Newsweek, CNN, The New York Times Receive Failing Grades in GLAAD’s Media Report Card on Equality Act Coverage

By GLAAD | March 3, 2021
Last week’s House vote to pass the Equality Act was a historic moment for LGBTQ rights. With the majority of LGBTQ Americans living in states that offer no protections from discrimination, a federal law including sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal antidiscrimination law is vitally necessary. Every queer and trans person in America will be impacted by the passage of the Equality Act, which President Joe Biden has promised to sign into law if it makes it through the Senate.
The importance of the Equality Act makes it especially disappointing that LGBTQ voices were largely left out of mainstream media coverage of the House passage in leading digital and print outlets. Sadly, leaving stakeholder voices out of coverage of LGBTQ issues has become more prevalent; as LGBTQ policy reaches higher and higher levels (at the White House, in Congress, and at the Supreme Court), news outlets often assign reporters who may not have the cultural competency needed to contextualize and counter the homophobic and transphobic rhetoric coming from some elected officials, nor the sources needed to include LGBTQ community and advocacy voices.
The Equality Act is hardly the only headline-making LGBTQ story that has seen widespread coverage fails. And the goal of GLAAD’s report card is not to shame or attack any particular news outlet or journalist. But mainstream media can and should do better when it comes to writing about prominent LGBTQ issues, especially when false, inaccurate, and harmful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is part of the story. GLAAD’s report card doesn’t just grade leading news outlets on their coverage—it also offers suggestions, best practices, and links to helpful resources.
Methodology
GLAAD has graded mainstream digital and print outlets that lead news and politics coverage on the following scale. LGBTQ beat reporters at independent, alternative, and community-focused outlets were not included, as most continue to excel at standard-setting coverage of LGBTQ issues. [Editor’s note: GLAAD’s reviewed same-day coverage of the passage of the Equality Act on Thursday, February 25th, with one exception for a series of op-eds published within one or two business days of the House vote.]
OUTSTANDING: Outlet interviewed and ran unique quotes from LGBTQ advocates including trans advocates specifically; outlet included statements from LGBTQ Congressmembers; outlet contextualized lack of existing state-level and federal-level nondiscrimination protections and need for Equality Act legislation; outlet did not include harmful anti-trans rhetoric unchecked; outlet included polling showing that overwhelming majority of voters (including Republicans) support the legislation. [Note: none of the outlets met the standards needed for this grade.]
PASS: Outlet included non-unique statements (including boilerplate/press release, tweets, etc) issued by LGBTQ advocates; outlet included statements from LGBTQ Congressmembers; outlet contextualized lack of existing protections and need for Equality Act legislation; outlet did not include harmful anti-trans rhetoric unchecked; outlet included polling showing that overwhelming majority of voters (including Republicans) support the legislation.
SATISFACTORY/NEEDS IMPROVEMENT: Outlet included non-unique statements (including boilerplate/press release, tweets, etc) issued by LGBTQ advocates and/or statements from LGBTQ Congressmembers; outlet failed to include trans voices; outlet failed to sufficiently contextualize need for Equality Act; outlet included harmful anti-trans rhetoric unchecked.
FAIL: Outlet failed to include any quotes from LGBTQ advocates; outlet failed to contextualize need for Equality Act; outlet quoted anti-trans zealots like Marjorie Taylor Greene; outlet included harmful and inaccurate anti-trans rhetoric unchecked.
EQUALITY ACT REPORT CARD (alphabetically ordered)
ABC News: SATISFACTORY/NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

  • Quotes one LGBTQ advocacy group
  • Quotes LGBTQ Congressmembers
  • No trans voices in story
  • Quotes inaccurate and harmful transphobic rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rep. Greg Steube without sufficient fact-check or added context
  • Fails to mention lack of antidiscrimination protections that necessitate Equality Act passage

AP/Associated Press: PASS

  • Quotes one LGBTQ advocacy group
  • Quotes multiple LGBTQ Congressmembers
  • Includes some context on need for antidiscrimination protections
  • No trans voices in story
  • A wire story that also ran in Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and others

Bloomberg: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Fails to mention lack of antidiscrimination protections that necessitate Equality Act passage

Boston Globe: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Includes polling showing voters—Republicans too—overwhelmingly support Equality Act
  • Includes harmful transphobic rhetoric from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene without countering or contextualizing as false
  • Fails to mention lack of antidiscrimination protections that necessitate Equality Act passage

CBS News: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Second half of story devoted to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s transphobic, inaccurate rhetoric

CNN: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Gives lengthy space to inaccurate, transphobic rhetoric about “men in women’s sports” without countering or contextualizing as false

Fox News: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Includes quote from LGBTQ Congressmember (bill’s sponsor)
  • Fails to mention lack of antidiscrimination protections that necessitate Equality Act passage
  • Includes reference to unfounded/inaccurate concerns that bill would be harmful to women’s sports

The Hill: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Fails to mention lack of antidiscrimination protections that necessitate Equality Act passage
  • Includes inaccurate, transphobic claims about the Equality Act’s impact on women’s sports, the medical industry, and more from Marjorie Taylor Greene and Chip Roy without countering or contextualizing as false

HuffPost: PASS

  • The only piece of mainstream Equality Act coverage that contains a statement (a tweet) from a trans advocacy group (National Center for Trans Equality)
  • Includes statements from LGBTQ Congressmembers
  • Manages to include bill’s opposition concerns without elevating inaccurate or transphobic rhetoric

NBC News: SATISFACTORY/NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

  • Quotes one LGBTQ advocacy group
  • No trans voices in story
  • Gives lengthy space to inaccurate, transphobic rhetoric from the Heritage Foundation without countering or contextualizing as false

New York Times: FAIL

  • Refers to Equality Act in headline as “gay and transgender” legislation, leaving out bisexual, lesbian, queer, and other members of LGBTQ community
  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates, beyond the out sponsor of the bill, and the historic out trans nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health
  • No trans voices in story despite angle of “fight over transgender rights”
  • Gives lengthy space to inaccurate, transphobic rhetoric from several elected officials without countering or contextualizing as false

*WORST OFFENDER* NEWSWEEK: SUPER FAIL

  • On the day of the House vote, Newsweek ran three articles (two opinion, one news) that focused entirely on transphobic, anti-LGBTQ views of the Equality Act
  • Ran op-ed featuring demonstrably false claim that the Equality Act would bring about “the end of females,” with inaccurate claims about biology and sex
  • Ran an op-ed penned by the chair of the anti-trans hate group Women’s Liberation Front that contains multiple inaccuracies about the Equality Act and women’s sports
  • Ran a news story about the bill’s passage in the House that quoted only anti-trans Republican leaders—including nothing from the bill’s sponsors
  • Ran another op-ed the Monday following the House vote that contained multiple inaccurate claims about the impact of the Equality Act
  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • No trans voices despite articles attacking trans people

NPR: PASS

  • Includes quotes from more than one LGBTQ advocate, but no trans group
  • Detailed description/context of why the Equality Act is needed and how it relates to current law
  • Manages to include opposition concerns without platforming inaccurate or transphobic rhetoric

Reuters: PASS

  • Includes quotes from more than one LGBTQ advocate, but no trans group
  • Lengthy description/context of why the Equality Act is needed and how it relates to current law
  • References current state legislature attacks on trans youth for context
  • Includes polling showing voters—Republicans too—overwhelmingly support Equality Act
  • Includes quote from parent of a trans child (Congressmember)
  • Manages to include opposition concerns without platforming inaccurate or transphobic rhetoric
  • A wire story that also ran in The Guardian

USA Today: SATISFACTORY/NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

  • Contextualizes lack of protections/why Equality Act is needed
  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ advocates
  • Includes quotes from multiple LGBTQ members of Congress
  • References opposing concerns about women’s sports without correcting or countering

Wall Street Journal: FAIL

  • Zero quotes from LGBTQ community or advocates
  • Includes quote from one LGBTQ Congressmember
  • Includes inaccurate, transphobic rhetoric from elected officials without countering or contextualizing as false
  • Ran an op-ed the day before the House vote that contained multiple inaccuracies and harmful anti-trans rhetoric such as referring to transgender girls as “biologically male”

Washington Post: PASS

  • Includes boilerplate statements from LGBTQ advocates including a tweet from one trans elected official
  • Quotes parent of a trans child (Congressmember)
  • Quotes LGBTQ elected officials
  • Includes polling showing voter majority support for Equality Act
  • Contextualizes lack of discrimination protections and need for bill
  • Corrected and removed earlier quote that contained inaccurate claims about trans healthcare
  • Includes inaccurate claims from conservative opposition groups without fact-checking, such as the claim that the Equality Act could halt free school lunches at parochial schools

Suggestions for Media Outlets Seeking to Improve LGBTQ Coverage
Include Stakeholder Voices. If a policy, such as the Equality Act, is prominent enough to impact all LGBTQ Americans, don’t just quote gay and lesbian members of Congress. Reach out to LGBTQ advocacy groups. Ask for interviews with community members in addition to using quotes from press releases and tweets.
Include trans voices in coverage that mentions trans people. Period. If the headline, the dek, or the article itself mention trans people, make sure there’s a trans person quoted somewhere. None of the mainstream media coverage listed here received a grade of “Outstanding,” because none of the outlets spoke to any trans people despite much of the coverage focusing on non-trans people talking about trans issues. Utilize GLAAD’s list of trans organizations and media reference guide for covering the trans community.
Fact check claims about trans people, especially about trans youth. In the current political atmosphere, inaccurate anti-trans rhetoric is more rampant than ever before. Claims about women’s sports and trans youth healthcare are often misinformed and blatantly false—those are easily countered by leading medical associations and by groups that represent women athletes. To fact check claims about trans athletes in girls and women’s sports in particular, contact groups like Athlete Ally and TransAthlete and utilize the data available in the February 2021 Center for American Progress report ‘Fair Play.’
Contextualize conservative opponents of LGBTQ equality that are included in coverage for balance. For example, if a group like Alliance Defending Freedom or the Heritage Foundation is quoted, note that ADF has been designated a hate group for its longstanding anti-LGBTQ activism. Or that Heritage Foundation spent years fighting and failing to stop marriage equality before turning its focus on attacking trans youth. Check to see if a conservative group is associated with the anti-trans Promise to America’s Children coalition. Let readers know the difference between “conservative” groups and specifically anti-LGBTQ groups.
Be inclusive of the entire acronym. Reach out to bisexual groups, transgender groups, advocates for LGBTQ people of color. Consider whether and how a particular policy might also impact intersex and nonbinary community members. The term “gay” is not an umbrella term for the entire community; even when referring to men who sleep with men, keep in mind that many LGBTQ men identify as bisexual, pansexual, or queer in terms of sexual orientation.
Don’t Perpetuate False Divisions. Recently, conservative opponents of trans equality have adopted new framing that falsely pits trans people against cisgender women as if equality were a zero-sum game. Keep in mind that many cisgender women support trans equality, and that many in the LGBTQ community are women as well. Elevating falsehoods about policies like the Equality Act somehow bringing harm to women leaves out the many cisgender and transgender LGBTQ women who lack protection from discrimination, as well as the many feminists who are outspoken trans allies.
Look to the experts. LGBTQ-specific media outlets often set the standard for comprehensive, informed, and culturally sensitive coverage. Before reporting on unfamiliar LGBTQ topics, follow leading LGBTQ beat reporters and read community outlets. Check style standards and recommendations from LGBTQ media associations like GLAAD (our most recent Media Reference Guide,) NLGJA (the Association of LGBTQ Journalists Stylebook,) and Trans Journalists Association (TJA Style Guide.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Assign informed reporters. You wouldn’t send an art critic to cover a climate science hearing, so why send a Hill correspondent to cover pediatric healthcare for trans youth? In 2021 every major news outlet should have a dedicated LGBTQ issues editor and at least one dedicated LGBTQ beat reporter on staff. Battling the current wave of misinformation requires cultural competency and expertise. Consider resources like staff cultural competency trainings and hiring experience LGBTQ freelance beat reporters in addition to appropriate staffing.
Update: This post has been updated with an editor’s note to clarify methodology (Thursday, March 4th.)
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About GLAAD: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love. For more information, please visit www.glaad.org or connect with GLAAD on Facebook and Twitter.