Are conservative media exploiting a school shooting to demonize LGBQT people?

A person named Audrey Elizabeth Hale, age 28, gunned down 3 teachers and 3 children at a private Christian school before being killed by police gunfire. The incident occurred in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday, March 27, 2023. That evening, the Fox News headlines blared,

  • Nashville police identify two officers who took out trans school shooting suspect
  • Police release security footage showing trans school shooting suspect firing inside Nashville school
  • A look at the background of the 28-year-0ld trans suspect who opened fire at Christian school

The first two stories make no reference to Hale being transgender. That appears only in the headlines. The third story refers to her as a “transgender former student” in the lead paragraph, then says nothing more on the subject. A fourth story doesn’t mention “transgender” in its headline, but says Hale “identified as a transgender woman,” without further explanation. This apparently intends to say she’s a woman who identifies as transgender.

The Daily Mail, a tabloid with a conservative slant, ran two major stories on its front page. The headlines for those stories are:

  • ‘I think I just lost my daughter’: Anguished words of transgender Nashville shooter’s mom, as her Facebook posts decrying school shootings and calling for gun control emerge
  • EXCLUSIVE: ‘No one saw this coming.’ School friend of Nashville school shooter says she was ‘sweet and funny’ student, that ‘no-one was surprised’ when she came out as trans – and that she was well supported by school’s LGBTQ community

In the first story, Daily Mail says “Hale was born female, and is believed to have been living as a man called Aiden,” and Hale’s mother referred to her as “my daughter.” Both stories say, “Cops said Hale was transgender, although they haven’t specified further details and referred to her as a woman,” adding, “Hale was born female, but a LinkedIn profile believed to be hers uses he/him pronouns, suggesting Hale was living as a man.” The second story says, “When asked if how Hale identified might impact the motive, [the police chief] paused before saying: ‘We can give you that at a later time. There is some theory to that, we’re investigating all the leads.'”

Because mass shootings by women are extremely rare, it’s newsworthy that Hale was female. If she also was transgender, that’s newsworthy if it factored into her motive.

Was Hale transgender? That’s based on sketchy information. The media relied on how police described her, a LinkedIn profile “believed to be hers,” and a boyish-looking photo. That’s fair, as far as it goes. But rather than describe her as possibly transgender, they’re running with it as fact. Typically news media are more reserved about factual judgments when initial information is sketchy.

Fox News seems to be going out of its way to emphasize the school shooter was a transgender person. Fox, of course, is the voice of America’s political right; and the right is waging an all-out attack on LGBQT people. Against that backdrop, the way Fox is playing the story looks suspiciously like an effort to demonize transgender people in general.

Daily Mail also headlined Hale’s gender status, but did more in its stories to develop that aspect of the story by quoting the police, Hale’s mother, and people who knew her. The coverage by Fox might pass the smell test, but I can’t help feeling it has a gloating flavor to it. Maybe that’s just me.*

(* For what it’s worth, I graduated with a journalism major, and was a newspaper reporter before becoming a lawyer, so I have a well-developed sense of what news reporting should look like.)

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