In so-called news story on #BoycottTarget, Associated Press shows its bias

The Associated Press Stylebook — the bible of American journalists — has this entry on use of the term "so called":

so called 
(adv.) so-called (adj.) Use sparingly. Do not follow with quotation marks. Example: He is accused of trading so-called blood diamonds to finance the war.

After reading the AP's latest story on some consumers' boycott of Target over its transgender bathroom policy, I'm thinking the wire service might want to use "so called" a little more sparingly. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let me back up and remind readers of what I said about the editorialized nature of "so called" nearly a year ago:

Back in the present: GetReligion earlier highlighted media coverage of the #BoycottTarget petition that has — as of this moment — close to 1.2 million signatures:

In that post, I suggested:

Here's what I'd love to see: an actual person who signed the petition quoted and given a chance to explain why. (Or maybe even more than one!)

So let's check out the AP story, starting at the top:

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumer backlash is growing against Target's stance on what type of bathrooms its transgender customers and employees can use.
Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis-based discounter issued a statement that said customers and employees can use the restroom or fitting room that "corresponds to their gender identity." The move made Target the first major retailer to take such a prominent position on the issue, and won praise from supporters of transgender rights. But Target's position has also sparked criticism on social media.
One online petition started by a group called The American Family Association, a conservative Christian advocacy group, calls for a boycott of Target stores. And customer surveys from two research firms separately show that Target's reputation has taken a hit.
Still, analysts say it's hard to gauge the impact —if any— the backlash has had on Target's business.
Target's spokeswoman Molly Snyder declined to comment for the story, only saying the retailer stood by its earlier statement. She also declined to say whether the backlash has affected sales.

Does AP quote anyone who actually signed the petition? I guess this source counts, although the wire service doesn't provide a whole lot of insight:

Bryan Kemper, youth outreach director for Staying True, the youth arm for Priests for Life, an anti-abortion group, said that last week he put up a video critiquing Target's decision on his Facebook page that has now garnered more than 250,000 views. He is boycotting the retailer. "Everyone deserves privacy," he said.

But here's the paragraph of the story that stuck out:

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, has remained silent on the restroom issue. But CEO Doug McMillon was among a group of CEOs who last year opposed the so-called religious freedom laws that allow faith-based groups to deny services or jobs based on sexual orientation. Wal-Mart's outsized influence was credited for pressing the governor of Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart's headquarters, for signing an amended version.

So-called religious freedom laws? Please, AP, go ahead and show your bias in your so-called news story.

Yes, the wire service avoided the kind of "scare quotes" that often accompany mainstream media coverage of this subject:

However, the use of "so called" frames the issue in a slanted way. So does the one-sided notion that religious people want to "deny services" as opposed to adhering to their beliefs and not violating their conscience.

This, too, we have covered in depth here at GetReligion:

Interestingly enough, AP recently reported that trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias — with just 6 percent of people saying they have a lot of confidence in the media.

Wow, I can't imagine why that might be.

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