A new report issued by media watchdog Media Matters for America highlights a striking trend in news coverage of transgender people this year: despite a jump in overall coverage, very little airtime has been devoted to the rash of fatal violence that faces trans women of color in the U.S.
In How National Media Outlets Cover Transgender News Stories, Media Matters looked at cable, broadcast, and Spanish-language news stations, including NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Telemundo, and Univision, tallying how much airtime had been devoted to trans people, what topics were focused on, and whether trans-identified people were invited to comment. The findings are eye-opening.
First, the good news: CNN and MSNBC have "extensively" reported trans news stories in the past three months, with a combined total of nearly two hours devoted to such coverage. The bad news? Half of MSNBC's hour of coverage came from Ronan Farrow Daily, a show cancelled in late February. Moreover, 82 percent of CNN's coverage was devoted to speculation on whether former Olympic triathlete Bruce Jenner is a trans woman. The trans commentators invited to speak on CNN were overwhelmingly white, while MSNBC's trans commentators were split evenly between white people and people of color.
Significantly, Media Matters found that the majority of trans news coverage in 2015 was dedicated to Jenner, as well as two other white trans women: imprisoned military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, as well as Ohio trans girl Leelah Alcorn, whose public suicide note gained international attention in late December.
Manning and Alcorn's stories, while incredibly vital, have seemed to overshadow the national "epidemic of fatal violence" facing trans women of color daily, Media Matters' report illustrates. Highlighting quotes from antiviolence workers like Trans Women of Color Collective leader Lourdes Ashley Hunter, and Osman Ahmen of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, the report concludes that "national news networks largely ignored the murders of seven transgender women of color," and networks have largely "failed" to invite trans people of color to comment on issues relevant to their lives.
Trans advocates have long been arriving at the same conclusion, also highlighting local media's tendency to misgender trans victims of violence, in acts that go against journalistic best practices espoused by the Associated Press and GLAAD. Learn more about national TV news trends in Media Matters' report here.