Even if you live far from the Lone Star State, the weeping and gnashing of teeth — on the part of the news media — were difficult to miss last week.
Suffice it to say that elite journalists are beside themselves over this: Top Texas Republicans seem intent on heading down the same dangerous, discriminatory path as North Carolina. At least that's the slanted perspective that major newspapers advanced after Thursday's unveiling of a Texas "bathroom bill" (scare quotes courtesy of the news media).
In the following "news story" lede, please help me count how many different ways the Dallas Morning News editorializes its concerns:
AUSTIN -- Cities like Dallas and Austin could have to undo local laws that protect transgender people from discrimination if Texas passes the so-called bathroom bill unveiled Thursday, a proposal panned by the business community that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies.
OK, what's your count?
I got five:
1. "could have to undo local laws"
2. "that protect transgender people from discrimination"
3. "the so-called bathroom bill"
4. "a proposal panned by the business community"
5. "that's wreaked havoc on other states' economies"
Man, I sure hope the Dallas Morning News doesn't waste space by writing a separate editorial on this subject. Just include a note on the opinion page referring to the front-page "news story."
Keep reading, and the Dallas newspaper provides a few details on the legislation before pushing more negative background:
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican from Brenham, will sponsor the bill. She announced her bill Thursday with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has made passing a bathroom bill one of his top priorities for this year's legislative session.
"Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,'" Patrick said. "This legislation, the Texas Privacy Act, that Sen. Kolkhorst is filing today, is unquestionably one of the things that matters. It's the right thing to do."
The bill takes cues from legislation passed in North Carolina and Indiana in recent years, laws that have caused substantial political headaches for those states' leaders and resulted in both states losing millions in business investment. Texas business leaders warn that similar efforts here would be seen as a discriminatory, too and could cost the Lone Star State up to $8.5 billion.
Once or twice or a few million times, we at GetReligion have explained what we mean when we refer to "scare quotes."
Dictionary.com defines them this way:
A pair of quotation marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.
In the Dallas Morning News story, the description "transgender men" does not require scare quotes. But the concept of a person's "biological sex" apparently does:
If signed into law as it is written, Kolkhorst's Senate Bill 6 would mean cities couldn't pass local ordinances that require private business to have specific rules for bathrooms or changing rooms.
Those decisions would be left entirely up to each private businesses under this bill, which could choose to allow transgender men to use the men's room, or restrict patrons to use only those restrooms that match their "biological sex."
I could go on, but you get the idea: The Dallas newspaper story is heavily tilted in favor of one side — the side that opposes the bathroom bill. That's advocacy, not journalism.
I offer that assessment just FYI in case the Dallas Morning News still claims (despite strong evidence to the contrary) to provide unbiased news coverage on issues of gender and sexuality. Yes, this is a classic example of what GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly has dubbed Kellerism.
Like the Dallas Morning News, other state and national major papers approached the Texas bathroom bill story with a heavy emphasis on North Carolina and dire warnings from Democrats and business leaders.
But a few papers did a better job than the Dallas Morning News when it came to a balanced presentation of the facts.
AUSTIN — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a state senator on Thursday unveiled the details of a bill that would require transgender Texans to use public bathrooms that correspond with their sex assigned at birth, setting the stage for what is expected to be a bruising cultural clash when the Legislature convenes next week.
Sponsored by Republican Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, Senate Bill 6, dubbed the Texas Privacy Act, would prohibit city and county officials from adopting ordinances that prevent private businesses from making policies for their bathrooms and dressing rooms.
It also would bar local officials from considering such anti-discrimination measures when awarding government contracts.
Another part of the proposed legislation would require each locker room or restroom in government buildings, public schools and universities to be designated for use based on biological sex.
The bill, which allows schools to make special accommodations, would authorize the attorney general to levy a civil penalty if local governments and school districts do not follow the regulations.
The controversial bill, which Patrick has called a top priority for lawmakers, is certain to develop into a high-profile fight in the Legislature, pitting conservative Republicans against a coalition of Democrats, business interests and civil rights groups who say the measure is discriminatory, will harm businesses large and small, and will put the state at a competitive disadvantage for economic development.
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal opened its story like this:
DALLAS — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas unveiled a bill Thursday that would require people to use the bathrooms of their birth genders in public schools, and state and local government facilities—while brushing aside worries the legislation would cause an economic backlash.
At a news conference in Austin just days before Texas convenes its regular legislative session, a defiant Mr. Patrick said the bill, which is expected to spur a fierce battle over transgender rights, would protect children in public schools and anyone else who uses public facilities.
So, just for the purposes of discussion, why would Texas lawmakers attempt to advance such an unpopular bill?
Well, it could be because the measure actually has support from a majority of Texans — the Dallas Morning News newsroom notwithstanding.
In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll from October, 51% of respondents in the state said transgender people should use the facilities that match their birth gender, while 31% said it should be based on gender identity. The rest said they did not know.
And the WSJ points out:
Supporters, though, said the measure has support from Texans and point to Houston, where voters rejected a proposal in 2015 to extend antidiscrimination protections to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual transgender residents.
Just don't look for such facts in the Dallas Morning News story.