Facts, framing and fairness: Three questions to consider on Trump transgender bathroom decision

One of the big news stories of the past 24 hours — in fact, the lead story in today's Washington Post and New York Times — involves the Trump administration's decision on transgender students using public school restrooms and locker rooms.

Interestingly, the story did not make the front page of USA Today or the Wall Street Journal.

I quickly read the coverage from those four national newspapers, along with reports from The Associated Press, CNN and Reuters.

In case you missed the headlines, the lede from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transgender students on Wednesday lost federal protections that allowed them to use school bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, as the Trump administration stepped into a long-simmering national debate.
The administration came down on the side of states' rights, lifting Obama-era federal guidelines that had been characterized by Republicans as an example of overreach.
Without the Obama directive, it will be up to states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law and determine whether students should have access to restrooms in accordance with their expressed gender identity and not just their biological sex.
"This is an issue best solved at the state and local level," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "Schools, communities and families can find — and in many cases have found — solutions that protect all students.

In my rapid-fire assessment of the stories, I'm interested in three key questions:

1. Does the media outlet pitch the question as solely related to bathrooms? Or does it include mention of locker rooms and shower facilities?

This question is crucial because of the issue of students undressing and undressing in front of someone of a different biological sex.

As you can tell from the material quoted above, AP mentions "bathrooms and locker rooms" in the first sentence.

On the other hand, the New York Times and Reuters refer — throughout their stories — only to bathrooms. The Washington Post brings up "locker rooms" deep in its story, in a quote from a concerned mother. 

The Wall Street Journal hits closer to the mark:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday formally withdrew Obama administration guidance enabling transgender individuals to use sex-segregated facilities, including bathrooms, of their choice.

CNN, in its lede, cites "bathrooms and facilities corresponding with their gender identity." USA Today, meanwhile, highlights the locker room component.

2. Does the media outlet frame the issue as entirely a matter of removing protections for transgender students? Or does the report include opponents' concerns about privacy and safety?

Again, AP provides helpful coverage:

The reversal is a setback for transgender rights groups, which had been urging Trump to keep the guidelines in place. Advocates say federal law will still prohibit discrimination against students based on their gender or sexual orientation.
Still, they say lifting the Obama directive puts children in harm's way.
"Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it's OK with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Activists protested the move Wednesday outside the White House. "Respect existence or expect resistance," read one placard.
Conservatives hailed the change, saying the Obama directives were illegal and violated the rights of fixed-gender students, especially girls who did not feel safe changing clothes or using restrooms next to anatomical males.
"Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues," said Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy. "It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity."

But in the Reuters report, the words "privacy" and "safety" do not appear. On the other hand, coverage by CNN, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post do reflect — to varying degrees — those concerns.

From USA Today:

Ryan Anderson, a senior research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Obama guidelines were unlawful because federal Title IX law protects students based on their sex, not their gender identity. He also said that those directives violated the rights of other students, especially girls who may have suffered from sexual abuse in the past and do not want to be exposed to male anatomy. "It's understandable when a 16-year-old girl might not want an anatomical male in the shower or the locker room," Anderson said.

The New York Times notes that social conservatives "had argued that former President Barack Obama’s policy would allow potential sexual predators access to bathrooms and create an unsafe environment for children."

3. Is the story fair? Does the media outlet quote advocates on both sides?

As I already noted, AP quotes both sides in its evenhanded account.

On the other hand, except for the Ryan Anderson quote above, USA Today's story seems tilted toward the gay-rights side.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports up high:

Reversing the Obama guidelines stands to inflame passions in the latest conflict in America between believers in traditional values and social progressives, and is likely to prompt more of the street protests that followed Trump's Nov. 8 election.

But then the wire service proceeds to quote gay-rights advocates from organizations such as Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT project, along with a Virginia transgender student suing to use the boys' room. Besides politicians involved in the case, no one on the other side — say, those "believers in traditional values" — are quoted. CNN's coverage suffers from similar imbalance.

The Wall Street Journal does a better job, quoting sources from the Human Rights Campaign as well as the Family Research Council.

On the other hand, the New York Times gives the Human Rights Campaign — a gay-rights group — a voice but neglects to include anyone from the other side in a story that focuses mainly on the politics. Kellerism, anyone?

The Washington Post's report strikes me as fair, representing both sides in this big chunk of text:

Advocates said the withdrawal of the federal guidance will create another layer of confusion for schools and will make transgender students, who are already vulnerable, more so.
“Attacking our children . . . is no way to say you support and respect LGBTQ people,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Others said the practical effect on the nation’s schools would be muted, in part because a federal judge already had blocked the Obama guidance in response to a lawsuit from 13 states that argued it violated states’ rights. And it is possible the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the matter soon, as it plans to consider a Virginia case involving a transgender teenager who was barred from using the boys’ bathroom at his high school.
The Trump administration’s move drew cheers from social conservatives who oppose the idea that a student can identify as a gender that differs from their anatomy at birth.
Vicki Wilson, the mother of a child at Fremd High School in Palatine, Ill., said she sympathizes with children who have “difficult personal issues” to deal with, but thinks that “young men shouldn’t be permitted to deal with those issues in an intimate setting like a locker room with young women.”
School district officials in Palatine, bowing to federal pressure, allowed a transgender girl to change in the girls’ locker room at her school. “No school should impose a policy like this against the will of so many parents,” Wilson said during a news conference organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization.

I'll stress again that I read the stories quickly. 

There's every possibility that I missed something important. In that case, by all means, please feel free to let me know. Tweet us at @GetReligion or leave a comment below.

Please remember, as always, that we are concerned with journalism and media-related questions. This is not the place to voice your opinion, pro or con, of the Trump administration's position.

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