News Outlets' Misgendering Of Private Manning Draws Criticism

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

News outlets who continue to refer to U.S. Army Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who formerly went by the name Bradley, using masculine pronouns after she announced that she identifies as female this week are drawing criticism from transgender advocates, raising the issue of how such news subjects should be covered.

Manning, who on August 21 was found guilty of crimes related to giving classified documents to Wikileaks, on August 22 released a statement through her lawyer which said in part: "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." Manning requested that "starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun." 

In response, the GLAAD and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association each issued statements informing media outlets that they should use the name and pronouns that Manning prefers. But many media outlets have continued to refer to Manning as "Bradley" and describe her using male pronouns.

Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the GLAAD, specifically singled out the Associated Press and Reuters, saying the group had reached out to these two news organizations and requested a correction in their approach going forward.

"Today our focus is on reaching out to them and asking for corrections," Ferraro said of A.P. and Reuters. 

Ferraro also pointed out that he believes the AP had violated its own policy that states when reporting on transgender news subjects, "use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth."

AP and Reuters have not yet responded to requests for comment, but AP posted a statement on its website that said the service "will use gender-neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue. However, when reporting is completed, the AP Stylebook entry on 'transgender' will be AP's guide."

The AP, ReutersThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post on Thursday referred to Manning with a male pronoun throughout stories about her announcement Thursday morning that she wished to be identified as a woman and had wished to be called Chelsea, not Bradley.

"We would probably criticize the media overall," Ferraro said when asked about GLAAD's reaction to such references. "Chelsea Manning's announcement today and subsequent media judgment reflects a lack of education on covering transgender people. Media today should respect Chelsea Manning's announcement and that includes using female pronouns when speaking about her and that includes referring to her as Chelsea."

A recent updated story by AP posted today by the same co-writers uses gender-neutral references to Manning such as "the soldier" and "Manning" rather than "he" or "she."

The Post, meanwhile, ran a column titled "Longing For the Day When Chelsea Manning and I Both Seem Boring" in its Style section Thursday by GLAAD board member and transgender writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, an English professor and the author of two books on transgender.

The New York Times also referred to Manning with male pronouns in its initial story posted Thursday shortly after Manning's lawyer released the statement announcing her gender identification change on NBC's Today show.

Ferraro said he was later contacted by the Times to comment for a story on the issue, but the initial Manning story has yet to be changed.

In the follow up story, posted Thursday, Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet stated: "Generally speaking we call people by their new name when they ask us to, and when they actually begin their new lives. In this case we made the judgment readers would be totally confused if we turned on a dime overnight and changed the name and gender of a person in the middle of a major running news story. That's not a political decision. It is one aimed at our primary constituency -- our readers."

The Times style on transgender news subjects, according to Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, directs reporters to "cite a person's transgender status only when it is pertinent and its pertinence is clear to the reader. Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly."

Sullivan weighed in on the issue Thursday with a blog post after the initial Times story on Manning was posted. While she did not criticize the Times for its use of pronouns, Sullivan stated: "it may be best to quickly change to the feminine and to explain that -- rather than the other way around."

Brian Stelter, a Times reporter who co-wrote the original Manning story, tweeted his own defense of the approach Thursday, saying:

FYI: NYT stylebook ( ) says we use transgender person's preferred name & pronoun "unless a former name is newsworthy."

...In this case, the former and current names ARE the news, so the NYT story includes both. Story says "him" when referring to past events.

Andrew Rosenthal, New York Times editorial page editor, posted a related item online Thursday about Manning's request to President Obama for a pardon. In that post, Rosenthal used the male pronoun, but noted: "I'm using the male pronoun to follow our newsroom's style even though he also announced today that he is a woman, and would like to be called Chelsea."

GLAAD posted its own notice on the issue Thursday as a guide to reporters covering transgender news subjects in the wake of the Manning announcement. It said, in part, "the charges and verdict against her, as well as the U.S. Army's policy denying transgender-related healthcare to inmates, are not a justification for misgendering or resorting to stereotypes about transgender women."

"If necessary, a clarifying sentence can be used given that the trial has been in the news so frequently," Ferraro added. "That lets people know that Manning was referred to, past tense, as Bradley Manning during the trial. But in general, when covering transgender people, their birth names and their former pronouns are not pertinent to the story."

Ferraro said it is understandable that some news outlets need to be educated given that Manning is one of the first news figures to announce a gender identity change.

"This is one of the first times that someone in the public eye has come out as transgender," Ferraro said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see the Times and other style guides evolve in reporting on a transgender person's history and going forward the Times should continue to use female pronouns in reference to Chelsea Manning and it seems that they are going in that direction."

He said one of the misconceptions is that when people change their gender identity publicly it is some kind of free choice and not a recognition of who they are.

"Transgender people don't one day wake up and choose to be a woman, it is not chosen, it is rather a word used for people whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth," he said. "A lot of media outlets, national and online and local media outlets, are not only misgendering Chelsea but also misrepresenting what it means to be transgender in coverage."

Ferraro added that GLAAD and others seeking fair treatment in the press for transgendered news subjects have a way to go.

"I think our work is cut out for us in terms of educating the news media in reference to transgender people and respect," he declared. "We wanted to be proactive and serve as a resource for journalists."

Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters
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