Like many print media outlets, The Cleveland Plain Dealer has fallen on hard times. Last year, “Ohio’s largest news source” (yeah, but who are you competing against?) announced that they would be laying off employees and reducing home delivery to just 3 days a week. Over the course of the past 18 months, the paper has begun to engage in new, risky ways of driving revenue, specifically, website traffic. The typically bland, “just the facts” did what any paper in peril would do: shift to an increasingly polarizing conservative political leaning, publish exaggerated or seemingly unnecessary headlines, and take jabs at marginalized groups.
After all, there’s no such thing as bad publicity… right?
After 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by a Cleveland police officer, the paper engaged in a smear campaign seemingly designed to discredit the young victim, taking aim at the boy’s mother, father, and even his 14-year-old sister. Their attempt to paint Rice as somehow deserving of death is one of the most vile things I’ve seen any media outlet do.
One of the paper’s other hobbies is publishing transphobic content. Earlier this week, The Plain Dealer published an editorial round table to discuss an upcoming ordinance to be voted on by the Cleveland city council. Quickly, Equality Matters jumped in and dissected the absurdities and factual inaccuracies of the article.
This latest flub is just the latest in the paper’s long history of transphobia, victim blaming, and seemingly intentional dissemination of outright lies. Here are the top 4 examples of The Plain Dealer’s anti-transgender attitude.
The Plain Dealer’s Editorial Board doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
In writing about a proposed city ordinance that would institute protections for transgender individuals in all public accommodations (though, there still are religious exemptions because apparently there’s a line in the Bible I missed where Jesus told his apostles to deny trans women the right to pee), the editorial board decided to spice up an otherwise bland topic by tossing out logical fallacies, willfully ignorant statements, and outright lies about the proposed topic. (Admit it, “City to vote to let someone use the bathroom” is less exciting than “WILL THIS NEW LAW RESULT IN THE VIOLENT ASSAULT OF YOUR 12-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER?!?”)
Even before touching on the opinions of the board members, the paper’s supposedly neutral, factual, opinion-free explanation leaves much to be desired.
[blockquote source=””]”Still, by removing the part of Cleveland’s 2009 nondiscrimination ordinance that explicitly excludes bathroom and locker-room facilities from the list of public accommodations that must be made available to all regardless of gender identity “provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available” — and by not replacing that section with other language defining any limits to bathroom and locker room access — the ordinance technically might have that impact should anyone choose to force the issue.”[/blockquote]
Despite mounds of evidence disputing this issue, The Plain Dealer just leaves this slippery-slope argument out there as a straw man for the board to fight.
While there are a load of ignorant statements on the page, I’ll just highlight the most ridiculous of them all. I give you, deputy editorial page editor Kevin O’Brien.
[blockquote source=””]Just go by the external appearance of the plumbing the good Lord gave you and keep your “expressions” to yourself. Leave the seat down in the ladies’ room and up in the men’s room, lest you tempt these hyperactive social engineers to pass a law about that, too.[/blockquote]
“Expressions?” Okay, dude.
Leila Atassi’s “Hey, I think I’ll just make some shit up” headline
Last month, reporter Leila Atassi was reporting on the proposed ordinance. In doing so, she decided that the truth be damned, she’d just make something up.
[blockquote source=””]Cleveland’s transgender-friendly legislation would open all public restrooms and showers to both sexes[/blockquote]
That’s just… That’s just false.
She goes on to play up this (completely made up, false) idea that this ordinance would “require businesses to make their restrooms, showers, and locker rooms available to both sexes,” and seems to lament the fact that openly discriminating against trans people could result in a small fine. (What ’bout mah free-dum!?)
[blockquote source=””]In an effort to help transgendered people feel more comfortable using public restrooms, Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would require businesses to make their restrooms, showers and locker rooms available to both sexes.
And barring one gender from using a facility designated for the other would be a crime, punishable by a $1,000 fine. [/blockquote]
— Leila Atassi (@LeilaAtassi) November 6, 2014
Note, this wasn’t an opinion piece. It was reporting. From her use of “transgendered” (not a word) to her fear-mongering, she’s just… bad at her job. Additionally, this isn’t about “help[ing] transgender people feel more comfortable,” it’s about providing them with basic safety. As much as Atassi and other Plain Dealer employees would like you to believe trans people are a threat to cis people, it’s the other way around (see: Chrissy Polis)
The smearing of the late CeCe Acoff
Following her murder in April 2013, CeCe Acoff was treated to a massive dose of sensationalistic, incorrect reporting. Describing her as an “oddly dressed man,” The Plain Dealer smeared Acoff and attacked her character. In the two stories about her: “Brutal slaying marks the end of Cleveland man’s fight for acceptance” and “Oddly dressed man found in Olmsted Township pond identified,” Acoff is never actually identified as a woman, and is never once referred to using she/her pronouns. After GLAAD became involved with The Plain Dealer‘s “horrific coverage,” the paper edited the online version of Acoff’s story by going out of their way to avoid all pronouns rather than treat her with even a tiny amount of respect.
More information can be found at GLAAD’s website.
Ted Diadiun’s Tone-Police-Tastic Fauxpology
In the wake of The Plain Dealer’s excruciatingly terrible coverage of the murder of trans woman CeCe Acoff, PD reader representative (I have no clue what that title means) Ted Diadiun took to his Cleveland.com blog to decry some of the backlash the outlet had been receiving in the days prior. You see, after the outlet deadnamed, misgendered, victim-blamed, and needlessly brought up the police record of the late Miss Acoff, people didn’t voice their concerns in a tone Diadiun found productive.
[blockquote source=””]”When the story was published, Caniglia and his editors began to get emails from all over the country, objecting to the tone of the story, the use of male pronouns, the description of Acoff’s clothing and the recounting of his criminal record.
Some were cordial. Some were profane. Some were threatening. Nearly all were angry.”
Diadiun goes on to explain that the paper’s blatant disregard of AP style rules (something “The Plain Dealer generally follows”), complaining about how “perplexing” it is to call a trans woman a woman and a trans man a man (I know, right?). He also says something about only using correct pronouns if “a sex-change process had begun.” (Tell me more about this process, pls).
[blockquote source=””]The bulk of the objections stemmed from the use of the male pronouns. The Plain Dealer generally follows Associated Press style, which at one time specified using female pronouns for someone born a male only if a sex-change process had begun.
However, several years ago, the AP changed its style on transgender references to the following: ‘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.’
The transgender community knows this. Caniglia and his editors did not. The story was in the paper when they were made aware of the change in AP style, but editors hurriedly went back into the online version, taking the words “oddly dressed” out of the headline and making the references gender neutral. Along the way, in some references to the body, “he” became “it,” until that was changed — which only served to increase the ire of some readers.
I don’t agree with the critics who argue that the way Acoff was dressed and Acoff’s run-ins with the law were not pertinent to the story. Details like that, particularly when they are out of the ordinary, are a natural part of reporting. I do think it’s unfortunate that Caniglia wasn’t able to interview family or friends, who might have added a more complete perspective and given the story a different tone.
The AP style change is understandable, but perplexing.
He then goes on to explain that an editor was incredulous over the fact that he needed to follow the guidelines the paper “generally follows.”
[blockquote source=””]’Where do we draw the line?’ said Chris Quinn, the editor in charge of the paper’s local coverage. ‘What’s a cop to do when filling out the gender form of a police report? What’s a census taker to write? What about a driver’s license?’
Quinn said future stories will say something like, ‘Acoff self-identified as a transgender woman so, for the purposes of this story, will be identified with female pronouns.’
How f’ing kind of you, good sir.
Diadiun closes his blog post by comparing the “insensitivity” shown by the paper to the “objections” of those who believe trans people are people.
In asking for sensitivity and understanding, many gave none — making their objections in unbelievably vitriolic language.
Mistakes were made here, but none was made out of malevolence or an intent to injure.
Swing and a miss.