AP deploys full Kellerism to summarize North Carolina's 'bathroom bill' business price tag

North Carolina's HB2, the so-called "bathroom bill," is again making headlines, this time in a rather large and detailed Associated Press account of the economic losses the news organization reports the Tar Heel State has suffered:

Despite Republican assurances that North Carolina's "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy, the law limiting LGBT protections will cost the state more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Over the past year, North Carolina has suffered financial hits ranging from scuttled plans for a PayPal facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion to the state's economy to a canceled Ringo Starr concert that deprived a town's amphitheater of about $33,000 in revenue. The blows have landed in the state's biggest cities as well as towns surrounding its flagship university, and from the mountains to the coast. ...
The AP analysis (http://apne.ws/2n9GSjE ) -- compiled through interviews and public records requests — represents the largest reckoning yet of how much the law, passed one year ago, could cost the state. The law excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from statewide antidiscrimination protections, and requires transgender people to use restrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates in many public buildings.

While it may surprise some folks that the 76-year-old former Beatle, born Richard Starkey, is still touring, it seems equally surprising that the AP, once held up as an example of objectivity and down-the-middle reporting, has produced a report laden with advocacy language. The piece lacks almost any perspective from those who believe HB2 has its merits, particularly on faith-based grounds and the protection of women and children. (I say "has" instead of "had" because, despite efforts to repeal the law, HB2 remains on the books, as the ABC News video above shows.)

The North Carolina "bathroom bill" issue has attracted global media attention and allegedly was the reason companies such as PayPal, Deutsche Bank and real estate firm CoStar decided against basing offices or expansion in the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who may have won his job last November in part because of a backlash over HB2, told the news agency, "We now know that, based on conservative estimates, North Carolina's economy stands to lose nearly $4 billion because of House Bill 2. ... We need to fix this now."

Then again, the AP last week issued an update to its noted Stylebook that suggests a decision on gender reporting issues has been made. Discussing "gender," the update reads:

Not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics. Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people. When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.
Language around gender is evolving. Newsrooms and organizations outside AP may need to make decisions, based on necessity and audience, on terms that differ from or are not covered by AP’s specific recommendations. For instance, the AP recommends the term sex reassignment for the medical procedures used for gender transition, while some groups use the term gender confirmation instead. The AP allows for LGBT and LGBTQ to be used on first reference without spelling out the acronyms; some other organizations use LGBTQIA and other variations on first reference or without explanation.

Well, "leading medical organizations" have decided the matter, so that's that, I suppose. No room for discussion, debate or dissension. Next!

Here at GetReligion, we view such presentations as examples of "Kellerism," the editorial view (doctrine?) that once a moral, cultural or religious issue has been decided, there's no need to present other viewpoints, such as those whose faith-based worldview might clash with the opinions of "leading medical organizations." 

The AP adheres to this in its "analysis," allowing only a slight, unattributed rebuttal to the argument that HB2 is bad not only for pop music fans but also for North Carolina's economy:

HB2 supporters say its costs have been tiny compared with an economy estimated at more than $500 billion a year, roughly the size of Sweden's. They say they're willing to absorb those costs if the law prevents sexual predators posing as transgender people from entering private spaces to molest women and girls — acts the law's detractors say are imagined.

Among those "imagined" acts might be a July 2016 incident in Ammon, Idaho, in which "a transgender Idaho Falls woman was arrested ... on one count of felony voyeurism" in a "private space" at the local Target store, specifically a dressing room. Such incidents are what HB2 supporters say motivated the passage of the North Carolina bill, which only covers restrooms in public buildings and not private businesses.

Granted, this is an economics-oriented story and not an issues analysis. But even there, the AP falls short, I believe, in presenting important viewpoints. KeepMyNCSafe.com, an advocacy group, noted dozens of businesses, by name, that lined up to support HB2. While the majority appear to be small businesses, some may not be, and perhaps one or two could have been interviewed by the AP.

But the "holy ghost" in this story is the AP's total omission — except for noting the Lutheran Financial Managers Convention dropped Fayetteville as a convention location, costing the town $36,000 — of the faith community there. Billy Graham lives near Asheville, of course, and the evangelistic group that bears his name employs hundreds in Charlotte. Numerous other evangelical organizations and ministries are in the state as well. Among those enterprises is the Inspiration Network, the renamed remnant of Jim Bakker's onetime satellite/cable franchise.

Was there not one executive at any of these groups available? The Graham organization, in 2015, reported a total of $90 million in contributions, which surely makes it a major economic force, given that the ministry also spent $9.7 million in general and administrative costs. Let's also remember that there's a Billy Graham Library in Charlotte and a Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, each of which draws thousands of visitors annually.

From an economic standpoint and a public opinion standpoint, the AP's tally of costs for HB2 comes up short. The business voices are heavily weighted towards HB2's critics, and the faith-friendly voices are missing. And for many readers, that's a disappointment.

Home page image: Gender-neutral toilets at the sociology department, Gothenburg University in Gothenburg, Sweden, public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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