According to sources close to CBS News, executives at the network have banned their staff from using the word “transgender” when reporting on the recent Nashville shooting, despite the fact that police have stated that the shooter, Audrey Hale, identified as transgender. The network’s executives argued in a memo that Hale’s gender identity has not been confirmed by CBS News and therefore should not be mentioned as it has no known relevance to the crime. CBS News’ Tuesday morning editorial call, where this directive was delivered, left the network’s roughly 150 staffers stunned into awkward silence, according to a source who was on the call.
“Right now we advise saying: POLICE IDENTIFIED THE SUSPECT AS A 28-YEAR-OLD AUDREY HALE, WHO [sic] THEY SHOT AND KILLED AT THE SCENE,” the Tuesday memo said. “And move on to focus on other important points of the investigation, community and solutions.”
Rivals including NBC News, ABC News, CNN, and the New York Times have all reported that police said Hale was transgender and used he/him pronouns and the name Aiden. On NBC News, anchor Lester Holt interviewed Nashville’s police chief, noting that police had said Hale “identified as trans” and asking, “Do you believe there is a connection to that?” CBS execs, on the other hand, have refused to report on that aspect of the investigation, despite it being an important point in the case.
The decision to ban the use of the word “transgender” in reporting has been reflected in CBS News’ coverage since the Tuesday morning editorial call. The mentions of Hale’s gender identity have stopped, and CBS News says it is waiting to review and revise its reporting once it has more information about the motive for the shooting. CBS’ decision to withhold information about Hale’s gender identity has left many journalists bewildered, with one insider saying, “Withholding information is not journalism.”
The CBS News directive to ban the word “transgender” has also sparked concerns about the network’s editorial decisions and the influence of personal biases. One CBS insider stated, “This is not an editorial decision. They made a judgment based on personal feelings.” CBS executives Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews and Claudia Milne spent 15 minutes on the Tuesday call discussing the directive, which some felt was due to the network’s “liberal bias.” The decision to censor reporting based on personal biases ultimately does a disservice to the network’s audience, according to the same CBS insider.