The Times reported that the definition would be established under Title IX, which bars “gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.” Title IX is enforced in part by the “Big Four” federal agencies -- the departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor -- most of which currently employ anti-LGBTQ group alumni who would potentially implement the policy. According to the Williams Institute, there are roughly 1.4 million American adults who identify as transgender, all of whom would be impacted by the proposed change. CNN reported that “if adopted, such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.” The move is part of a greater trend of the Trump-Pence administration going after transgender people, and transgender advocates and their allies have sounded the alarm about the proposal and are fighting back.

    How TV news covered the proposal

    Following the Times’ reporting on the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, broadcast and cable TV news spent a moderate amount of time covering the issue. MSNBC turned to transgender and queer guests to discuss the impacts of the proposal, while Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including Perkins. Though generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s segments relied entirely on CNN hosts, commentators, and reporters, none of whom openly identify as LGBTQ.

    In discussing the proposal, MSNBC hosted six LGBTQ people, four of whom identify as trans, who were able to explain the personal impact the Trump administration’s proposal would have on the trans community.

    On October 23, MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson hosted Laverne Cox, a transgender actress and activist, who outlined the Trump-Pence administration’s history of anti-trans policies, as well as those proposed around the country in state legislatures. Cox said that state legislatures “are continually trying to introduce legislation banning transgender people from public life” but noted that “we have fought those battles, and we have won.” She explained that “over and over again the courts have held that transgender people are covered by Title IX and Title VII.” Cox said, “They want to make us afraid, but we need not be afraid.”

    MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson aired an October 22 segment featuring National Center for Transgender Equality's (NCTE) Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who was the first out transgender person to be appointed to a White House job. Freedman-Gurspan called the proposal “an abomination” and highlighted that the new definition does not align with medical consensus or the lived experiences of trans people. She also noted the many anti-trans actions and rhetoric of the Trump-Pence administration and highlighted activism by the trans community and their allies who are ready to fight the proposal. Freedman-Gurspan ended the segment by saying, “We won’t be erased. We are standing up. … We are going to get through this.”

    During other segments, MSNBC also hosted Mara Keisling, a trans woman and president of NCTE; Hannah Simpson, a trans woman and activist; Masha Gessen, an LGBTQ journalist; and Sarah Kate Ellis, a lesbian and president of GLAAD. Additionally, Rachel Maddow, an out lesbian, did a monologue on her October 22 show about the proposal in which she contextualized the history of Republican administrations rolling back LGBTQ rights.

    While MSNBC turned to LGBTQ people who were either transgender or trans allies for their insights on the potential impact of the Trump-Pence administration’s proposal, Fox News hosted primarily anti-transgender guests, including two gay women and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Family Research Council’s (FRC) President Tony Perkins.

    In Fox News’ first substantial segment about the proposal, Fox News at Night with Shannon Bream aired a debate between liberal radio host Ethan Bearman and FRC’s Perkins, who was also appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in May. During the segment, Perkins praised the proposal and resorted to fearmongering when presented with historical facts about gender identity. Perkins also pushed the the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies pose a threat to the safety of women and girls. From the segment:

    What we’re doing by this policy that was put in place without an act of Congress -- this was the Obama administration -- we’re putting people at risk. We're actually denying people equal protection under the law, because under this, we would force women that are going to battered shelters for abused women, we would force them under government policy to be housed with men, biological men. This makes no sense.

    On October 23, Tucker Carlson, who has an anti-transgender track record himself, hosted Tammy Bruce, an anti-trans lesbian and president of the conservative group Independent Women’s Voice. In the past, Bruce has criticized trans-inclusive restrooms and compared being transgender to “a child” thinking they are “a cocker spaniel. She has also defended Jack Phillips, the Christian baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple and who was represented by extreme anti-LGBTQ powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom at the Supreme Court. During the segment, Carlson claimed that the government recognizing the trans community would hurt women, and Bruce leveraged her identity as a lesbian to dismiss the impact of the proposal on trans people.

    Additionally, Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Camille Paglia, also an LGBTQ-identified person who is critical of trans identities. During the segment, Paglia pushed anti-trans narratives about biology and said that trans-inclusive policies are “unfair” in areas like athletics. She also described herself as transgender while criticizing the trans community. Paglia has made similar comments in the past, saying, "Although I describe myself as transgender (I was donning flamboyant male costumes from early childhood on), I am highly skeptical about the current transgender wave." In other reporting, it appears that she identifies as gay and uses female pronouns.

    CNN had at least eight separate significant discussions, news reads, or reports covering the proposal but failed to host a single LGBTQ person in its reporting. Though the network’s coverage was generally critical of the proposal, CNN’s shows only used staff commentators and reporters to discuss it.

    Broadcast TV news outlets ABC and CBS barely covered the story at all, only airing news reads with no comprehensive segments or reporting, and both networks failed to feature any LGBTQ voices. NBC, however, aired a package on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that included a clip from NCTE’s Freedman-Gurspan’s appearance on MSNBC Live with Hallie Jackson. It also aired a report on Today.

    Additionally, PBS aired a segment featuring LGBTQ legal group Lambda Legal’s Sharon McGowan and was the only TV outlet so far to contextualize the anti-LGBTQ track record of Roger Severino, head of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, the department spearheading the proposal.


    Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for cable TV coverage appearing between October 21 and 23 on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC -- as well as transcripts of broadcast TV coverage on ABC, NBC, and CBS -- for mentions of the words “transgender” or “health and human services” as well as mentions of the words or variations of the words “trans,” “sex,” or “gender” occurring within 10 words of the words or variations of the words “memo,” “policy,” “definition” or “Trump.” Additionally, Media Matters conducted searches on Snapstream for the same time frame for the same terms. “Significant discussion” is defined as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing the proposal with one another.

  • STUDY: Caravan coverage has taken over the news cycle. That’s exactly what Fox News and Trump wanted.

    Fox News coverage led to Trump tweets, which in turn made Fox’s pet issue a major story across CNN and MSNBC

    Blog ››› ››› LIS POWER

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    With midterm elections just 14 days away, you might not think that a group of migrants more than 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. border would be a leading story across all three cable news networks. You would be wrong.

    What started out as one of Fox News’ pet issues has become a major media narrative thanks to the feedback loop between the network and President Donald Trump. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC spent a combined 15 hours covering the migrant caravan between Monday, October 15, and Sunday, October 21. Fox News led the charge, covering the story both first and the most -- for nearly eight hours. In the same week-long period, CNN covered the issue for four and a half hours, while MSNBC devoted two and a half hours to the migrant caravan. While the tone of the coverage varied among the networks, one thing is clear across all three: Their priorities just two weeks out from midterms elections are skewed.

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox had spent 20 minutes over the mornings of October 15 and 16 talking about the migrant caravan before Trump first tweeted a threat to take aid away from Honduras if the caravan wasn’t stopped. He tweeted a similar message Tuesday night. Trump’s tweets -- which were undoubtedly spurred by Fox News’ coverage of the caravan -- are what first gave this issue life on CNN and MSNBC. CNN’s and MSNBC’s first mentions of the migrants occurred Tuesday night, when a host on each network reacted to Trump’s tweets about cutting aid.

    By Wednesday, October 17, Trump was already trying to use the caravan to try to benefit Republicans. In a tweet that morning, the president called the caravan a “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” Wednesday night, Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News and stated, “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks. One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan,” referring to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Trump picked right up on that talking point, echoing it at a rally the next day in Montana, after falsely tweeting that there are “MANY CRIMINALS” in the group of migrants and threatening to use the military to “CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” As the days passed, Trump continued to tweet misspelled lies about the caravan creating “a National Emergy” and somehow blamed Democrats for the issue even though Republicans have control of all three branches of the federal government.

    As Trump’s focus on the caravan ramped up, so did the networks’ coverage:

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Not only did Fox News successfully spur coverage of the caravan across the other networks by getting Trump to tweet about it, but it also managed to frame the conversation around the midterms. MSNBC repeatedly aired clips of Gingrich’s “Kavanaugh” and “caravan” comments to drive conversation about immigration and the midterms.

    While all the networks overplayed coverage of the caravan, their tones varied. CNN and MSNBC were more likely to highlight Trump’s lies and fear tactics, as well as the plight of the migrants, while more often than not Fox’s coverage was aimed at stoking fear. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of time devoted to the topic across all three networks is disproportionate, creating the false impression of a real crisis.

    The wall-to-wall coverage is reminiscent of the networks’ treatment of the federal government response to Ebola in 2014. Shortly before that year’s midterm elections, Republicans settled on a strategy of using the diagnosis of Ebola in a handful of U.S. patients to inflame fears about the Obama administration’s management of the disease. Television media played into the GOP’s hands, running nearly 1,000 frequently alarmist segments about the virus in the four weeks before the election.

    Instead of focusing on issues more pertinent to the currently impending election -- like health care or voter suppression -- cable networks have fallen for a disingenuous trap created by Fox News and the president that plays right into the GOP’s hands. 


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On Monday, October 22, coverage of the group of migrants rocketed up with a combined six and a half hours across CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Once again, Fox News had the most coverage, with over three hours of programming devoted to the caravan. CNN was close behind with nearly two and a half hours of coverage, and MSNBC had just over an hour. 

    Coverage continued to tick up on Tuesday, October 23, with the networks devoting over seven hours to the group of migrants. Fox News spent nearly four hours, CNN spent over two hours, and MSNBC spent nearly an hour and a half covering the migrants.

    It wasn’t until a spate of bombs were sent to Democratic figures and leaders that coverage of the migrant caravan started to decline. On Wednesday, October 24, cable news focused primarily on the bomb threats. Almost all of the coverage of the caravan came before the pipe bomb story picked up. CNN spent nearly an hour on the caravan while MSNBC spent just over half and hour on the group of migrants. Fox’s coverage of the caravan remained the highest, with the network devoting an hour and 45 minutes to the migrants.

    Fox’s coverage spiked back up the next day, October 25, to nearly three hours. CNN and MSNBC remained focused on the still-escalating number of bomb threats; each network spent less than 10 minutes on the caravan.

    It's clear that Fox News is doing the best it can to make sure that the migrant caravan stays in the news cycle. On October 25, Fox anchor Martha MacCallum reported live from the border, conducting an extensive on-site interview with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that led off with discussion of the caravan rather than the bombs being delivered across the country.

    Fox News continued its amplified coverage of the migrant group from Friday, October 26, through Sunday, October 28, even after news broke on Saturday morning that a shooter targeted a synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA, killing 11 individuals. The shooter alluded to the caravan, and claimed the Jews were behind such caravans, as part of the reason for the attack, calling the migrants “invaders.” Fox News figures have frequently engaged in this “invasion” rhetoric while talking about the caravan. Nonetheless, Fox continued its steady drumbeat of fearmongering about the migrant group the day of and the day after the shooting.

    In comparison, CNN and MSNBC dropped their coverage of the caravan mostly to mentions, oftentimes in conversations about Trump’s attempts to shift the focus back to the topic. In the three-day period, CNN spent 17 minutes, MSNBC spent 35 minutes, and Fox News spent over four hours discussing the migrants.

    In total, from October 15 through October 28, the three cable news channels devoted over 40 hours to the group of migrants in the south of Mexico. Fox News has spent nearly 23 and a half hours covering the topic, CNN has spent 10 and a half hours, and MSNBC has discussed the migrants for six hours and 20 minutes.

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Media Matters will continue to track the cable networks’ caravan coverage.

    Gabby Miller, Tyler Monroe, Zach Pleat, Sanam Malik, Stephen Morris, Chris Shields, and Kaitlyn Angrove contributed research.


    Media Matters searched SnapStream for any mention of “caravan,” “Mexico,” “migrants,” “illegals,” “Guatemala,” or “Honduras” on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC between the hours of 4 a.m and midnight starting October 15 and ending October 28. We included any teasers, passing mentions, or discussions specifically about the caravan. Conversations that weren’t specifically focused on the caravan but were about immigration at large were excluded. Shows that re-aired during the hours of the study were included in the results. Mentions of the caravan specific to discussion about the motive of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting were not included.

  • Conservatives are lying about the migrant caravan to scare people into voting for Republicans

    Blog ››› ››› LEANNE NARAMORE

    Just two weeks ahead of the midterm elections, right-wing media figures and President Donald Trump are spreading lies about the migrant caravan, falsely claiming that the caravan has been infiltrated by radical terrorists and is on its way to invade and destroy the U.S. These lies are designed purely to scare people into voting for Republicans in the midterms; any honest reporting on this situation must be framed around that fact. Here are some good examples so far, via CNN, MSNBC, and Shepard Smith on Fox News: