Why did Des Moines Register default to wire copy on a hot trans story in Iowa?

It sounds as if the state of Iowa just dodged a bullet -- or a bunch of lawsuits -- having to do with whether churches must obey transgender bathroom rules.

Some background: On July 4, one Des Moines church filed a federal lawsuit saying the state’s human rights law is being newly interpreted to mean pastors can’t preach against transgender rights from their pulpits and that churches will be forced to allow visitors to use church bathrooms consistent with their gender preference instead of birth.

ABC-TV News ran a piece on this July 5. The Des Moines Register ran a long piece about this on July 6. More recently, it updated the controversy: 

DES MOINES, Ia. -- An Iowa Civil Rights Commission brochure that some churches interpreted to mean they must abide by transgender bathroom rules and muzzle ministers who may want to preach against transgender or gay individuals has been changed, the commission said Friday.
The brochure, which was last updated in 2008, led a Des Moines church to file a lawsuit Monday and a Sioux City church to threaten one if the commission didn't change its policy that the churches alleged censored them unconstitutionally.
The commission said Friday it revised the "Revised Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity Public Accommodations Brochure" to make it clear places of worship are generally exempt from Iowa's antidiscrimination law except when they're open for voting, providing a day care facility or other non-religious activities. It also said it regretted any confusion the brochure may have caused.

So, apparently the lawyers got involved and the state is backtracking. But wait: Since when is running a faith-based day care facility or preschool a "non-religious" activity? That's an angle worth exploring in depth.

But back to the original controversy:

The previous brochure suggested the law applies to church services that are open to the public in a question and answer section, titled “Does this law apply to churches?”
“Sometimes … Where qualifications are not related to a bona fide religious purpose, churches are still subject to the law’s provisions. (e.g. a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public),” it read.

Oddly, this update is by the Associated Press.

Nothing against AP, but this was a huge Iowa story in the Register’s back yard and they’re letting the wires cover it? The story is framed by links to an ongoing “Trans in Iowa” series with headlines like, ”What it’s like to be a transgender child in Iowa,” “In Their Words: Transgender Iowans share their stories” and “10 tips for parents of children questioning their gender.”

If the Register was tracking this issue anyway, why were they so late to the table on the preemptive lawsuit this church filed? This church, plus another congregation that is involved in the controversy, has some high-powered legal teams behind them. They weren't lined up in a day, so clearly this was planned in advance. 

And why didn't the Register report on the discussions that went on behind closed doors resulting in the state re-doing its brochure?

There are no lack of angles. The Federalist made an interesting point about state civil rights commissions here and how they’ve become extra-legal independent agencies with far-reaching powers that supersede the First Amendment.

Also, what's with the filing of the lawsuit on a federal holiday? Haven't seen that angle covered. The tempest may have died down for now, but various conservative sites -- of course -- have been reporting on this issue at length. Meanwhile, few other national media I know of had jumped on it.

The MSM is late to the table on coverage more than it should be. On lots of issues, it’s the alternative media that broadcast their alarm for weeks before the major media of the region decide to cover it. In fairness to the typically under-staffed newsroom, sometimes it’s hard to know when to step in. Are the critics being alarmist? Or is there a stealth law hidden in there somewhere?

This actually happened in Washington state the day after Christmas when a transgender bathroom law quietly went into effect. I wrote for GR in March about how the state’s largest newspaper took two weeks to cover that.

The traditional media often don’t have their ears to the ground and aren’t picking up on the genesis of important stories until way too late in the game, especially when that would mean listening to voices on the moral, cultural and religious right.

You may not like the tenor of some of the stories in alternate media or blogs, but when newspapers are ignoring the story until a lawsuit forces them to take notice, it's easy to see why consumers no longer trust said newspapers to keep them abreast of what's important. 

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