Chelsea ManningCommunityThe Dissenter

There Should Be Nothing for Media to Debate: ‘She’ Should Now Be Used to Refer to Manning

The soldier who was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for releasing United States government information that was published by WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, came out as a woman this morning when his defense attorney announced that Manning was a female and wanted to be called Chelsea Manning.

David Coombs appeared on the “TODAY” show and read the following:

As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), which describes itself as “an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students who work within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues,” has a stylebook that serves as a supplement to stylebooks of various publications including the Associated Press’ stylebook.

NLGJA’s stylebook instructs:

transgender (adj): An umbrella term that refers to people whose physical, sexual characteristics may not match their gender identity. Some female and male crossdressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators, and intersex individuals may also identify as transgender. Use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with how the individual lives publicly.When possible, ask which term the subject prefers. As a noun, use “transgender people.” [emphasis added]

Since Manning came out publicly and made the request, one would expect the United States press would universally be moving to covering any future news stories on Manning with the appropriate and requested pronouns. However, “NBC’s Today, USA TODAY, The Boston Globe, Politico, CNN, Fox, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Daily Beast, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times” are going to keep using the masculine pronoun. The Washington Post is also going to stick with the masculine pronoun as well.

I preempted decisions by media organizations to maintain the use of masculine pronouns by putting up a post that described how writing and reporting on Manning would be done going forward. Other organizations like The Huffington Post, MSNBC and Slate apparently decided to adopt the appropriate use of feminine pronouns as well.

Why did organizations refuse to adopt the use of feminine pronouns?

Deputy editor Susan Wessling, who supervises the Times’ copy editors, told Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, “We want to respect the preferences of the subject,” she said, “and we want to provide clarity for readers.” She also said, ‘We can’t just spring a new name and a new pronoun’ on readers with no explanation.”

The Washington Post’s Emilio Garcia-Ruiz told POLITICO’s Dylan Byers:

We are very sensitive to the issues raised by Manning’s announcement. We are using the pronoun ‘he’ to describe Manning for the time being. This is an ongoing story, and we will reevaluate as it develops further. We based this decision on numerous factors, including that the name Bradley Manning has a strong identification for our readers because he is a very visible public figure.

USA TODAY Editor in Chief David Callaway said, “Style evolves with the culture, and the latest style recommendations are that transgender people should be described as they want to be described. Private Manning has been known as a male to this day, so should be regarded as ‘he’ at least for the immediate future,” which would appear to violate the standard.

Let’s address this notion that somehow by referring to Manning as a “she” now and using the name Chelsea Manning readers will not know what is being covered because Manning has been a “him.”

First, here’s how an organization could handle it: “Chelsea Manning, the convicted, sentenced and discharged soldier once named Bradley Manning…”

That is straightforward and any reader who might be confused would quickly understand who exactly was being referenced.

Additionally, the “TODAY” show averages over 4 million viewers. News of Manning’s announcement received just about as much attention as her arrest, start of her trial and the verdict and sentence in the trial.

Nowhere in the stylebook does it say continue to use the pronoun the public knows best or the pronoun, which is most convenient to the news organization, because that person has been well-known. Citing how people know Manning as Bradley Manning to justify not using feminine pronouns is a weak justification for such a decision.

CNN’s Jake Tapper announced on air, “CNN will continue to refer to him as Bradley Manning since he has not yet legally changed his name.”

It took Autumn Sandeen, a Navy veteran, somewhere around two years to get the Pentagon to change her name.

According to CNN, “She appealed to the VA, then the Pentagon. It ended with the Pentagon granting her an official change of gender on all military documents. She submitted a mountain of paperwork, including a revised birth certificate.”

This was the “first documented case of a gender change in the military” and showed that the military could do this for veterans. But, it raised the question of why the military would not do this for active duty members of the military as well.

In any case, there could be a lot of hardship and stress incurred in any effort to change her name to Chelsea Manning so outlets like CNN can feel comfortable with calling her Chelsea Manning.

The refusal to use feminine pronouns is not only insensitive to the person who is the subject of news coverage but also a reflection of the views of that media organization.

If someone prominent but less controversial to media organizations, who was not serving a thirty-five year sentence in a military prison, requested to be recognized as a woman instead of a man, the organizations might be more willing to use the name that individual had requested and use feminine pronouns. But, since media are opposed to recognizing how she is a classic whistleblower, who just happened to release a larger volume of information than any other whistleblower in history, it should not be a surprise that her request to be called Ms. Chelsea Manning would be denied by establishment news media organizations.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."