Bil Browning

Indy WTHR-NBC reporter "Worst in the Nation" for Taysia Elzy coverage

Filed By Bil Browning | January 23, 2009 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: GLAAD, Indianapolis, Michael Hunt, NBC, Steve Jefferson, Taysia Elzy, transgender, WTHR

Updated at the end of the post

Apparently, I'm not the only person upset with the Indianapolis media coverage of the Taysia Elzy and Michael Hunt double homicide. GLAAD has recently named WTHR-13 (NBC) reporter Steve Jefferson the "worst of national news" for December.

Steve_Jefferson_WTHR.jpgThe org documents their efforts to reach out to Jefferson and provide "extensive resources" on how to better report on LGBT issues. Not only was Jefferson's piece patently offensive, but it clearly violated the Associated Press style guidelines. I also attempted to contact Jefferson and unlike every other reporter who covered the case, he wouldn't return any e-mails or phone calls. He did, however, respond to GLAAD. He turned defensive and sent bitter e-mails back to GLAAD staffers including this gem: "Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause."

Actually, Steve, your job is to report the news. Your job is not to catch criminals, it's to be an impartial, unbiased source of news and information without resorting to sensationalizing and disrespecting victims of a violent crime. This is why you are the worst journalist in the nation; you deserve the honor.

In related news, I've been asked by the Indianapolis Star to be part of a training session next week on how area reporters can better cover LGBT issues. Kudos to the Star and local members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association for organizing the event.

See after the jump for GLAAD's action alert. Be sure to write Jefferson and send him a link to GLAAD's posting and this one. Maybe he'll respond to your e-mails.

WTHR Coverage of Transgender Murder in Indiana Misses the Mark

A December 28 crime report on detailing the murder of a transgender woman and her boyfriend in Broad Ripple, Indiana used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim's life in a generally offensive manner.

Taysia Elzy a transgender woman, and her boyfriend Michael Hunt were found murdered in their home on December 26. The article, "Family of murder victim speaks out," uses a male name to describe Taysia and uses male pronouns and identifiers throughout the piece. The story also repeats a police statement with the problematic phrase, "alternative lifestyle," neglecting to put quotes around it.

GLAAD called and e-mailed crime reporter Steve Jefferson and offered extensive resources for correcting the faulty coverage. The story clearly violates Associated Press style guidelines which state, "Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly."

Instead of taking our advice the reporter rebuffed our educational efforts saying in an email, "I did not do this story based on lifestyle." Jefferson furthered, "Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause." He also said he did not use female pronouns because he said the transgender victim "was NOT post-op."

WTHR has yet to change this story.


GLAAD urges you to contact WTHR Crime Reporter, Steve Jefferson and WTHR News Director, Carolyn Williams and voice your concerns. Tell them to make the necessary corrections to this story and cover the transgender community with accuracy and respect and in line with standard language usage.

Steve Jefferson

Carolyn Williams

UPDATE: I spoke with Carolyn Williams, the News Director for WTHR. The offensive article has been edited to conform with the AP Style Guide. Ms. Williams will also be speaking with her Station Manager about coordinating a diversity training session on LGBT issues with all area television stations.

Ms. Williams was very kind and understanding. E-mailing Ms. Williams with kudos for her prompt response and leadership would be more appropriate at this point!

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I got your E-mail and you can bet when I am able, I will post this article on Trans Universe, contact my friends on my E-mail list and on Facebook. I will also send a response to Steve and Carolyn. This is bullshit at the highest level. Thanks for putting this together.

NPR should get a dishonorable mention there for the fact that they refuse to be inclusive of bi people.

austin crowder | January 23, 2009 1:26 PM

"Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause."

Wait. So in an attempt to catch a killer they _purposefully_ used an antiquated alias, even with prior knowledge that Taysia hadn't gone by that name in a long time?

I swear. You can't make this shit up.

Good news! I spoke with News Director Carolyn Williams this afternoon. She'll be discussing a possible diversity training for station staff with the station manager on Monday.

She was very kind and professional and genuinely sorry for the poor coverage. So as you write e-mails, keep in mind that she wants to make things right.

Thanks, Bil. Good luck with the training session.

By the way, what is the latest information about:
The double homicide of Tayshia Elzy and Michael Hunt?
The double homicide of Milton Lindgren and Eric Hendricks?
The murders in Memphis?

I just read the linked article, and it looks like it's been edited since it's original posting. The date of the last edit was yesterday, January 23rd, 2009, and it seems like all questionable references have been removed? Or am I mis-reading this?

Good eye, Boi!

I went and looked and yes, they have changed the story to bring it inline with the AP Style Guide!


I'm very confident that this will end up with a better position for the Hoosier LGBT community.

Thanks for your help everyone.

It's pissing me off that Jefferson shares my ethnic background.

The WTHR article one that GLAAD linked to has NOT been corrected.

They are still referring to Taysia as Avery 'Taysia' Elzy, which is STILL in violation of the AP stylebook guidelines.

Wouldn't that depend on whether or not their name was legally changed, either in the courts, or on their birth certificate? Unfortunately, without legal documentation (from a news standpoint) the name would still be considered a nickname unless it had been formally changed, correct?

Don't work that way. As per the AP Style Book, a trans person is referred to by the name and gender pronouns that they lived their life as. Period. What is on their drivers license, birth certificate, passport, what the cops say or what is between their legs is NOT factored in.

"...what is between their legs is NOT factored in."

Unless of course, yer a bigot newscaster with an "agenda." He tried using just that to justify his actions.

Damn, I expect this shit from Bay Windows, not the evening news...

That's terrible. I did like that one commenter on the WTHR site who said we should start referring to Jefferson with she/her pronouns and see how much she likes it.

Also, should it be a news outlet's "goal" to catch a criminal? I thought their first goal was always meant to be to find and present the truth, in which case Taysia was a woman, end of story.