CBS execs told staff not to report trans identity of Christian school shooter: report

Robin Wolfenden prays at a makeshift memorial for victims outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church following a shooting, in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 28, 2023. - A heavily armed former trans-identified student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school in Nashville on March 27, before being shot dead by police. Chief of Police John Drake named the suspect as Audrey Hale, 28, who the officer later said identified as transgender. | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

CBS News has banned reporters and other staff from using the word “transgender” in the network’s coverage of the deadly shooting at a Christian school in Nashville, according to a report.

In a memo obtained Tuesday by the New York Post, executives at CBS News wrote that because the legacy media outlet has yet to confirm Audrey Hale’s “gender identity,” reporters and other staffers were asked to “avoid any mention of it as it has no known relevance to the crime. Should that change, we can and will revisit.”

Within hours of the shooting on March 27 at The Covenant School, a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America), Hale, 28, was identified as a former student at the school and self-identified as trans, according to Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake.

Yet according to the Post, Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, executive vice president and CBS News Washington bureau chief, and Claudia Milne, senior VP of standards and practices, announced the guidelines about avoiding any sexual identity on a morning editorial call Tuesday.

“Sources close to” CBS told the Post the memo advised using the following language to describe Hale, who killed six people — including three children — in the shooting: “Police identified the suspect as a 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who [sic] they shot and killed at the scene.”

The memo then urged CBS News staffers to “move on to focus on other important points of the investigation, community and solutions.” 

According to the report, both Ciprian-Matthews and Milne “spent 15 minutes on the Tuesday call discussing the directive,” even though Drake described Hale as trans-identified hours after the shooting on March 27.

CBS News initially reported the shootings took place at a “private Christian school” and that the “suspected shooter is also dead,” before updating its tweet to clarify the outlet was “still working to confirm Hale's gender identity” and using the pronoun “they” to describe Hale, a biological female.

The tweet stated: “Update: Police identified the suspect as a 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who they shot and killed at the scene. CBS News is still working to confirm Hale's gender identity.”

As of March 31, CBS News’ latest story on the Nashville shooting does not include a single reference to “transgender” or even “gender” and, despite the shooting taking place at a Christian school, only uses the word “Christian” once in reference to the name of a funeral location.

In contrast, CBS News reported the pronoun preferences of the victims in the Club Q shooting in Colorado within 48 hours of the shooting last November.

Under the headline, "Club Q victims killed in shooting identified,” the article states: “The five victims who died in the shooting have been identified as Ashley Paugh (she/her), Daniel Aston (he/him), Derrick Rump (he/him), Kelly Loving (she/her), Raymond Green Vance (he/him).”

Screenshot of CBS News' coverage of the Club Q shooting. | Screenshot/CBS News

By Nov. 21, 2022, CBS News also wrote a story reporting that the Club Q shooting suspect was “on rolls of Church of Latter-day Saints, but hasn't been active 'for some time.”

After citing the church’s condemnation of the shooting, CBS News’ article appeared to link the beliefs of the Church of Latter-day Saints to the shooting at the LGBT nightclub, writing, “The church prohibits same-sex marriages and says homosexual behavior violates its laws.”

Screenshot of CBS News' coverage of the Club Q shooting. | Screenshot/CBS New

CBS News did not respond to a request for comment by The Christian Post as of late Friday.

Since the tragedy at The Covenant School, several major American news outlets, including CBS News, have avoided using the words “Christian” or “transgender” to report on the shooting.

Immediately following the shooting, several national newspapers declined to identify the school as Christian: The New York Times wrote, “Heavily armed assailant kills 6 at school in Nashville;” The Washington Post ran the headline “6 slain in shooting at Nashville school;” the Chicago Tribune wrote “6 dead in shooting at Nashville school;” and The Wall Street Journal ran its headline as “Six Shot Dead in Nashville Elementary School.”

Other outlets, like NBC News, avoided using the word “trans” or “transgender” in their headlines to describe the suspect, with a search of NBC News for the term yielding a number of older news stories, with only two results relating to the shooting as of March 28, neither of which used the words “Christian” or “transgender” in their headline.

One of the NBC stories made only a passing mention of Hale as being trans-identified, adding that officials are still determining “if it actually played a role into this incident.”

Tim Graham of conservative media watchdog Media Research Center told CP these kinds of editorial decisions could indicate CBS News and other media outlets’ “sensitivity” to the LGBT “lobby.”

“This shooter can't in any way be representative of her ‘community,’ whereas a self-proclaimed Christian mass shooter would likely be used to shame all Christians,” Graham said via email.

“It seems like the media are trying hard to avoid locating a motivation, for fear that it's precisely transgender hatred of Christians that's the motivation.”

He contrasted the legacy media’s coverage of The Covenant School attack with the shooting last May in Buffalo, New York, that left 10 people dead. 

Unlike in that instance, said Graham, most media outlets “aren’t really interested” in reading Hale’s manifesto, which is reportedly under review by the FBI.

“They won't be trying to push blame on vicious [LGBT] voices in social media because they would be afraid of being accused of acknowledging that vicious [LGBT] voices exist, that this would be ‘anti-gay’ or ‘anti-trans,’” he said.

“I think it's logical for journalists to ask if this shooter was committing a ‘hate crime,’” he added. “I don't think it's fair to suggest ‘marginalized’ people can never commit ‘hate crimes,' like they can't hate.”

Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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