Rebecca Juro

The MSNBC Anti-LGBT Hate Connection

Filed By Rebecca Juro | May 24, 2011 11:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: cable news, Chrissy Lee Polis, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, trans in the media, transgender news

Have you ever wondered why you never, ever see transgender-identified guests appear on supposedly liberal and progressive MSNBC? Don't you think it's kind of odd that even lesbian and gender-variant Rachel Maddow completely erases trans people from her coverage, even when a story is directly relevant to trans lives (notice how Maddow mentions that the hate crimes law protects Americans on the basis of gender identity but doesn't bother to define that uncommon term for her audience)?

msnbc.jpeg Have you noticed that while MSNBC provides hours and hours of coverage of lesbians and gays employed by the government, as they did when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a hot topic last year, you never see them cover the struggles of the vastly larger group of LGBT Americans, or even of straight Americans, who work in the private sector?

When the transphobic beating of Chrissy Lee Polis last month at a Baltimore County McDonald's was covered by just about every mainstream media outlet in the country, including the Associated Press, UPI, The Washington Post, the local news coverage of all three major networks, George Stephenopolis on Good Morning America, and even Sean Hannity on FOX, did you wonder why the only major mainstream news outlet that completely ignored the story was supposedly liberal and left-wing MSNBC?

The Connection

The answer to these questions is probably simpler than you expect. It's not about editorial choice, as some would have you believe, but rather that at least one of the major corporations that owns MSNBC is not only simply not in favor of enacting those protections but is actually actively working to prevent LGBT Americans working in the private sector from gaining legal protections against discrimination.

In Tennessee, where both houses of the legislature just passed a bill that will prevent that state's cities and municipalities in the state from enacting anti-discrimination protections for their LGBT citizens, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce was one of the hardest lobbyers for its passage. That organization includes among their board members not only such major American corporations such as AT&T, Alcoa, FedEx, DuPont, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Caterpillar, KPMG, Whirlpool, Nissan, and United Healthcare, but also Comcast, a part owner of NBC, and, therefore, of MSNBC.

As reported at Americablog, Daily Kos, and elsewhere, Alcoa has been the only Tennessee Chamber of Commerce board member to completely disavow the Chamber's support for the Tennessee bill and declare its opposition, which currently awaits the governor's signature. Three other board members, FedEx, Nissan, and AT&T, have released statements on the Chamber's support for the bill, distancing themselves from it, but have not actually declared that they oppose the bill becoming law. Also, bear in mind that we're not talking about companies that are simply Tennessee Chamber of Commerce members here, we're talking about the organization's Board Members, who have direct influence and voting power in setting the Chamber's agenda and what legislation it will and will not support. To date, Comcast has remained publicly silent on the issue.

But wait...there's more.

Who's Pulling The Strings?

It's fair to say that if you want to gain insight into who's really pulling the strings at any politically-active entity, the first place you should look is at who's signing the checks. Who's signing the checks at MSNBC? As with any commercial media, aside from the network owners themselves, it's the sponsors, the business interests that run advertisements on the network. Among MSNBC's largest and most omnipresent sponsors is ExxonMobil, the only Fortune 500 corporation ever to actually rescind anti-discrimination protections for its LGBT employees after they had already been adopted.

ExxonMobil's argument in favor of repealing those protections for Mobil employees when Exxon bought the company, and their refusal to enact them once the companies had merged into the largest energy mega-conglomerate on Earth, is that U.S. law doesn't require them to do so. With a record like that, it's fair to say that ExxonMobil is probably not in favor of helping LGBT workers gain any more rights or anti-discrimination protections than we already have. In fact, it has a vested interest in doing whatever they possibly can to prevent those rights and protections from being enacted in the future.

No Influence?

Anyone who watches MSNBC with any regularity probably knows that Rachel Maddow and others who host shows on the network or have in the past have often publicly claimed that corporate higher-ups exert no influence on what their hosts choose to cover or on the political positions they take. That's probably true, as far as it goes. Yet, how many hosts in corporate-owned cable news media are going to go directly against the known interests of their own sponsors in their coverage? Chances are they won't, not if they wish to keep their very highly-paid jobs. Anyone who believes that cable news media puts the interests of their viewers ahead of those of their sponsors need only heed the lesson of Glenn Beck. Despite being highly appealing to his viewing audience, Beck's on-air content did not encourage sponsors to continue advertising on his show, and so his show on FOX is going away.

It doesn't take an edict, or even so much as a single word, from MSNBC's corporate overlords to get Rachel Maddow and the rest of MSNBC's on-air hosts to decide not to cover trans people or the movement to protect civilian LGBT American workers from discrimination in this country. Anyone who works in that industry, or even just pays close attention to it, knows perfectly well that when you do anything that angers your major sponsors, and therefore threatens your employer's income stream, it's highly likely that your days are numbered at that employer.

So, if you've ever wondered why, despite the reality that trans-relevant stories like the Chrissy Lee Polis beating are getting more and more mainstream news media coverage than ever before, they're still consistently ignored by supposedly progressive MSNBC, or if you've wondered why LGBT American workers employed by the government military get plenty of coverage on the network, but both straight and LGBT American workers employed by private industry get virtually none at all, now you know why. It's not about reporting the news, it's not about journalism, and it's certainly not about serving the needs and interests of their viewers. It's all about money, about making as much of it as possible for themselves, their sponsors, and their network.

Remember, when your news and opinions are coming from someone who makes more money in a single day than you probably make in a year, someone who's dependent upon the continuing good will of corporate interests that are actively working against your equal rights and treatment as an American citizen, in order to continue making that kind of income, it's more than fair to ask just whose side they're really on.

Comcast Speaks

Comcast finally released a statement. However, the company is not explicitly opposing the bill, nor has it renounced its membership in the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce Board:

At Comcast, we believe it's simple: discrimination is wrong. Our policy of non-discrimination provides the same protections to all our employees, whether in Tennessee or any other state. Consistent with that, we don't support Tennessee SB632/HB600. Comcast agrees with the NGLCC [National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce], "No one should be judged by his or her sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace. In this delicate economic climate, diminishing the rights of LGBT people sends the wrong signal across Tennessee and around the country."

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I'm not sure that the connection is really that strong. Comcast only acquired a 51% share of NBC Universal in January (the 28th in fact) of this year. That's only just about 5 months ago. The activity your describing as going on at MSNBC has been going on for at least the last 2 years if not more, since I've been watching the network since just before the 2008 election. While I'm no fan of Comcast it's hard to blame them for actions of MSNBC that have been going on for years.

However, GE (that owns the other chunk) isn't that GLBT/LGBT friendly either.

Very true, which is kind of my point. This post points it all at Comcast and doesn't mention GE at all, but then GE hasn't been listed as a member of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Comcast has. If you want to connect MSNBC to anti-LGBT hate then you should be looking at GE first as Comcast and MSNBC have very little real history yet; but then that wouldn't add anything to the conversation about this hateful bill in Tennessee.

Brad Bailey | May 24, 2011 2:00 PM

I'm glad that ComCast took a public stand against the Tennessee bill.

The major television news stations take their cues from both the bottom line and from ratings. That's why they have so many fluff segments that aren't really news-worthy but have public appeal.

That's also why I make it a point to listen outside news sources like Russian Television and Al Jazeera on YouTube to get a broader viewpoint on a given topic.

But I have to admit I haven't seen any news items about transgender issues on those stations either.

Stephen, I disagree. We're talking news media, live television, where a few months is more than enough time for agenda and format changes to take place. At the same time, I agree with Jonathan that GE hasn't demonstrated it's particularly LGBT friendly either, and they've been an MSNBC owner for much longer.

Brad, I'm also glad that Comcast finally took a stand, but I think it's quite telling that none of the corporations on the Board had said a word until they began getting called out on it publicly just a few days ago. Don't forget we're talking about those with voting and agenda-setting power. They had to know that the Chamber was supporting this bill for a while now, yet they said and did nothing to oppose it until cornered by the media. If they truly opposed the bill on principled grounds, why wait until now, when the bill was already on the Governor's desk ready to be signed, to declare their opposition? It seems far more likely to me that that these corpoations don't actually oppose this new law, they just want to avoid the fallout from being publicly seen as actively supporting its passage now that it's a hot topic in the media.

Irrespective of the time frame when Comcast came into the MSNBC picture, Rebecca's article raises a much larger issue - corporate, non-localized ownership of the media. Our local yet national corporately owned newspaper of record (Baltimore Sun) didn't well cover Chrissy's transphobic beat down until *after* it became safe so to do. I think only multi-mediated locally controlled non-profit news is going to provide an honest news product.

I have a different perspective on this Rebecca remember that Rachel Maddow is a "gender variant lesbian" as you called her. If the company is really that anti LGBT why hasn't she been fired? Now since you called her a "gender variant lesbian" could it be that maybe just maybe shes one of the butch lesbians that accuse transmen of trying to out butch them? heres some video of that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcZzyfg_dec&feature=related
Or maybe shes one of the lesbian women who believe only women born womyn can really be lesbian so she despises both transgender and transsexual identified lesbians. I'm not so sure I see your blame the corporation argument when it appears more obvious that maybe it should be a blame LGB prejudism towards transsexuals and those who identify as transgender thing.

Amy, I'm not going after Maddow specifically but rather MSNBC as a whole. None of their hosts, past or present, have have had any trans people on as guests or include us in their coverage. It's not a Maddow problem, it's an MSNBC problem.

Om Kalthoum | May 25, 2011 2:33 AM

What is the video you linked to have to do with Rachel Maddow? It's almost 11 minutes of some kid rambling on about I know not what. I lasted 3 minutes before I bailed.

Becky, I'm just curious if Maddow's poor record might have to do with her own discomfort with trans people... particularly trans women. She wouldn't be the first butch-ish lesbian to feel that way. I'm saying this as a possibility, not a fact.

Whatever her feelings, I totally agree with you that Comcast and GE absolutely have an influence on content and to think otherwise is naive. No corporation owns a "property" only to be totally hands off. And news is a profit-making enterprise just as much as entertainment programming.

As you said, just a possibility, but to add a data point to that, when Maddow covered Amanda Simpson's appointment, she seemed pretty respectful. At least it didn't seem like she was biting back rancor, but of course we can only speculate.

Yes she did, but A) Amanda Simpson is a political appointee, in other words a government employee, not someone working in the private sector, and B) Maddow only covered that because she (apparently) got a lot of email complaining about her erasure of trans people from the hate crimes story, which had aired just a few days previously.

Ahh, I didn't know that. That's a shame.

Amy and Gina, before attributing any possible anti-trans feelings to Maddow, please remember that the vast majority of butches are in no way anti-trans. I'm a proud butch, and I lobby for trans rights. Most of butches I know do something similar. Those of us who are comfortable in our own skin are the first to congratulate our FTM brothers on their transitions or welcome our MTF sisters.

Are there some anti-trans butches? Yes. I can think of one particular internet example. But it is not the reality for most butches. Sweeping comments like these only further the divide.

And just another note...not all butches identify as either women or lesbians.

@Rev. Emily: No, sorry, I can't retract that one and I believe my question about Maddow is entirely appropriate to ask. Nor do I think she's the only one at the network who should be held accountable... they all should. Anyone who claims to cover news of the LGBTQ world yet not include trans people in that mix deserves to be questioned about their real world attitudes just as we should question news people about their attitudes towards corporate and racial/economic/gender diversity.

And I've encountered too many butches who were transphobes and I'm not just talking about the Internet, I'm talking about in the 3D world (and I live in SF, I've seen a lot). There are butches who are very supportive of trans masculine genderqueer people but not at all supportive of trans women or trans men (esp. those who medically transition). I've seen self-ID'd Bois make some of the most trans women hating comments around. There are also butches (I can think of one who works at the Transgender Law Center) who are extremely supportive of our community while there are others who are totally uncomfortable with any display of femme behavior unless it's by a cis-woman. It's a spectrum as with most things. But for someone to assume that, just because someone is FAAB and has a masculine gender expression that they're, therefore, cool with trans people, is kind naive. And btw, I hope I call trans people on their respective homophobia, sexism and racism when I see it as well.

I am certainly not naive to the fact that there are some really transphobic butches. Having argued with some of them, I am well aware. I never denied that. I simply said that it's not true that all of us, or even the majority of us, are. Further, I know of butches who almost exclusively date trans women. All I'm saying is don't paint us with a broad brush here. There are plenty of us who are good trans allies. In fact, I would argue that your average butch is more trans supportive than many other members of the LGBTQ community.

Reggie777 | May 24, 2011 6:41 PM

I have to comment. Trying to paint Rachel Maddow with this kind of brush is just plain crazy. I've watched her, and followed her for quite some time, and have seen her talk Truth to Power many, many times. If your argument is that she did not cover one issue, therefore she must be trying to cover over existence of ALL people it refer to, is not only weak, as an argument, but really disrespectful of all the other good this peron has done. Yes, I am a fan of Ms. Maddow. Because she has always been fair, and accurate in her stories, and items. You might still have an point to make about MSNBC. But to base it on a false premise, that Rachel is party to it, makes you look, at best, desperate, and at worst, stupid.

Read my piece again, Reggie. It wasn't about Maddow only, it was about the entire channel. And yes, she is as guilty as anyone. It's not about any one issue, it's that the network excludes trans people entirely, both in guest appearances and on-air content. She most certainly has NOT always been fair and she, like the rest of MSNBC's hosts, deserves to be called out for it. For an example, check out the video of her coverage of the passage of the hate crimes law last year, which is linked in the opening paragraph.

Rachel does a lot of good work, and my argument has always been that it's not that she does a bad job, but rather that she, and the rest of network, are not meeting their usual high standard in their coverage of the stories which most directly affect our lives.

I am certainly not naive to the fact that there are some really transphobic butches. Having argued with some of them, I am well aware. I never denied that. I simply said that it's not true that all of us, or even the majority of us, are. Further, I know of butches who almost exclusively date trans women. All I'm saying is don't paint us with a broad brush here. There are plenty of us who are good trans allies. In fact, I would argue that your average butch is more trans supportive than many other members of the LGBTQ community.

Read my piece again Reggie. I didn't go after Rachel exclusively, but rather the entire network for failing to include trans-identified guests and trans people in relevant stories. And yes, Rachel is as guilty of it as anyone at MSNBC. Check out the video I've linked in the opening paragraph and you'll see what I'm talking about. No, she most certainly has NOT always been fair and she deserves to be called out for that when it's appropriate. It's not about any one specific issue or host, it's about an ongoing policy of exclusion of transpeople as guests and our inclusion in relevant stories on MSNBC that as far as I can tell has been in effect since the beginning of the network. If you think I'm wrong, fine. Show me an example of a trans-identified guest appearing on MSNBC or an on-air mention of the struggles of LGBT American civilian workers. You're welcome to try to find one, but having already tried many times, I already know what you'll find: Nothing.

Reggie777 | May 24, 2011 8:12 PM

We will have to agree to disagree on your estimation of Ms. Maddow on this. She has not, to my knowledge, had an item about aging Chinese gay men. That does not necessarily mean she has a bias against aging Chinese gay men. I use that specific example because that is what I am. If I had an ax to grind, I could claim that because she has not addressed this demographic, ergo, she is part of the complex militating against aging, Chinese gay men. I do not think there is a logical link, and that is why I respectfully disagree with your issue with Ms. Maddow.

Again, it's not about Maddow specifically, it's about the entire network. And it's not just that she doesn't proactively include us, but that she actually erases us from her coverage when it would be appropriate and proper journalism to include transpeople in the story, as the linked video shows.

I have to call foul on this look if the LGBT is going to claim the higher ground on equality and trans rights then it must step up to the plate and take whatever steps necessary to end discrimination within the community. While I have said numerous times that I support LGBT equality I never claimed to be a member of the community. Now you have people that claim to be members of the community discriminating against other members of the community. Something has to give you can't claim to be for equality on one hand and be giving a free pass to haters on the other. You want my support you want to claim me earn it time to clean house before you continue to point fingers at others and accuse them of what the LGBT has been getting away with for years. I provided links its common knowledge quit with the sorry excuses and get it done.

liberal_simon | May 26, 2011 1:33 PM

@Reggie777, I agree with your comments. Maddow has a show on MSNBC to focus on politics. The stories she covers are about politics, it's not 60 minutes type investigative reporting. She chooses what she will cover, and how she will cover it - it's written into her contract. In her analysis and commentary Maddow has been critical of her "corporate masters" on her show, so I don't think she is averse to speaking truth to power. On any given day there are hundreds of political news stories to tell and Maddow only has an hour-long show. Regardless of what some may think important, there simply isn't enough time to cover it all.

liberal_simon | May 26, 2011 2:47 PM

Furthermore, failing to define the term 'gender identity' does not equate to erasing trans people from coverage. The fact that Maddow did indeed cover the story about President Obama signing that hate crimes law shows that she does include political news about LGBTQ civilians in her show's purview.

Rachel likes interesting stories, stories that tell a narrative... I thought we had a narrative with Chrissy Lee Polis, the bill in Maryland, and how it continued a pattern of cis-GLB politicians quietly shunting trans issues aside.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdDgPnT8u0

But then, I'm just saying there what you're saying here.

Rachel likes interesting stories, stories that tell a narrative... I thought we had a narrative with Chrissy Lee Polis, the bill in Maryland, and how it continued a pattern of cis-GLB politicians quietly shunting trans issues aside.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdDgPnT8u0

But then, I'm just saying there what you're saying here.