Even though 2021 was a record year for fatal violence against transgender Americans, major broadcast and cable news outlets devoted a total of only 43 minutes of coverage to the issue, according to a new report from Media Matters for America.
Media Matters looked at news shows on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. It found that more than two-thirds of the 43 minutes came on MSNBC, with the other outlets having less than five minutes each. A total of 19 segments covered the topic.
The year saw at least 57 trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming Americans die by violent means -- the most since activists and media have been keeping track, about 2013. There are probably many more deaths that go unreported or are misreported due to deadnaming or misgendering.
"In addition to lethal attacks, trans people faced alarming rates of violence in the past year: they were sexually assaulted while incarcerated, stabbed, beaten at work, and relentlessly attacked in public," Media Matters reports. "Trans people are disproportionately vulnerable to violence due to discriminatory social factors, such as heightened barriers to accessing health care, stable housing, and jobs. A 2021 Williams Institute study found that 'transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization.'"
The 43 minutes of coverage represented a decrease from the previous year, when these news sources had 54 minutes. This came even though fatal violence toward this population increased -- there were 44 violent deaths reported in 2020, a record at that time.
The quality of the coverage varied greatly across the outlets, Media Matters notes. "The majority of TV news coverage of anti-trans violence did not include a trans person as a guest, with only 7 of the 19 segments featuring a trans or gender-nonconforming guest," the report states.
"Additionally, during a CBS Mornings segment on the topic, CBS reporter Jamie Yuccas deadnamed Nikki Kuhnhausen, a 17-year-old trans girl who was killed in Washington in 2019," Media Matters reports. And only four of the segments used the name of a victim; two of those were on MSNBC and one each on CNN and CBS.
Fox News, which had just two segments and a total of two minutes devoted to anti-trans violence, did not hesitate to cover other trans issues, but these segments usually had a negative bent. The channel "aired 86 segments about trans people from January 20, the day President Joe Biden took office, through March 18 -- primarily fearmongering about trans athletes and lying about best practice health care for trans youth," according to Media Matters.
In 2022, right-wing outlets, including Fox News, have continued "launching hateful attacks against the trans community, including specific calls for violence," the report notes. "On March 31, Fox's Tucker Carlson even falsely claimed that trans people face relatively lower rates of violence, lying that in the U.S., 'you are a lot better off being trans than being not.' Right-wing outlets have also incessantly lied that trans people are 'grooming' children for sexual activity, and trans people in turn have faced real-world harassment and violence, including being publicly assaulted and called a 'groomer.'"
"It is paramount that broadcast and cable networks produce accurate coverage about the record levels of anti-trans violence -- and that coverage must actually feature trans voices," Media Matters concludes. "That TV news networks decreased the amount of coverage they dedicated to anti-trans violence at a time when right-wing voices are spreading anti-trans hate and encouraging the passage of discriminatory legislation is just one symptom of corporate TV news' larger failure to adequately report on issues facing trans people.
"Corporate TV news networks have clearly demonstrated that they have the capacity to cover anti-trans violence but continuously choose to ignore the subject. Each network has a responsibility to inform their viewers with accurate coverage and finally improve this woeful dearth of reporting."