The seat of the matter: Most media updates on Target store controversy miss the obvious

The Target store chain, rocked for months by controversy over its bathroom policy, finally threw in the towel and said it would spend $20 million to build single restrooms for all its stores. Coverage of the announcement, though, was less complete, much of it bypassing the moral/religious cause of the national media storm.

The fracas began this year after Target announced that anyone could use its restrooms based the gender he/she identified with. "Everyone -- every team member, every guest, and every community -- deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally," the statement said.

The announcement followed North Carolina's passage of a law requiring everyone to use the public restroom of his/her biological sex. Transgendered people, their LGBT allies and social liberals cried foul.
Perhaps Target saw a PR opportunity, but it backfired, drawing boycott demands via social media and pickets in front of some stores. For GetReligion readers, the key is that most of the opposition was coming from religious and cultural conservatives. We will come back to that.

This week, the chain confessed that earnings were down -- and, just coincidentally, it was adding the single restrooms.

Now you're up to speed. How have mainstream media been doing?  Not too well, in the case of America's largest newspaper chain. 

USA Today leads with the numbers -- adjusted earnings per share, same-store sales change and such -- then finally gets to the objections in the eighth paragraph:

Target Chief Financial Officer Cathy Smith said the company will add single-stall bathrooms at all of its stores where that option is not currently offered, reflecting a direct response to the debate that erupted earlier this year over its new transgender-bathroom policy.
The company already had single-stall bathrooms that anyone can use at about 1,400 of its 1,800 stores, Target spokesperson Katie Boylan said.
The $20 million investment does not reflect a change in Target's transgender bathroom policy, which allows people to "use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity." But Boylan said the company had heard from critics and wanted to ensure it maintains a welcoming atmosphere for all of its customers.

The article noodles over causes for the downturn: weak sales in electronics, competition from Amazon, "pockets of slowness in the East Coast." Neither Smith nor USA Today breathe a hint that the protests just might possibly have had anything to do with the downturn. This despite the fact that some of its newspapers covered them.

In contrast, a Washington Post article devotes six of its 17 paragraphs to the issue, starting with the headline, "Target to spend $20 million on single-stall bathrooms after backlash to its restroom policy":

Target said Wednesday it is preparing to spend $20 million in the coming months to add single-stall bathrooms along with men’s and women’s restrooms in its stores, a move meant to accommodate shoppers who have expressed concern about the retailers’ policy of allowing customers and employees to use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender they identify with.
"Some of our guests clearly are uncomfortable with our policy, and some are really supportive," said Cathy Smith, Target’s chief financial officer, in a conference call with reporters. 

Despite USA Today's lack of curiosity, someone during that conference call evidently did ask if the bathroom policy had helped caused the sales slowdown. "It’s difficult to tease out one thing," Smith demurs in the AP story, adding that the impact of the issue has "really not been material."

Fair enough. What's unfair is not checking in with the activists. The Richmond Times-Dispatch did so, just only halfway.

In its localized version of the Post story, the Times-Dispatch adds praise from a Richmond-area LGBT activist. He says Target is "making the right decision in providing more opportunities for their customers," including single parents. Says Ted Lewis:

"I think that single-use public restrooms benefit a lot of communities. Definitely the transgendered community, but also families with children. Mothers with sons, fathers with daughters, and caregivers for elderly relatives who need help with the restroom, might be more comfortable in a single-use restroom."

Good, enterprising reporting there. Except for the lack of interest -- the new normal, as noted often here at GetReligion -- in the voices of Target opponents. 

Which brings us to CNN's coverage. Although the article ran in the "Money" section, it leads with the controversy:

Target has decided to expand its use of a third, single-toilet bathroom at all of its stores, which can be locked by users. 
That bathroom can be used by any customer who needs some privacy, including parents with small children of a different gender or those who are uncomfortable with a public bathroom in which a transgender person is allowed. 
"We put that in motion for some time prior to the [June] shareholders meeting," said spokeswoman Katie Boylan. "At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion. We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores." 

Bingo. CNN noticed that objectors have opinions and beliefs, too. The article even leans too far in the other direction, by quoting an opponent but not an advocate:

"We're confident that our boycott has played a significant role in Target's financial results that came out today," said Walker Wildmon, assistant to the president of the American Family Association, which says it promotes traditional moral values. 
Wildmon says Target's policy poses a risk to children and women using women's rooms, a charge denied by LGBT advocates. Boycott leaders had urged Target to install the private restrooms at all locations, but they advocated that the store's policy be changed so that transgender customers and employees no longer be allowed into the bathroom and dressing rooms of their choice. 
"This doesn't completely answer our concerns," said Wildmon. 

CNN may have thought Cathy Smith's quotes provided enough balance to Wildmon's, but I don’t think so. A better match would have been a transgender or LGBT leader, as the Richmond paper sought out.

Another fairness question: How can Wildmon be so sure the boycott affected Target's money problems? There's no inherent sin in opinions, but people should admit when they're being subjective.

Finally, all of these articles lacked feedback from religious leaders, although the leaders have been prominent in the whole long story of the North Carolina law -- like this statement from United Methodist Women against the law. In GetReligion terms, all of the stories are haunted by spiritual "ghosts."

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