STUDY: Charlotte Media Peddle "Bathroom Predator" Myth In Coverage Of Nondiscrimination Ordinance

››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY & ERIN FITZGERALD

Television news stations in Charlotte, NC, have misrepresented the city's recently passed nondiscrimination ordinance, which the state's Republican legislators are vowing to repeal in the April legislative session. Outlets have highlighted the "bathroom predator" myth peddled by anti-LGBT groups without noting that the talking point has been debunked by states and cities with similar laws on the books. That narrow focus on opponents' claims came at the expense of accurate reporting on the ordinance's comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.

Charlotte Recently Passed An LGBT-Inclusive Nondiscrimination Ordinance, Which Opponents Are Trying To Repeal

Charlotte's Nondiscrimination Ordinance Adds Protections For Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Marital Status, And Familial Status. On February 22, the Charlotte City Council voted in favor of including "marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression" as protected characteristics in the city's existing nondiscrimination ordinance. The ordinance would protect people from "arbitrary discrimination" in public accommodations, like restaurants and stores; passenger vehicles for hire, like taxis; and with government contractors. [Charlotte City Council Ordinance, 2/22/16]

NC Gov. Pat McCrory Has Been Vocal About His Opposition To The Updated Ordinance Since Before It Passed. On February 21, the night before the scheduled vote, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sent an email to the City Council stating that passing the ordinance with public accommodations protections would cause "immediate State legislative intervention." Calling the protections in the ordinance "a major public safety issue," he went on to say that the "City of Charlotte is causing more problems by trying to solve a problem that does not exist." [abc11.com, 2/23/16]

Other NC Republican Leaders Have Vowed To Repeal The Ordinance In The April Legislative Session. McCrory and other GOP legislators have vowed to overturn the Charlotte ordinance. The ordinance goes into effect on April 1, but the state legislature's session doesn't begin until April 25. GOP House Speaker Tim Moore has called for a special legislative session that would cost taxpayers $42,000 a day. Phil Berger, the Senate's president pro tem, has established a special committee that will explore legislative strategies to overturn the law along with House lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. [Charlotte Observer, 2/22/16, Charlotte Observer3/8/16; WRAL.com, 3/4/16]

Opponents Have Peddled Baseless "Bathroom Predator" Horror Stories To Attack The Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Opponents Falsely Claim That The Ordinance Allows Sexual Predators To Sneak Into Restrooms. Opponents of the ordinance have formed a coalition called "KeepNCSafe" which includes the NC Values Coalition, North Carolina Pastors Network, and the Christian Action League. The coalition claims that the ban on discrimination against transgender people would allow male sexual predators to dress up as women and sneak into women's restrooms, and that women and children would be "forced to undress in front of men." [dontdoitcharlotte.com, accessed 3/15/16; dontdoitcharlotte.com, accessed 3/15/16]

Independent Experts Have Debunked The "Bathroom Predator" Myth. Law enforcement officials, victims' rights advocates, and human rights commission officials in states and localities with transgender nondiscrimination protections have debunked the claim that sexual predators will exploit nondiscrimination laws, calling it "beyond specious." [Media Matters, 3/20/14; Media Matters, 3/4/16; Media Matters, 2/16/16; Media Matters, 1/12/16; Media Matters, 10/15/16; Media Matters; 10/15/16]

Data Show Transgender People Experience High Rates Of Discrimination In North Carolina. Half (50 percent) of survey respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey from North Carolina reported being verbally harassed or disrespected in a place of public accommodation or service, including hotels, restaurants, buses, airports, and government agencies. Overall, 8 percent of survey respondents reported being physically assaulted in a place of public accommodation. [Injustice at Every Turn: A Report on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, accessed 3/15/16; Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at State Results, accessed 3/15/2016]

Charlotte Media Peddled The "Bathroom Predator" Myth In Coverage Of The Nondiscrimination Ordinance

All Outlets Except CW Affiliate WCCB Mentioned Bathroom Access More Often Than LGBT Protections. In their coverage of Charlotte's nondiscrimination ordinance, all outlets except CW affiliate WCCB mentioned bathroom access as emphasized by ordinance opponents more than they mentioned that the nondiscrimination ordinance protects LGBT people.

  • ABC And NBC Mentioned Bathroom Access In 100 Percent Of Segments Discussing The Nondiscrimination Ordinance

Media Outlets Frequently Included Mentions Of The "Bathroom Predator" Myth Without Criticism.  All five outlets frequently mentioned the "bathroom predator" myth in their coverage of the ordinance, with either a guest mentioning it or an anchor doing so. Across all stations, at least 60 percent of segments mentioning the "bathroom predator" myth did not include commentary debunking or criticizing the talking point, either from guests or anchors.

  • Critical Commentary Of The Bathroom Myth Was Present In Less Than 40 Percent Of All Outlets' Coverage Including The Myth
  • No Outlet Included A Segment Where An Anchor Independently Criticized The "Bathroom Predator" Myth

Coverage Of The "Bathroom Predator" Myth Far Exceeded Mentions Of Discrimination Against LGBT People In North Carolina. Only two outlets mentioned the rates of or instances of discrimination against LGBT people in North Carolina that the Charlotte ordinance aims to address. All five outlets mentioned the "bathroom predator" myth more than they mentioned the existence of anti-LGBT discrimination in North Carolina. 

  • FOX, NBC, And ABC Did Not Mention Discrimination Against LGBT People In North Carolina During Their Coverage Of The Nondiscrimination Ordinance
  • CBS Mentioned The "Bathroom Predator" Myth In Over 60 Percent Of Its Coverage

News Affiliates Were More Likely To Show B-Roll Of Bathrooms Than Report On The Ordinance's Broad Protections. All outlets except CW affiliate WCCB included b-roll of bathrooms during segments on the ordinance more often than they discussed the ordinance's broad protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status, and marital status in areas like taxis, business, and commercial contracting.

  • CW Affiliate WCCB Was The Only Affiliate To Mention The Ordinance's Broad Protections More Frequently Than It Showed B-Roll Of Bathrooms
  • FOX Affiliate WJZY Included B-Roll Of Bathrooms In 81 Percent Of Coverage

Transgender People Appeared On A Small Percentage Of Segments With Guests. Though the media outlets focused on the "bathroom predator" myth in relation to the ordinance's gender identity protections, transgender guests were largely excluded from segments about the ordinance that featured guests.

  • Almost 40 Percent Of CW Segments With Guests Included A Transgender Guest
  • Only One Of ABC's Segments Out Of 26 Included A Transgender Person

Methodology

Media Matters used iQ media to search Charlotte's NBC affiliate WCNC, CBS affiliate WBTV, ABC affiliate WSOC, CW affiliate WCCB, and Fox affiliate WJZY between February 8 and February 29 for the terms "discrimination," "nondiscrimination," "non-discrimination," "anti-discrimination,"  "antidiscrimination," "ordinance," "gay," "transgender," "sexual orientation," "gender identity," "LGBT," "bathroom," and "locker room." Coverage was categorized as mentioning the bathroom myth if guests or anchors said the ordinance was a threat or risk to public safety, women, or children. "Guest" was construed broadly to include in-studio guests, people interviewed in pre-taped footage, residents shown testifying in footage of ordinance hearings, and residents interviewed on the street. Reruns, teases for upcoming segments, and passing mentions in the course of reports about other topics were also excluded.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBT
Network/Outlet
WCCB, WJZY
Show/Publication
WBTV, WSOC Charlotte, WCNC
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