The states struck back this week, with 11 joining in a lawsuit against the Obama administration's directive to open public school bathrooms to transgender students. But in a surprise, some mainstream media aren’t sliding into the usual cheerleader mode. The Associated Press, for one, is actually producing (gasp) fair coverage.
Let's look closer.
AP starts with the fact that, rather than enlightened North versus backward South, the suit includes states far outside Dixie:
The lawsuit announced Wednesday includes Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Arizona, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia. It asks a North Texas federal court to declare the directive unlawful in what ranks among the most coordinated and visible legal challenges by states over the socially divisive issue of bathroom rights for transgender persons.
The Obama administration has "conspired to turn workplace and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights," the lawsuit reads.
Pretty forceful language, and livelier than many news articles. They typically quote a liberal or two live, rendering a nice, flowing comment -- then match it with a stiff-sounding posture from a conservative website.
AP gives valuable background in pinpointing the origins of the federal directive: a duel of lawsuits between the U.S. Justice Department and North Carolina over that state's laws requiring transgender people to use public bathrooms of their biological sex, rather than the one they identify with. When several states band together in court, it's easy to forget how they got there.
The enterprising article aims high and low, calling not only the attorney general of Texas but the superintendent of the tiny Harrold school district in northern Texas. Another plus is how AP questions the assumptions of each side: pro-LGBT activists and their traditional foes.
Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas is pressed on "whether he knew of any instances in which a child's safety had been threatened because of transgender bathroom rights. Paxton concedes "there's not a lot of research" on it. He also admits he hasn't met with any parents of transgender students.
Then AP makes an observation that I don’t believe I've ever seen before in a mainstream news article: "The question of whether federal civil rights law protects transgender people has not been definitively answered by the courts and may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court." Most news stories assume law and even history are on the LGBT side. But the court is literally out on that.
My only complaint is that AP doesn't press any individual in the Obama administration in the same way it questioned Paxton. That's probably because he held a news conference, but the White House and the Justice Department didn’t answer questions.
AP also kept an alert watch yesterday, reporting how GOP Congress members killed a spending bill after Democrats attached a rider on gay rights.
The article brings out the expected crossfire of sound bites. "We have to protect the free exercise of religion," Republican Rep. Steve Russell says. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fires back that "Republicans have once again lain bare the depths of their bigotry."
But AP goes further, revealing at least one of the religious "ghosts" behind such conflicts:
Several House Republicans and aides said the issue was proving divisive and emotional within their conference. Thursday morning, House Republicans began a regular closed-door meeting with the reading of a prayer, as usual. But this time, Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia quoted from the biblical book of Romans, including passages that seemed to listeners to relate to those who had supported the Maloney amendment, such as: "Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error."
Lawmakers and aides present said some people were intensely uncomfortable and some walked out. Allen's spokeswoman Madison Fox said the congressman made no reference to the amendment or the bill.
I have only two problems with the story. One is that AP makes the Republicans look negligent. It says that spending bills constitute work that is "the most basic function of Congress." As if the Republicans should have let slide a rider to which they object, a rider that has little to do with a spending bill on water and energy.
The other problem is the usual labeling error: "conservative" Republicans versus non-adjective Democrats. When some of the latter shouted "Shame! Shame!" after Republicans turned against the bill, they could validly be called liberal, no?
Still, the story could have been much worse. Take the video by London-based Channel 4 News, which uses sitdown interviews to personalize the situation in Charlotte.
First, the seven-minute report interviews two transgender musicians, then two brothers who oppose pro-transgender laws on religious and moral grounds. Channel 4 calls them the "all-American Benham brothers, poster boys of the religious right, and twin sons of an evangelical pastor." No such taint is painted on the transgender interviewees.
There's also an amateur clip of a large woman shouting her way through a Target store, waving a Bible and protesting how they're "opening their bathrooms to perverted men." Channel 4 doesn't interview her live. But it does interview a calm, urbane City Council member who wants to restore the original LGBT ordinance.
It may seem strange to applaud when the Associated Press does what should be normal coverage. But at a time when so many media have deserted their role as informers -- in favor of ideology and propaganda -- normal work stands out.
Thumb: Transgender Pride flag, designed by Monica Helms, first shown at a parade in Phoenix in 2000. Public domain picture, via Wikimedia.