Eyes of Texas are on religious leaders -- pro and con -- as state debates transgender-friendly bathrooms

As you may recall, I was not impressed with initial media reporting on a transgender-related bathroom bill in Texas.

Perhaps the title of my January post -- "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" -- gives some clue as to my overall analysis of the news coverage.

Fast-forward to recent stories on religious leaders in the Lone Star State entering the fray, and I'm feeling a little more generous in my appraisal.

The Austin American-Statesman, in particular, deserves a high passing grade for its fair, evenhanded treatment of the Godbeat angle:

I should stress that I'm grading on a curve because the American-Statesman -- like other news organizations -- faced the difficulty of reporting on both sides when one side closed its proceedings to the press. 

The lede from the Austin newspaper:

The fight over legislation to block transgender-friendly bathroom policies ventured into the religious realm Thursday as faith leaders gathered in Austin to promote competing views.
The day began with a closed-door briefing for Christian pastors by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and other state officials who see religious support as crucial to the passage of Senate Bill 6, which would limit the use of bathrooms in schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate.
The event by the U.S. Pastor Council was billed as “show up time” for those who would lead the fight in support of the bill.
That was followed by an afternoon gathering of more than 40 religious leaders — many holding signs reading “My faith does not discriminate” — who oppose SB 6 as immoral.
“Our lawmakers are considering anti-transgender bathroom bills and bills that come disguised as religious freedom — dangerous pieces of legislation that place a religious mask over what amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination,” said the Rev. Taylor Fuerst of First United Methodist Church, where the event was held.

So the side opposing the legislation gets top billing as far as direct quotes? Yes. And it's hard to argue with that when the other side refuses to talk.

Most reporters — especially the good ones — hate quoting from press releases, but the American-Statesman does just that when faced with no alternative (besides leaving out that side's perspective):

The event was closed to reporters, but a news release from the Texas Pastor Council said SB 6 was a central issue at the gathering.
Pastor Willie Davis of Houston said the fight over SB 6 reminded him of the battle against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which voters rejected in 2015. The ordinance banned discrimination based on a range of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We proved that these ordinances create unequal rights for a tiny few who are broken and hurting that, instead of pointing them toward hope and healing, trample on the safety, privacy and freedom of our women and children,” Davis said in a written statement.
The fight against transgender bathrooms was based on lessons learned in the civil rights movement, he said.
“Equal protection means exactly that, and we must keep all Texas women and children from suffering the violation of their privacy and safety that American blacks fought to eliminate,” Davis said.

The other thing I like about the American-Statesman's report? The paper relies on words — rather than scare quotes — to tell the story. 

Compare that to the Texas Tribune: In a piece that seems tilted toward the progressive side, the Tribune uses square quotes around terms such as "bathroom bill" and "biological sex." Scare quotes are, of course, the journalistic equivalent of rolling one's eyes.

A much better approach for an unbiased news source: Explain in simple language — as the American-Statesman does — what the bill would do ("limit the use of bathrooms in schools and government buildings to the sex listed on a person's birth certificate").

I am not a regular reader of the American-Statesman, so I can't say whether the item critiqued is typical for that newspaper. In any case, kudos for the nice job on this story.

Texas Capitol image via Pixabay.com

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