Even as the steady advance of civil rights during the past 50 years has quantitatively decreased the supply of racism and bigotry in this country, the mainstream media have feverishly attempted to increase demand for their wares by focusing relentlessly on them, even to the point of creating and amplifying false narratives in pursuit of that aim. Their success comes from wildly exaggerating the scope and public support for ideological crusades and dishonestly reporting on those who hold dissenting views.
The tendency has been particularly noticeable in coverage of two issues that prompt deep and abiding disagreements and considerable debate, except when it comes to the way they are discussed in establishment media. Those issues are transgender rights and race.
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that 0.6 percent of Americans identify as transgender (and a survey in the American Journal of Public Health found an even smaller number—fewer than 1 million). Given this fact, coverage in media outlets of transgender issues is dramatically, disproportionately outsized. A glance at the Transgender Issues page on the New York Times site reveals that the newspaper of record published 30 stories about transgender issues in the month of April alone, bringing the total number of transgender stories it has published since January to 76.
The Times regularly runs stories with titles such as “Coronavirus Economy Especially Harsh for Transgender People” and “Black Trans Women Seek More Space in the Movement They Helped Start.” For perspective, consider that approximately 40 percent of Americans believe in creationism, but the Times hasn’t published a single story on the subject since Paul Krugman mentioned it in passing in a December 2020 column about how Republicans “hate facts.”
Such a disproportionate emphasis might be justifiable if those stories tackled the reality of national disagreements about transgender issues, particularly when it comes to the core ideological principle of transgenderism. As a Pew Research survey found, “roughly half of Americans (54 percent) say that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, while 44 percent say someone can be a man or a woman even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.” There is no unity on this issue among Democrats: “Some 55 percent of black Democrats and 41 percent of Hispanic Democrats say a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, a view shared by just 24 percent of white Democrats.”
Nonetheless, nearly every article that newspapers such as the Times publish about trans issues is framed in pro-trans terms and casts critics of policies such as allowing trans women into all-female spaces or trans athletes in women’s sports in almost exclusively negative terms. A recent Washington Post story about a trans high-school student didn’t even attempt to be objective; the headline read, “A transgender girl struggles to find her voice as lawmakers attack her right to exist.”
Similarly, the Times has published a steady stream of pro-trans opinion pieces in which feminist critics of transgender ideology are described as TERFS (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and portrayed as “heckling and misgendering” activists and engaging in “harassment” for simply stating their views. A typical op-ed likened people who question trans ideology to fascists and noted, “In the United States, the mainstream media has been alarmingly ready to hear ‘both sides’ on the question of trans people’s right to exist.” Concerns about sharing lockers rooms or other women-only spaces are instantly and unquestioningly deemed illegitimate.
It is a rare occasion when the Times allows someone to offer criticism of trans ideology, such as Judith Shulevitz’s exploration of privacy and autonomy in the context of trans activist’s demands and trans critics’ rights (not surprisingly, her thoughtful piece was immediately denounced as “garbage” in a Twitter tirade by Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union).
It is far more common to find mainstream outlets publishing defamatory statements about critics of trans ideology without even rudimentary attempts to confirm the truthfulness of those claims. The aforementioned Strangio, the ACLU’s Deputy Director of Transgender Justice, recently attacked the writer Jesse Singal in the pages of GQ—claiming falsely that Singal had called trans people “disgusting” and complaining about the “sense of empowerment that people feel attacking trans people.” Singal is considering a defamation suit.
“The dangerous sense of empowerment” is not possessed by brave critics like Singal. Rather, it’s coming from inside the house—that is, the house media of the activist left, which increasingly is indistinguishable from the mainstream media that promote its message.
This is even more pronounced with regard to issues of race. In 2019, a graduate student named Zach Goldberg examined the dramatic increase in mainstream media uses of phrases such as “whiteness,” “white privilege,” “critical race theory,” and “systemic racism,” among others.
The frequency of the Times’ use of the phrase “police brutality,” for example, more than tripled between 2013 and 2018, as did the paper’s use of the phrase “marginalized.”
“I tabulated the number of results for NYT each year between 1980-2018,” Goldberg reported on Twitter. “In the end, it seems that ‘racism’ mentions grew both in absolute terms *and* as a percent of all listed articles.” As well, mainstream media outlets have been identifying people by race in their reporting more often in recent years.
The recycling of activist narratives about law enforcement and black Americans also reveals the media’s singleminded approach to complicated issues of race and justice. The most recent attempts to rewrite facts came after teenager Ma’Khia Bryant, who was in the process of swinging a knife at an unarmed girl, was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio, police officer. That officer saved the unarmed girl’s life.
That did not keep the Washington Post’s Radley Balko, a libertarian who was essentially hired by the paper because of his career-long relentless focus on the evils of law enforcement, from tweeting, “They shot the kid who called for help. No hesitation policing.” There was then and there is now no evidence that Bryant was the one who called the cops. And despite the officer’s body cam footage clearly showing Bryant readying the stab, the New York Times published a piece that included a tweet from activist and lawyer Benjamin Crump in which he had claimed that the police had “killed an unarmed 15yo Black girl.” The Times selectively edited out the “unarmed girl” part while keeping Crump’s framing of the events as an unjust killing. “Another child lost! Another hashtag!”
Such sins of omission have become commonplace. Almost no mainstream outlets covered the story when popular anti-racism peddler Ibram X. Kendi accused then–Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett of being a “white colonizer” for having adopted children from Haiti. The only one that did, NBC News, ran a story defending him: “Kendi’s tweet, meanwhile, was taken out of context in order to paint him as anti-white-parents-of-Black-kids and therefore dismiss his greater message about systemic racism,” contributor Susan Silverman wrote.
Similar omissions are commonplace in mainstream-media depictions of the “defund the police” movement, which is portrayed as widely popular and mainstream when, in fact, it is not—particularly among minority communities in high-crime neighborhoods for whom elite media outlets presume to speak.
What all this suggests is that, far from reporting on what most Americans think about and experience with regard to controversial issues, the media actively attempt to shape what they should think about—and frequently signal how readers and viewers are expected to align themselves ideologically if they don’t want to be labeled transphobic or racist.
Is it any surprise, then, that a CATO Institute / YouGov poll from March found that 68 percent of Americans who identify as “very liberal” (and 58 percent of self-identified liberals) believe that America is more racist than other countries? Or that in the past year, according to Pew Research, more Americans think race relations have deteriorated (even though, as the survey showed, most can’t identify specific policies that could improve those relations)?
In fact, liberals are the Americans most in need of entertaining alternative views: A study of partisan geographic segregation in Human Behavior by Jacob Brown and Ryan Enos found that “a large proportion of voters live with virtually no exposure to voters from the other party in their residential environment”—that’s 38 percent of Democrats compared with 19 percent of Republicans.
For all of the elite hand-wringing about the dangers of Fox News, it is the liberal mainstream press—with its multifarious print and online outlets and broadcast and cable networks—that is daily ginning up demand for misinformation and political polarization with one-sided and wildly distorting narratives.
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