National broadcast news mostly ignored anti-trans violence in 2020

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In 2020, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) identified at least 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people who were brutally killed in the U.S., marking the deadliest year on record. The majority of victims were trans people of color. At least 26 of the victims were Black, 23 of whom were Black trans women, and 10 were Latinx, nine of whom were Latina trans women.

Yet despite this disproportionate number of murders of trans people, national news media virtually ignored the killings. One cable network, Fox News, deliberately misrepresented the epidemic of violence against trans women in particular as “fake news.”

A new Media Matters analysis of 2020 broadcast and cable TV news found that networks discussed anti-trans violence for only 54 minutes across 23 segments. Less than an hour of coverage in the whole of 2020. That is only a little more than a minute per victim over the entire national news platform in the U.S.

Reports from MSNBC accounted for more than half of all coverage. Other networks covered the topic for less than six minutes each. Yet three networks have out gay and lesbian anchors who could have raised this issue themselves. Robin Roberts (ABC), Rachel Maddow (MSNBC), Anderson Cooper (CNN) and Don Lemon (CNN) all have high ratings and are openly queer, and each has discussed their sexual orientation on air. Roberts and Lemon are both Black.

Media Matters’ analysis examined corporate broadcast news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, as well as cable news coverage on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. PBS, which is a non-profit, was not included in the analysis.

PBS covered transgender murders in various segments in May, June, August, October and November for a total of nearly 30 minutes–more than half the time as all other networks combined. (Those reports by PBS are available online on PBS.com and YouTube.)

From January 1 to December 31, 2020, Media Matters reviewed news programming between 6 a.m. and midnight on cable channels CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. During that time frame, cable news networks spent a total of 41 minutes discussing anti-trans violence across 15 segments.

MSNBC spent the most time reporting on the topic, with 31 minutes of coverage across 10 segments. This was more than three times as many minutes of coverage as CNN and Fox News combined. CNN covered anti-trans violence for five minutes across four segments, while Fox News covered it for five minutes during one segment.

Cable networks CNN and Fox News each produce thousands of hours of news coverage per year yet only covered this issue for 11 minutes between them. And CNN has those two prime-time out gay anchors.

In Fox News’ sole segment on the topic, host Tucker Carlson claimed that the epidemic of anti-trans violence is “factually untrue” and falsely asserted that “transgender people are on average, safer than your typical American.”

From January 1 to December 31, 2020, morning and evening corporate broadcast TV news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC spent 13 minutes across eight segments covering anti-trans violence. CBS produced the most reporting with six minutes across two segments. ABC spent five minutes covering the topic across two segments and NBC spent two minutes across two segments.

Over half of the reporting on anti-trans violence occurred during LGBTQ Pride Month in June, with TV networks covering the topic for 29 minutes. Most of this coverage focused on two demonstrations for Black trans lives that took place on June 14: the Brooklyn Liberation in New York City and the All Black Lives Matter march in Los Angeles.

TV news coverage of anti-trans violence included transgender guests more often than not; 15 of the 23 segments featured a trans or gender nonconforming guest. Every broadcast news segment on the topic featured a trans guest. As for the cable networks, over half of MSNBC’s segments included a trans guest while only one of CNN’s four segments did.

Only nine of the 23 segments — five from MSNBC, two from CNN, and one each from ABC and CBS — actually said the name of a trans person who was killed in 2020.

None of the networks’ segments misgendered or deadnamed any of the victims. Misgendering is when someone is referred to as a different gender than the one that person identifies with, and deadnaming is when someone calls a trans person by “the name they used before they transitioned” rather than the name they currently go by. Both are forms of harassment that go against journalistic best practices.

The year’s longest segment on the topic came from MSNBC’s Ali Velshi and was eight minutes. During the segment, African American Policy Forum Executive Director Kimberlé Crenshaw and TransLash Media founder Imara Jones discussed the epidemic of anti-trans violence and the Trump administration’s work to remove nondiscrimination protections for trans people in health care.

From 2019 to 2020, CNN’s coverage of anti-trans violence drastically decreased. A Media Matters study of evening TV news coverage occurring between 5 p.m. and midnight found that CNN covered the topic for 27 minutes in 2019, including a town hall specifically focused on LGBTQ issues. In 2020, CNN only covered it for five minutes during its daytime and evening news programming.

Fox News’ lone segment on anti-trans violence was a five-minute monologue in which Tucker Carlson lied that there is not an epidemic of violence against trans people and falsely claimed the trans community was “relatively affluent” compared to cisgender Americans. Statistically, as PGN has reported, trans people are more likely to experience homelessness and poverty. Hate crimes against trans people are at the highest level on record.

Some of these killings were especially brutal. Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells’ dismembered body was found in the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. Her murder was widely reported in Philadelphia on all local news networks and by both the Inquirer and PGN.

Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos and Layla Pelaez Sánchez were burned to death in a car in Puerto Rico, and their murders received local coverage in Puerto Rico and in New York City. Courtney “Eshay” Key was shot and dragged by a car on Christmas Day in Chicago. Her murder was widely reported locally.

The 44 transgender or gender nonconforming people who HRC reported were killed in 2020 were: Dustin Parker, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Scott/Scottlynn Devore, Monika Diamond, Lexi, Johanna Metzger, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Brian “Egypt” Powers, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Summer Taylor, Marilyn Cazares, Dior H Ova, Queasha D Hardy, Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears, Lea Rayshon Daye, Kee Sam, Aerrion Burnett, Mia Green, Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, Felycya Harris, Brooklyn Deshuna, Sara Blackwood, Angel Unique, Skylar Heath, Yunieski Carey Herrera, Asia Jynae Foster, Chae’Meshia Simms, Kimberly Fial, Jaheim Pugh Jaheim Barbie, Courtney “Eshay” Key, and Alexandria Winchester.

To view the analysis, visit www.mediamatters.org/.

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Victoria A. Brownworth
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.