CNN and Fox News have largely ignored the news that President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by companies that contract with the federal government - an historic measure that will protect up to 28 million workers.
On June 16, a White House official revealed that President Obama would sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The move comes seven months after the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure that has subsequently languished in the House as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to bring the measure up for a vote.
ENDA's diminishing prospects led many LGBT activists and Democratic lawmakers to press Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors. The ACLU's Ian Thompson hailed an executive order as "the single most important step" Obama could take absent congressional action to combat anti-LGBT employment discrimination. One estimate suggests that Obama's executive order will protect up to 28 million workers.
In a June 16 segment highlighting the persistent problem of anti-LGBT employment discrimination, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow laid out the context of congressional intransigence that led to Obama's decision to act unilaterally on the issue:
While Maddow's network gave the news of the impending executive order 31 minutes of coverage, CNN and Fox News barely covered it at all, with each providing a mere 20 seconds of coverage:
An astonishing 69 percent of Americans think employment discrimination against LGBT people is already illegal; as Maddow's segment highlighted, that figure even includes the Speaker of the House. But it's perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay - or for being perceived as gay - in 29 states. Meanwhile, workers can be fired for being transgender in 32 states. CNN and Fox's failure to cover Obama's executive order helps keep Americans in the dark about the reality of anti-LGBT workplace discrimination and makes it difficult to build momentum for a measure like ENDA.
In ignoring the executive order, CNN and Fox are repeating a troubling problem witnessed in the run-up to last year's Senate passage of ENDA. Last summer, as the Senate moved closer to passing that measure for the first time in the legislation's 20-year history, CNN and Fox both gave ENDA no coverage at all, even as both networks - and CNN particularly - fawned over the yet-to-be-born royal baby.
On Fox, silence is often the norm on LGBT issues, unless the network sees an opportunity to peddle religious liberty horror stories. The silence of CNN is more noteworthy, but it isn't unprecedented. This spring, CNN joined Fox in completely ignoring the passage of Mississippi's anti-gay license-to-discriminate law - a measure championed by anti-gay hate groups and which eerily echoed an Arizona bill vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. In that instance, CNN's silence came as the network devoted hours upon hours to obsessive speculation over the fate of a missing Malaysian airplane.
While CNN and Fox have responded to the latest LGBT rights story with deafening silence, they still have the chance to cover the story and inform viewers about the ongoing need to pass ENDA when President Obama actually signs his executive order.
Equality Matters searched news transcripts provided by TV Eyes for the terms "employment discrimination," "employment nondiscrimination," "employment non-discrimination," "workplace discrimination," "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," "transgender," "LGBT," "sexual orientation," "gender identity" and "executive order" for June 16-17, 2014. Reruns, teases for upcoming segments, and passing mentions were excluded.