Reporting On Trans Rights Supreme Court Case, Major Outlets Failed To Call Alliance Defending Freedom A Hate Group
The anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) was quoted in four major publications’ coverage of the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to hear a monumental transgender equality case. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN and Reuters wire services all failed to label ADF as a hate group, instead misleadingly identifying the extremist group as merely a “conservative Christian” organization and effectively erasing the context readers deserve.
On March 6, the Supreme Court issued a one sentence order  announcing it would not hear G.G v. Gloucester County School, which would have been its first major case on transgender equality. In its order, the Supreme Court vacated the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ previous ruling  -- which stated that a transgender Virginia high school student, Gavin Grimm, had the right to access restrooms and locker rooms appropriate for his gender identity -- and asked the lower court to reevaluate the decision. This ruling was a direct result  of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal  of Obama-era nondiscrimination protections for transgender students last month.
In reports on the March 6 Supreme Court order, The New York Times , The Washington Post , Reuters , and CNN’s wire service  all quoted a representative of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a Media Matters search of four leading papers and three major wire services in the two days following the decision.
The outlets all published similar variations of a statement from ADF’s communication director Kerri Kupec, who said that anti-transgender policies are needed to “protect” students’ privacy. None of the articles noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated  ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group for its well-documented  history  of working domestically and internationally to criminalize gay sex, as well as spreading dangerous lies and misinformation that harm LGBTQ people and their families.
A Washington Post blog  also quoted an ADF representative, and while it did note that ADF opposes “allowing transgender children to use the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity,” it similarly failed to contextualize ADF’s long track record of anti-LGBTQ extremism or hate group status.
ADF has an undeniably prominent  role in leading the fight against transgender student equality. But the group is not merely a “conservative” an organization concerned with protecting “religious freedom” and “privacy.” It’s an extremist organization that has actively worked against  protecting LGBTQ students from bullying in public schools. Identifying ADF as only a “conservative” or “conservative Christian” organization -- as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and Reuters did -- only helps ADF pretend its opposition to equality isn’t motivated by anti-LGBTQ animus.
These dangerous oversights are just the latest  in mainstream outlets’ journalistic failure to accurately label anti-LGBTQ hate groups, despite employing  SPLC’s designation for other extremist ideologies. And it does a disservice to readers looking for the full story -- to properly asses ADF’s red herring plea for “privacy,” readers need to know up front that the group is disreputable and driven by hate.
Media Matters searched major publications The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, CNN Wire, and the Associated Press in Nexis for coverage between 10 AM March 6, through 10 AM March 8, 2017, using the the search terms “Alliance Defending Freedom" OR “Defending Freedom.” OR "Family Research Council" OR "American Family Association" OR "Liberty Counsel." The same search was repeated for Reuters using a site search of the Reuters website, and The Wall Street Journal in Factiva.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko.