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Cover model Caitlyn Jenner reflects on her athletic career, winning gold at the Summer Olympics 40 years ago, and role of recent reality TV star and transgender icon in the summer issue of Sports Illustrated. The story allows Jenner to tell her own story, while also highlighting the positive impact of transgender visibility in the media, pointing out that her story helps transgender people and their families battle intolerance and isolation.
Nearly 40 years after her last cover appearance on Sports Illustrated, the magazine again featured Caitlyn Jenner in multi-platform profile in its July 4-11 edition. The profile largely focuses on Jenner’s reflections about her journey both before and after winning the decathlon gold medal at the 1976 summer Olympics. In addition to elevating Jenner’s voice, the story spotlights the positive impact of Jenner’s media presence on transgender people, who “battle not only intolerance but also suicidal thoughts, depression and poverty at staggering rates and who are just gaining a foothold in society.”
The piece contrasts with sensationalist, irresponsible reporting that has often accompanied stories about Jenner and the transgender community. In May, The Washington Post and CBS both parroted the shoddy, unsubstantiated report of a discredited celebrity biographer, who claimed that Jenner might “de-transition.” Sports Illustrated’s profile of Jenner proves that even high-profile celebrity news can educate readers about transgender people and the importance of transgender visibility.
From the July 4-11 edition of Sports Illustrated:
If there is no medal, Caitlyn Jenner almost certainly does not become the most famous transgender person in history. She does not become a towering (literally, 6' 4" in heels) public figure who both unifies and polarizes (even within the trans community) while spurring discussion of gender issues in ways that no one else has. She has used her celebrity—earnestly, sometimes naively, on a steep learning curve, with millions watching—to help the 700,000 trans men, women and children in America who battle not only intolerance but also suicidal thoughts, depression and poverty at staggering rates and who are just gaining a foothold in society. “I feel like, now, nobody can say they don’t know a transgender person, because she is that famous,” says Chris Mosier, 35, a transgender male triathlete who represented the U.S. at the world sprint duathlon (cycling and running) championships last month in Spain. “She has brought about this awareness among people who are attuned to pop culture and media. Challenges that trans people face have really come to light since she’s come out.
If there is no medal, she does not affect the lives of thousands of families trying to find their way in a trans world that many scarcely knew existed. Says Dr. Johanna Olson-Kennedy, adolescent medicine specialist in the care of gender nonconforming children and transgender youth at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, “For parents who are scared or nervous about having a child come out as transgender, it suddenly feels like they’re not the only one, because they remember Caitlyn from the Olympics, and this is real. And for the kids, if they know Caitlyn at all, it’s from the Kardashians, but for them, their life is impacted by their parents’ being more open to their journey. It’s a lot easier for them if they have affirming and supportive parents.”
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In response to the Supreme Court's decision to strike down Texas’ HB 2 law, which imposed restrictions causing over half the state's abortion clinics to close, Spanish-language media have widely highlighted the positive impact the decision will have for women, particularly the state’s 2.5 million Latinas of reproductive age. But Univision, the largest Hispanic TV news network, failed to explain how the decision will affect Latinas in its report on the ruling during its most highly viewed news show, Noticiero Univision.
After the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on HB 2, some Hispanic media outlets explained how the law contributed to the many already existing barriers Hispanic women face in accessing reproductive health care, and specifically noted that the decision will benefit Latinas. The editorial board of La Opinión, for example, said that “in practice, restricting abortion in Texas was a way to punish poorer women,” including many of the 2.5 million Hispanic women of reproductive age living in the state. Telemundo’s Noticiero Telemundo mentioned in its report that the shuttering of abortion clinics in Texas disproportionately affected “Hispanic women of reproductive age” and explained that many Hispanic women rely on these clinics for all of their reproductive health care needs.
But Noticiero Univision, Univision’s flagship evening news program, excluded any mention of how the Supreme Court’s decision will benefit women, or Latinas in particular, in its report on the ruling. Univision reporter Juan Carlos Gonzalez interviewed activists and read a statement from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, an HB2 proponent, but failed to address the impact of the decision for Latinas.
According to Pew Research Center, Noticiero Univision had the highest viewership among Spanish-language cable news shows in 2015. Univision and Telemundo both have a history of providing lackluster reporting on the ways Latinas are disproportionately affected by barriers to reproductive health care.
From the June 27 edition of Univision’s Noticiero Univision (translated from Spanish):
JORGE RAMOS: The Supreme Court ratified the right to abortion when it threw out the Texas law that complicated access for women to end a pregnancy. The highest court found unconstitutional the restrictions imposed by the Texas law on clinics that practice abortion. Many of these clinics had to close when the controversial law was implemented in 2013. Juan Carlos Gonzalez has reactions and details of the verdict.
JUAN CARLOS GONZALEZ: The Supreme Court’s decision invalidated the law of the state of Texas that obligated clinics that practice abortion to operate like ambulatory surgical clinics and doctors to have hospital-admitting privileges. The decision, the most important in decades on this controversial issue, made those who favor abortion rights happy.
JULIO DANIEL DÍAZ: As a man, I don’t have the right to tell women to make a decision about their bodies.
GONZALEZ: But it was a hard hit for those such as Cecilia Salinas, who has always resided in McAllen, Texas, who are opposed to abortion.
CECILIA SALINAS: I am 100 percent convinced that only God has the right to decide on the life of any human being.
GONZALEZ: The measure known as HB 2 was passed by the Texas legislature in 2013, but it was subjected to a lawsuit that went to the Supreme Court. Texas Governor Greg Abbott reacted with a statement that said, “The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women."
For his part, President Barack Obama commented that he feels pleased that the Supreme Court protected the rights and health of women. Before the law went into effect here in Texas, there were approximately 41 clinics like this. After it took effect, the measure closed about half of them. Since 2008, some 70 clinics in the United States have also stopped providing abortions. Nonetheless, many hope that after this decision, many of them return to their operations. [Univision, Noticiero Univision, 6/27/16]
In a 5-3 vote, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ HB 2 law that imposed “unnecessary health regulations” on abortion providers and clinics and created serious barriers for women seeking abortions. Hispanic media outlets lauded the decision, noting that HB 2 had a particularly negative impact on the approximately 2.5 million Latina women of reproductive age living in Texas.
Right-wing media figures are shocked by the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas II, which reaffirmed that the consideration of race as a factor in college admissions is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Conservative media have been questioning the validity of affirmative action policies for years, appearing equally baffled by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 on the same matter. This time around, the confusion was again amplified as right-wing media attempted to cast race-conscious college admissions as “racist,” misrepresent the strict legal scrutiny already in place for these types of policies, and dismiss the numerous educational and economic benefits of diverse colleges.
On his radio show immediately following the release of the new Fisher decision, host Rush Limbaugh read from the synopsis of the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular focusing on a line stating that schools have a “compelling interest” to seek the benefits of a diverse student body through means other than impermissible racial quotas. Limbaugh was so baffled by the “stunning,” “unbelievable,” and “absurd” reasoning, he had to read the line several times and was left speechless, before exclaiming, “This is so bad, I don’t know how to describe it.” Limbaugh then labeled the numerous and proven educational benefits of student body diversity a “liberal concept, perverted and corrupt as it is,” and an “absolutely vacuous argument that the left has been advancing for years.”
Perhaps if Limbaugh had read more of the opinion, he would better understand how the Supreme Court could deem “the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity” a “compelling interest.” In fact, the American Educational Research Association and “nine other scientific societies” filed an amicus brief in the Fisher case, “urging the court to consider an overwhelming body of evidence” showing “that student body diversity promotes cross-racial understanding, educational and classroom benefits, and professional development,” and “prevents the harms of racial isolation.” A wide range of businesses, public institutions, and educational leadership once again filed amicus briefs in the case, arguing for the value of race-conscious admissions policies. Coalitions of Fortune 100 CEOs and other major business leaders, former senior military officials, several top professional associations for college professors and admissions staff, and the federal government all filed briefs in support of policies like the University of Texas’ admissions approach.
During the Fisher oral arguments in December, the late Justice Antonin Scalia made headlines for referencing the discredited “mismatch theory” that affirmative action policies place underprepared students of color in schools that are too challenging for them. The flawed assumptions that underscore this theory have likewise pervaded right-wing media’s reactions to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Several conservative media figures have expressed their confusion and concern that black and Latino students might somehow be disserved by race-conscious admissions policies in social or emotional ways, in addition to struggling with academic “mismatch.” Commentator Heather Mac Donald, for example, denounced the decision, asserting that “race-based admissions preferences” allow students to “come into environments for which they’re not prepared,” leading to academic failure, “the sort of insanity that this country went through last year with the Black Lives Matter protests on campuses,” and a “growing victimology on campuses.”
But here are the facts: Numerous studies have shown students of color do better in more selective schools, and experts have discredited what little research backs “mismatch theory.” In fact, a brief filed with the Supreme Court in the Fisher case by experts in methodology and statistics urged the court to disregard the most highly cited study supporting the debunked theory, writing that the study “fails to satisfy the basic standards of good empirical social science research.”
The facts haven’t stopped conservative media from once again incorrectly characterizing the ongoing legality of narrowly tailored affirmative action programs as a major shift in legal precedent amounting to reverse racism. This time around, right-wing media figures lamented the Fisher decision as propping up “another kind of discrimination” that might be “equally wrong,” “reverse discrimination” or “racist,” and incorrectly suggested that the decision is related to setting impermissible racial quotas for admissions. Rush Limbaugh, in particular, appeared deeply confused, first insisting that the decision relates to racial quotas specifically. Then, after reading a portion of the majority opinion that highlighted the holistic review process at the University of Texas several times, Limbaugh concluded that affirmative action, which he previously understood as a “glorified quota program,” has shifted to something “even worse.” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro also asserted that Justice Kennedy had “flipped” in his ruling and that “our freedoms are decided” based on whether the Supreme Court justice “had his Metamucil that morning.”
But the court’s reaffirmation of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policy, while a surprising decision for many court experts and affirmative action advocates who feared the court had shifted irrevocably to the right, does not break new legal ground. In fact, Kennedy’s opinion specifically represents a continued belief that properly tailored affirmative action programs remain constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment -- a line of reasoning he has espoused for nearly a decade. The narrow ruling on the Texas holistic admissions approach is the latest Supreme Court opinion to reaffirm what has been a guiding principle since 1978, further detailed in 2003: that the use of race as one factor among many in individualized and holistic considerations of applicants to institutions of higher education remains both necessary and constitutional to ensure the diversity of America's future leaders.
On June 27, the Supreme Court found in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that restrictions placed on Texas abortion providers by the state’s HB 2 violated a woman’s constitutional right to abortion access. Editorial boards across the nation hailed the decision as “a major victory for abortion rights,” and “the most significant victory in a generation for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body.”
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In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.
It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.
Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.
For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:
In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.
The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.
A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people.
Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.
As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.”
In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.
In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.
Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”
CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:
“It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”
GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.
The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.
Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:
But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.
Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”
The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.
Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko.