Immediately after a military judge gave the defendant known as Bradley Manning a 35-year sentence for sharing secret documents with WikiLeaks, Manning’s attorney David Coombs appeared on the Today show (8/22/13) to share a letter from Manning. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female,” the letter explains. Manning went on:
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).
But the message of Manning’s announcement seemed to befuddle many in the media, with some outlets apparently unclear about how to identify her. (During the interview on Today, anchor Savannah Guthrie called Manning “her/him” once, but also referred to her as “she.”)
As Dylan Byers of Politico wrote (8/22/13):
Initial reports by the Associated Press, Reuters and the New York Times all referred to Manning as a male. The AP did so unapologetically, while Reuters and the Times did their best to minimize use of the pronoun.
After some criticism about how the Times handled the issue, reporter Brian Stelter (8/22/13) tweeted:
FYI: NYT stylebook (http://t.co/OImFX0wjeK) says we use transgender person’s preferred name & pronoun “unless a former name is newsworthy.”
The link Stelter provides goes to a GLAAD page that summarizes the Times‘ stylebook:
Transgender (adj.) is an overall term for people whose current identity differs from their sex at birth, whether or not they have changed their biological characteristics. 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.
It’s not hard to spot the problem with this; almost any newsworthy individual who makes an announcement like Manning’s could forever in the eyes of the Times be Bradley, and not Chelsea. Stelter doesn’t get to change the Times stylebook, obviously, but if you look at the NewsDiffs tracking of his story, some of the male pronouns were changed after it was first posted–“his defense team” became “the defense team,” “his trial” became “the trial.”
As for the subject’s preference–which is part of what is supposed to guide the Times–Chelsea Manning would prefer to be known as Chelsea Manning. The Times should do that, and have faith that their readers will not be confused by which newsworthy WikiLeaks-linked whistleblower they are referring to.
The thing about a media outlet’s style guide is that it can evolve.