The front-page headline in the Washington Post proclaimed that “emboldened shoppers” are threatening Target workers for carrying Pride month merchandise — a trend that the article explained had “engulfed” the chain “in culture wars.”
Those “emboldened shoppers” – in reality, retrograde bullies and bigots spewing the kind of hatred that had been increasingly confined to the dark corners of society before the Trump era – couldn’t have asked for better, more indulgent coverage.
Something terrible has changed in our society as the Republican Party has become a toxic stew of Christian nationalism, white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and especially transphobia. It’s a sickness. It’s a gigantic step backwards.
But that’s not how the Washington Post sees it. Reporters Jaclyn Peiser and Jacob Bogage wrote in their nut graph:
Though Pride Month and other inclusivity initiatives have been around for years, they’ve increasingly become litmus tests for consumers, forcing companies to fully commit on social issues or yield to critics.
This kind of coverage is, sadly, typical. The furious reaction from phobic haters is repeatedly seen in the mainstream media as a marketing challenge rather than as an alarming sign of societal regression.
It’s bad enough that our elite newsrooms normalize book banning, teacher gagging, history erasing and other clear signs of incipient fascism. It’s bad enough they falsely equate hostages and hostage-takers.
What’s even worse is the calm and measured coverage of the ongoing assault on the personhood of a significant portion of the American population.
After decades of progress, there is now an all-out war on queerness. Where, any normal person must ask, is the outrage?
(There was a similar journalistic failure a year ago, after the Supreme Court declared a war on women.)
The short answer is that elite newsroom leaders feel that outrage about anything is unseemly – because it would appear to be “taking sides.”
Sustained outrage is even more unacceptable. To the people who consider unflappability the ultimate journalistic achievement, sustained outrage is a symptom of hysteria.
Case in point, some Times contributors earlier this year signed a letter calling out negative bias in the Times’s reporting about transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people — in particular, raising serious concerns about derogatory coverage of gender-affirming care. The response from management was to breezily dismiss those concerns as coming from “activists”. Many of the most senior, established, and comfortable reporters in the Times newsroom responded even more unctuously, saying the original letter-writers suffered from “a fundamental misunderstanding of our responsibilities as journalists.”
Aiding and Abetting
As the Republican “culture war” has turned into a full-fledged battle against basic human rights, the political media’s continued insistence on covering it like just another political tactic is enabling it.
That’s right: Journalistic restraint is aiding and abetting the dehumanizing of gay and trans people by a bunch of evil fanatics.
Guardian media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote recently that “transgender individuals… are continually portrayed – including too often in the media — as some sort of dreaded societal problem about which something must be done.” And, she wrote, “The mainstream news media, far too often, plays along – running wide-eyed stories that fail to identify what’s really happening here.”
Kelly McBride, the lead ethicist at the Poynter Institute, likens this period to the civil rights movements of the past, urging journalists to avoid a “both sides” approach. “There are moments where people are asserting their equality at the same moment that the state is asserting their inequality, and that looks very different,” she told independent journalist Nora Neus.
Favorably covering Pride month hasn’t been remotely controversial for ages. This year, with gay and trans rights under attack, reality-based journalists should be leaning into it – using it to remind our audiences of the moral imperative to recognize, defend, and celebrate the humanity of all people.
Instead, the Associated Press concluded that Bud Light “fumbled its attempt to broaden its customer base by partnering with a transgender influencer” because “For some, the partnership went too far at a time when transgender issues — including gender-affirming health care and participation in sports — are a divisive topic in state legislatures.”
The New York Times dutifully noted that “conservatives” had expressed outrage at the Christian-right Chick-fil-A chain (of all places!) simply for adopting a policy on diversity, equity and inclusion. “The backlash,” reporter Jesus Jiménez wrote, “has made Chick-fil-A one of the latest companies to draw public condemnation over ‘culture war’ flash points.”
All of this attention on the “backlash” against humans for being human comes at the expense of a bigger, much more important story about how those humans are facing more and more threats to their safety.
A DHS document obtained by ABC News warned that domestic violence extremists and people who commit hate crimes are increasing threatening the LGBTQA+ community. “These issues include actions linked to drag-themed events, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools,” DHS said.
According to GLAAD, more than 160 LGBTQ community events have been targeted with violence and threats in the past year, leading more than half of transgender and nonbinary people feel unsafe walking in their own neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the Equality Federation is charting hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures.
To steal from Thomas Paine on tyranny: These are the times that try journalist’s souls.
So far, they are shrinking from the service of their country.