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  • Massachusetts media lift up voices of those the state's anti-trans ballot referendum would impact most

    Transgender Bay Staters have shared their thoughts about Question 3, which could dismantle the state's trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Massachusetts print and TV outlets lifted up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, who explained how dismantling the state’s trans-inclusive public accomodations nondiscrimination law would personally affect them and their community. Media often fail to feature the people who would be most impacted by the policies they cover.

    On November 6, Massachusetts residents will vote on Question 3, a ballot referendum to determine the fate of the state’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. In 2016, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law that expanded the state’s existing nondiscrimination protections for transgender people to include public accommodations such as bathrooms and locker rooms. The state’s existing law had already protected transgender residents from discrimination in housing and the workplace. Earlier this year, Anchorage residents defeated a similar anti-transgender referendum.

    A recent poll by University of Massachusetts Lowell and The Boston Globe estimated that 74 percent of likely voters want to uphold the state’s current law but also found that voters have widespread confusion around the wording of ballot Question 3. Even though the referendum was created to dismantle trans rights protections, a “yes vote” actually supports the existing protections and a “no vote” repeals them. According to CBS Boston, researchers found that “many voters had trouble understanding the ballot question and what their vote would mean.” Anti-LGBTQ opponents in favor of a “no” vote have relied on the thoroughly debunked "bathroom predator" myth, baselessly fearmongering that allowing transgender people access to public accommodations that align with their gender identity poses a threat to safety and privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms, especially that of women and girls.

    Massachusetts media and Teen Vogue have lifted up the voices of the people who would be most affected by the repeal of trans-inclusive protections

    Media often fail to include members of impacted communities when talking about issues that are important to them. A Media Matters report of coverage of trans issues on Fox News found that the network didn’t host a single openly transgender guest over nine months. Additionally, networks often exclude the Muslim and Hispanic communities in related coverage, and news coverage discussing the GOP’s health care rollback regularly ignored people of color and the LGBTQ community. As Massachusetts residents consider their vote next month, local outlets are featuring the stories of transgender Bay Staters and their families to explain why the existing law is important to their community.

    Cape Cod newspaper The Sandwich Enterprise featured an October 10 op-ed by Eric Nelson, a Massachusetts resident and father of a transgender son, urging voters to support the current protections by voting “yes on Question 3.” Nelson acknowledged that at first he had trouble understanding his son’s gender identity but noted that he “saw the remarkable change in his self-confidence and happiness after he finally shared” his identity with his family and friends. He also pointed to disparities faced by transgender people, including a 41 percent attempted suicide rate “compared to 1.6 percent of the general population,” and highlighted how trans students often suffer “harassment from fellow students, teachers, medical personnel, strangers in public areas, even parents and other family members.” In addition, Nelson shined a light on the scourge of anti-transgender violence and homicides, writing, “In 2017, there were 28 documented victims in the US.” Media Matters found that major national cable and TV news outlets generally ignore stories about that violence. From the op-ed:

    I want both of my children to be safe from all threats, and would do anything — anything — to protect them. But there are too many legitimate threats out there for me to be concerned about false ones like the claim that male predators will masquerade as transgender women to access women’s bathrooms.

    Anti-discrimination laws that include gender identity have been around for years in 19 states and 200 municipalities, and there is no evidence to support this claim.

    No, what I fear most are those who would harm or harass my son, or deny him basic rights like using a public restroom, simply because he’s transgender. If anything, he’s the one at risk.

    Mariel Addis, a transgender Bay Stater, wrote an October 10 op-ed for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which stressed that many people who fear or oppose transgender rights likely do not even know a transgender person. She wrote that while some opponents “believe that the negative stories put forth by the opponents of Ballot Question 3 are true -- in reality, they don’t hold water.” Addis shared that she underwent her gender transition “alone, without the support of much of my family,” calling it “the best thing I have ever done for myself.” She continued, “I don’t regard my transition as a choice, but as a necessity,” also writing that it was “the most difficult challenge I have ever encountered, but I have been rewarded for taking it on.” After sharing her story, she urged readers to protect her rights because transgender “people deserve your respect and the same rights to live as every other citizen in the Commonwealth."

    The Daily Hampshire Gazette published a separate piece featuring others who would be disproportionately affected by Question 3. “Western Massachusetts Parents of Transgender Adults” wrote a September 26 op-ed that said, “We care about the safety of our children, and we worry about the dangers when society legalizes discrimination.” The group pointed to a study which revealed “that 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts faced discrimination in a public place in the prior year.” The op-ed went on to note that “this is not just an issue for us, the parents. We believe that our community — all of you — care. In a world of growing hate and fear, voting to uphold these vital protections for all is something you can do.”

    Sabrina Renaud, a caregiver for a transgender child, wrote an October 9 letter to the editor to local outlet the Reading Patch, saying that the state’s current law “makes for a safer and more welcoming community for everyone.” She said that a repeal of trans-inclusive protections would be “disheartening and terrifying.” She continued: “All people, but children especially, need to feel validated and supported in order to thrive and it worries me to think of the message that will be sent if the current law is not upheld when voters go to the ballot this November.”

    WGBH News, Boston’s NPR station, aired a debate on its show Greater Boston on September 27 between “Yes on 3” representative Mimi Lemay, the mother of a transgender child, and Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) president Andrew Beckwith of the “No on 3” campaign. Lemay discussed the impact the upcoming vote will have on her family and pushed back against Beckwith’s claims that the current law risks the safety and privacy of women and girls. Beckwith repeatedly pushed the “bathroom predator” myth, which Lemay debunked by citing the Williams Institute’s recent study which found “no uptick at all” in cases of sexual misconduct due to Massachusetts’ law. She also highlighted that a majority of transgender residents in the state have reported harassment in public accommodations. From the September 27 edition of WBGH News’ Greater Boston:

    Transgender people, like my son Jacob, they live in this state. They have a right to go about and enjoy everything this state has to offer -- restaurants, bookstores, cafes, hospitals -- without fear of being harassed. The harm that is done to them on a daily basis is real. What you [Beckwith] are creating, this fear, is not real, and as a mother, this concerns me.

    In addition to outlets in Massachusetts lifting up the voices of transgender folks and their loved ones, Teen Vogue published an October 12 op-ed by Nicole Talbot, a transgender Massachusetts teen, continuing in its trend of high-quality political coverage. Talbot wrote that though she is not old enough to vote, she is sharing her story to encourage voters to protect her rights and uphold the state’s law. She also noted that “a small group of opponents forced the issue to a ballot referendum” by depicting transgender people as “criminals in restrooms” and “airing scary, misleading ads that claim protecting people like me harms the safety of others.” From the op-ed:

    This law has been in place for two years and there has been no increase in incidents that opponents claim will happen. A crime is still a crime and harassment in restrooms remains illegal. In fact, police associations and women's organizations publicly support this law. It is making us all more safe, not less.

    I encourage Massachusetts voters to get the facts. Transgender people are people just trying to live their lives. When voters see Question 3 through this lens, the answer is simple: Yes to uphold the current law. Yes to ensure transgender people have the same protections as everyone else. Yes to set the example of equality for the rest of the nation.

    Anti-LGBTQ groups have been fighting the inclusive law since it was introduced

    Beckwith’s anti-LGBTQ state organization, Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), is associated with several extreme anti-LGBTQ groups at the national level: It is a state ally of the Family Policy Alliance, and it is also partnered with Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, and Alliance Defending Freedom.

    MFI has opposed the existing trans-inclusive law since it was first introduced in 2016. Within weeks of the bill becoming law, the group launched its “Keep Massachusetts Safe” campaign to garner signatures for the ballot referendum that seeks to repeal the law.

  • Media should stop treating Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as inevitable

    Activists and concerned citizens are fired up and engaged in the fight against Kavanaugh

    Blog ››› ››› SHARON KANN & MILES LE


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Ever since President Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to fill retiring Anthony Kennedy’s Supreme Court seat, media outlets have continually downplayed the energy and activism of those working to oppose this far-right nominee’s confirmation, treating it as a fait accompli.

    Trump announced Kavanaugh’s nomination on July 9, 2018, a week and a half after Justice Anthony Kennedy disclosed that he would be retiring from the Supreme Court (he officially retired July 31). Despite Kavanaugh’s record as “an uncommonly partisan judge” with troubling views on the environment, labor, LGBTQ discrimination, abortion rights, gun safety, immigration, and more, many media figures portrayed him as a centrist pick who is “within the broad mainstream” and “not as far right” as other options Trump considered.

    In addition, many outlets have treated his confirmation as inevitable. For example, The Washington Post and The New York Times argued that activists weren’t engaged in the fight to stop Kavanaugh. As the Post wrote, “Democrats have all but acknowledged that they are unable to stop the Senate from confirming Trump nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court this fall,” while the Times blamed everything from upcoming midterm elections to activists’ inability to compete with “an almost daily barrage of other Trump administration actions” for the perceived lack of energy. New York magazine similarly argued that “the resistance to Kavanaugh has remained on a low flame, failing to boil over into the righteous fury that characterized the battle over Obamacare repeal last summer.”

    However, as Rewire.News’ Katelyn Burns reported, “Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court is not inevitable.” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund told Burns, “A veneer of inevitability has been the actual strategy that the people backing Kavanaugh have used,” but activists are “countering that and saying, ‘No way.'” HuffPost guest writer Robert Creamer similarly argued that treating Kavanaugh’s nomination as inevitable “plays right into the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Creamer pointed to Kavanaugh’s extremely narrow path to confirmation -- with Republicans having “a tiny effective majority of 50 to 49 in the Senate” -- as well as his incredibly low approval numbers, and the “unprecedented nationwide campaign to resist” his confirmation, as evidence that the fight against Kavanaugh is far from over. As Teen Vogue columnist Lauren Duca wrote: “When you subscribe to the myth of inevitability, you confirm it as reality, and for anyone who gives a sh*t about equality and/or democracy, that is simply not an option.”

    Outlets may not be reporting on the vast amount of activist energy against Kavanaugh, but people are fired up and making their feelings known:

    Kavanaugh's confirmation isn't inevitable -- he's got the lowest approval ratings of any Supreme Court nominee in decades, in addition to an extreme record on a number of consequential topics. The hearings to confirm Kavanaugh start soon. And media shouldn’t erase or ignore the very real opposition to his confirmation that’s on display across the country.

  • The Supreme Court just enabled fake health clinics to lie to patients

    Right-wing media are calling it a "win" for the First Amendment

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT & SHARON KANN

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in favor of a network of fake health clinics. Right-wing media and anti-abortion organizations framed the decision as a “win” for the First Amendment, but those outlets (and even some more mainstream ones) ignored that these clinics are harmful and actively deceive people seeking abortions.

  • Must-read pieces about how anti-choice fake clinics manipulate pregnant people

    The Supreme Court "held that part of California's crisis pregnancy center disclosure law is unconstitutional and that another part is likely unconstitutional."

    ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On June 26, the Supreme Court decided NIFLA v. Becerra, a case involving a California law that curtails the deceptive practices of anti-abortion fake health clinics. The Court ruled against the California law regulating fake health clinics. The court "held that part of California's crisis pregnancy center disclosure law is unconstitutional and that another part is likely unconstitutional." Some outlets have recently published essential pieces about the tactics and negative impacts of these fake health clinics, which manipulate and mislead people seeking abortions in hopes that they will carry their pregnancies to term.

  • Fox News is firing up the right-wing spin machine for the Supreme Court's new abortion case

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE TULBERT

    On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson fearmongered about a reproductive rights case that the Supreme Court just decided to hear -- signaling the start of another right-wing misinformation campaign about abortion.

    On November 13, the Supreme Court agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case that involves a California statute called the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act. Under California's FACT Act, licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) -- which are anti-abortion organizations that represent themselves as reproductive care clinics -- are required to display a notice at their facility and in advertising materials which states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women,” and directs people to call a number to determine if they qualify for such services. CPCs not licensed by the state of California are also required to post a notice stating that they are “not licensed as a medical facility” and that they have “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) -- which represents both licensed and unlicensed CPCs in California -- challenged the law as a violation of CPCs' free speech rights to not promote abortion or contraceptives. The lower courts ruled in favor of upholding the state law and the case is now before the Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court’s last major abortion case -- Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt -- involved a Texas law that placed, under the guise of supposedly protecting women’s health, medically unnecessary requirements on facilities that perform abortions. The Supreme Court ultimately found that the law created an undue burden on abortion access. While some outlets reported on the law’s substantial harmful effects after it caused many abortion facilities in Texas to close, right-wing outlets ignored its impact to push a myth that the measure was necessary to protect the health of those accessing abortion in the state.

    During a November 15 segment on the NIFLA v. Becerra case, Carlson defined California’s FACT Act as an attack on CPCs' freedom of speech -- rather than as a necessary restriction because many centers utilize deceptive tactics or medical misinformation to dissuade patients from having an abortion. During the segment, Carlson mischaracterized the law as “forcing” CPCs “to provide information on how to get a state-subsidized abortion” and said that it “would force pro-life centers to literally advertise and tell people who come in, ‘Hey, there is a free abortion waiting for you if you want one.’” Carlson also incorrectly implied that CPCs should not be regulated because they are “not hurting anybody.” Classifying facilities that offer abortion as part of “an industry,” Carlson said that the law “is really about an industry trying to shut down its opponents,” ultimately concluding that pro-choice advocates “worship” abortion “like a God.”

    Despite much grandstanding, Carlson failed to accurately describe either the factual basis of the California law or the nature of the lawsuit. (Carlson has a history of failing to accurately address abortion issues throughout his tenure as a prime-time Fox News host.) While Carlson described CPCs as “not hurting anybody,” they actually use multiple deceptive tactics to convince individuals to utilize their services, ultimately dissuading many considering abortion. A yearlong investigation by Cosmopolitan found CPCs “increasingly look just like doctor’s offices with ultrasound rooms and staff in scrubs. Yet they do not provide or refer for contraception or abortion. Many pregnancy-center counselors, even those who provide medical information, are not licensed.”

    As Teen Vogue reported, some CPCs also lie about state restrictions that prohibit abortion past a certain week of pregnancy and about the risks of abortions -- including making inaccurate claims that abortion makes a person infertile or causes breast cancer. Some CPCs also lie before people even get in the door -- posing as comprehensive reproductive care clinics or suggesting in their advertising that they offer abortion services or contraceptives, when in reality many CPCs provide neither. Some CPCs also receive direct funding from states. For example, Texas awarded a $1.6 million contract in 2016 to The Heidi Group, an organization led by anti-abortion extremist Carol Everett, for the purpose of providing low-income reproductive health services. Earlier this year, the Heidi Group was found to have failed to deliver on any of its proposals. On the federal level, Rewire found that the Trump administration has awarded “at least $3.1 million … to religiously affiliated organizations and crisis pregnancy centers.”

    Similarly, while Carlson decried the FACT Act as an attack on free speech, anti-abortion proponents have long pushed the so-called “informed” consent laws that often require medical providers to lie to patients about the risks of abortion, or provide them information with no basis in science, such as the viability of “abortion reversal” methods. Many have noted that if the Supreme Court's decision falls in favor of CPCs on free speech grounds, it could have unintended consequences for such efforts by the anti-choice movement. As Slate’s Dahila Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “If the FACT Act falls ... it would not necessarily be an unmitigated victory for abortion opponents” given the number of deceptive “informed consent” laws that various states have already passed.

    Although the Supreme Court just agreed to hear NIFLA v. Becerra, Carlson’s segment demonstrates that right-wing media are already gearing up to push misinformation about the case and support CPCs' efforts to block abortion access.

  • The Viral Story About Missing Black And Brown Girls In D.C. Reveals A Huge Media Blindspot

    Women's Outlets Explain How These Stories Are Significantly And Routinely Undercovered

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    A social media post about missing black and brown girls in the Washington, D.C., area went viral, but the numbers it cited were incorrect. Women’s outlets -- primarily those geared toward young, black and brown audiences -- took the lead in explaining the underlying reality about media coverage of missing children that made the post so believable.

  • Right-Wing Media Attack Teen Vogue For Taking On Abortion Stigma

    ››› ››› SHARON KANN

    After Teen Vogue published an article about gifts to buy for a friend who has had an abortion, right-wing and anti-choice outlets lashed out at the young women’s magazine for “normalizing” the procedure. Although right-wing media have frequently claimed that women pathologically regret their abortions -- and these media have attacked providers and clinics accordingly -- in reality, it is a safe and common medical practice. This wasn’t Teen Vogue’s first attempt at challenging abortion stigma and the myth of abortion regret, and the magazine’s collective efforts provide a useful model for other outlets.

  • Of Course People Are Turning To Women's Magazines For Quality Political Coverage

    Blog ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    In the small world of politics and media Twitter, one of a few tropes emerged this year: astonishment -- isolated and seemingly brand-new each time -- when woman-centered outlets published high-quality political reporting and opinion pieces.

    When Teen Vogue ran a December 10 op-ed from weekend editor Lauren Duca headlined “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,” this small, homogenous media world seemed shocked that a young woman could aptly write about both makeup and the psychological tactics of a dangerously deceptive political figure. It was as though young women and the stories they crave, or the whole of American life for that matter, cannot contain multitudes.

    As many women writers -- and especially women of color -- quickly pointed out, the Teen Vogue piece shouldn’t surprise anyone. Neither should it be shocking that, in September, Cosmopolitan set the standard for Ivanka Trump interviews when reporter Prachi Gupta asked Ivanka, who ostensibly spearheaded Donald Trump’s child care proposal, substantive questions about that policy and in the process revealed its many weaknesses. The “real” media figures who were surprised by the Teen Vogue opinion piece also might not have known that President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have given multiple exclusive interviews to Essence, Ebony, Latina, and Teen Vogue over the years.

    What (mostly male) critics fail to recognize is that their reasons for dismissing women’s magazines actually form the foundation of those publications’ success. Magazines created by and for women audiences -- not to mention exclusively online outlets like Broadly, Refinery 29, The Establishment, and Jezebel -- inherently do things differently, and that’s their strength. They’re helmed by people who wouldn’t normally see their experiences depicted on the pages of papers of record. They’re also answering to an audience of women, especially young women and women of color, by finding ways to inject otherwise untold perspectives into the political discourse.

    This emphasis on giving platforms to those commonly excluded by dominant media narratives explains why Teen Vogue -- run by Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth, a millennial black woman, and digital editorial director Phillip Picardi, a 25-year-old gay man -- produces consistently dynamic reporting on the realities of the white supremacist and misogynist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.” It also explains why it reaches millions with personal stories of transgender teens affected by North Carolina’s discriminatory HB 2 law, a young woman who got an abortion in Ohio, girls from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, and young female Muslim activists. (Teen Vogue also owes much to Rookie magazine, founded and edited by the 20-year-old Tavi Gevinson, which regularly publishes political stories focused on personal narrative, and earlier this year ran an exclusive reader Q&A with Hillary Clinton.)

    It explains why Latina magazine’s politics and culture editor, Raquel Reichard, has curated a strikingly personal collection of first-hand, narrative-driven accounts explaining how this year’s threats to abortion rights uniquely harm Latina communities.

    Essence and Ebony have been doing this work for decades, no doubt serving as critical models for the more recently developed political voices of traditionally whiter magazines like Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire. In the weeks since Trump’s election, Essence has consistently called out his cabinet picks for their connections to the racist “alt-right” movement and their histories of racist remarks. An Ebony opinion piece labeled the “alt-right” “white supremacy by any other name” and examined what Trump has said -- or refused to say -- about racial intimidation.

    Essence has also challenged mainstream praise of female conservative media figures who have benefited from white feminism, describing right-wing pundit Tomi Lahren as a “white supremacist fave” and warning of the media’s uncritical embrace of “repugnant and unapologetic racists” like Lahren and Fox’s Megyn Kelly, who the magazine says are “dangerous for black women.” What’s more, women’s magazine writers are not afraid to correctly identify rape culture, white supremacy, or outright lies when they see them. And Elle unequivocally stated that Ivanka Trump, who has been touted as the champion of women in her father’s administration, “will not fix ‘women’s issues’” and called out her “exceptionalist white womanhood.”

    In a year when women have been repeatedly attacked through legislation, on social media, and even by the president-elect of the United States, Cosmopolitan was unafraid to call the Twitter harassment of black actress Leslie Jones -- organized by bigoted, misogynist Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos -- a hate crime. Gupta’s October take-down of Donald Trump’s history of sexual harassment concluded, “Trump doesn’t seem to understand what harassment is or how it works.”

    This is the essential difference between women’s magazines and what are seen as more traditional outlets for political reporting: Women’s magazines are designed to speak -- directly and above all -- to women, particularly young women and women of color.

    As a collective group that frequently feels the impact of new state and federal policies before others and in highly magnified form, these women are craving the truth about how such policies come to be. And by and large, they aren’t finding it in mainstream political press outlets largely helmed by and written for white men, who forcibly construct a “both sides” argument where often one, frankly, does not exist.

    The success of women’s magazines underscores the fact that newsroom diversity -- in its most intersectional meaning -- is, in the words of CNN’s Tanzina Vega, “imperative to make sure your coverage is better, more nuanced and more accurate.” As Washington Post deputy general assignment editor Swati Sharma explained recently for Neiman Journalism Lab:

    A new administration is at foot, and with it nascent movements are growing across the country. How will those sentiments be accurately covered with empathy, nuance, and authenticity? We need people in those communities to capture the messages, the angst, the people who make up the groups.

    As we prepare for a new presidential administration that promises to be infinitely more hostile to both members of the press and the women who make up these magazines’ newsrooms and audience, the media figures who have expressed shock over high-quality political reporting by such publications might consider instead turning to them for a lesson in telling the full story.

    Graphic created by Dayanita Ramesh.

  • Planned Parenthood Is Under Attack In Texas, And Media There Are Failing The Challenge 

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Texas media are omitting crucial information in reports on the state’s move to cut off Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood, including that Texas’ decision was largely based on debunked videos by an anti-abortion activist group, the Center for Medical Progress, and that the move will negatively impact women’s health. In contrast, reporting by online outlets geared toward women put Texas media to shame, explaining that the evidence behind the policy decision is misleading and that the defunding will have dire consequences for women’s health in Texas.