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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.

    Methodology

    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: Fox News Ignored Transgender Voices While Discussing Rollback Of Protections For Transgender Students

    MSNBC Hosted Four Transgender Guests, And CNN Brought On One

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    From the time it happened through the day that followed President Donald Trump’s rollback of federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, Fox News failed to include transgender guests who could provide insights about the policy. Of the major cable news networks (MSNBC, Fox, and CNN), MSNBC led the count by hosting four transgender guests, while CNN hosted only one.

    On February 22, the Trump administration revoked the federal protections for trans students implemented by President Barack Obama, which outlined the right of trans students to use the public facilities that match their gender identity. Conservative commentators reacted by pushing the long-debunked myth that sexual predators exploit these types of nondiscrimination protections to sneak into women’s facilities by pretending to be transgender.

    Media Matters analyzed the guests invited on cable news networks to discuss the rollback of the federal trans-inclusive nondiscrimination guidelines from 8 p.m. February 22 until midnight on February 23. We found that Fox News failed to bring on a single transgender guest, perpetuating the network’s long history of trans exclusion. In comparison, MSNBC set the standard by including four transgender guests: Cub Scout Joe Maldonado, actress and activist Laverne Cox, transgender rights advocate Mara Keisling, and Gavin Grimm, whose case against his school over restroom access will go before the Supreme Court. CNN hosted only one trans person, teenager Juliet Evancho, who appeared during the February 23 edition of CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, but on February 22, New Day featured Katharine Prescott, the mother of a trans student who committed suicide. Prescott’s subsequent activism was influential in the implementation of protections during the Obama administration. It is worth noting that CNN also hosted Grimm on the February 24 edition of New Day, but the morning shows of February 24 fell outside of the time frame analyzed by Media Matters.

    While CNN’s and MSNBC’s inclusion of trans voices provided a welcome respite from a trend of underrepresentation, news networks must still work for progress in terms of improving trans visibility. That’s because stories of violence against the transgender community are often ignored, and when news shows do discuss issues that directly affect transgender people, they often fail to include any trans people as guests.

    Because Trump is an avid TV consumer, cable news shows have an increased in influence as platforms for policy discussion, giving the guests included a unique opportunity to send impactful messages. This platform could also be used to boost the voices of those usually underrepresented in the media. And transgender people -- who are often mocked, misgendered, and negatively portrayed on TV news -- deserve a space to directly address misperceptions audiences might have about their lives. Their lived experiences not only add value to segments about legislation that directly affects their lives, it also can enrich the political discussion more broadly. Networks owe it to the transgender community to talk to them, instead of just about them.

    Jared Holt contributed research to this report.

  • Laverne Cox Has A Lot To Say About Anti-Trans Legislation But It Was Cut From Megyn Kelly’s Interview

    ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Transgender actress Laverne Cox indicated that her May 17 interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly omitted a discussion of anti-trans legislation -- specifically North Carolina’s HB 2, a law that prohibits people from using certain bathrooms that don’t correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Cox has been outspoken in her opposition to laws like North Carolina’s. 

  • Don’t Be Fooled By Megyn Kelly’s Laverne Cox Interview

    Blog ››› ››› ERIN FITZGERALD

    Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with Laverne Cox will likely be touted as evidence of Kelly’s ability to buck her network’s conservative slant, especially when it comes to transgender issues. But beyond her Cox interview, Kelly has spouted anti-trans rhetoric and used her show to repeatedly elevate hate group leader Tony Perkins, one of the most extreme anti-LGBT voices in the country, lending him mainstream credibility even as he peddles harmful smears against LGBT people.

    Megyn Kelly is scheduled to sit down with transgender actress Laverne Cox during a Fox TV special on May 17. Kelly’s interview with a prominent transgender celebrity will likely be hailed as evidence that Kelly is a fair-minded journalist willing to break rank with her network, especially on LGBT issues. But Kelly has a long history of anti-LGBT bias that's evident in her body of work.

    Kelly has employed anti-trans rhetoric herself on more than one occasion. During a January 2013 edition of The O’Reilly Factor, Kelly and Bill O’Reilly criticized the appearance of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender woman serving time in an all-male prison, joking that she isn’t attractive enough to be in danger of sexual assault, and repeatedly misgendering her. Kelly went on to say, “The surgery hasn’t been performed yet. … He only has breasts and the hair now.” Kelly also repeatedly suggested that taxpayers shouldn’t be required to cover the costs of the inmate’s “elective surgery” during an April 2013 edition of America Live, and she mocked the suggestion that the inmate should be housed with other female inmates, lamenting that she would get “a get-out-of-male-prison-free card.”

    Kelly routinely hosts hate group leader Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to speak as a “captain of the religious right.” FRC was labeled an anti-LGBT “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010. Most recently, Perkins referred to transgender rights as “a godless system that the president is promoting.” Perkins called videos from the It Gets Better Project, an LGBT youth suicide prevention group, “disgusting” and said the organization recruited kids to come out as “homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion).” Kelly has described FRC as “a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian worldview.” Kelly has also peddled Perkins’ talking points that “Christian beliefs and Christian rights” are being trampled as LGBT rights increase, lamenting that it must be “alienating” for him to be criticized for his anti-LGBT beliefs, and accusing those in favor of LGBT equality of being intolerant.

    Kelly hosted Perkins along with GLAAD’s Jeremy Hooper to discuss a star of the Duck Dynasty TV show who called homosexuality illogical and compared it to bestiality. Hooper asked Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his anti-LGBT extremism and she said, “What specifically? Because I’ll ask him.” But Kelly immediately went back on her word and never asked Perkins to explain his history of vile rhetoric. Kelly hosts other extreme anti-LGBT groups, such as Alliance Defending Freedom, and she defends people who make anti-LGBT comments, such as Ben Carson, who compared “gays” to pedophiles and those who engage in bestiality.

    Despite recent attempts to spin Kelly’s legacy, it’s important for the media and everyone else to remember that Kelly has engaged in questionable journalistic practices. Rather than lauding Kelly in a vacuum, the media should remember to contextualize this interview within Kelly’s larger body of work.