Bradley Manning announced this week that he wants to be "Chelsea" and considered female. Manning has not had a court approved name or gender change, has had no hormone treatments, and still has all his man parts, so should a news organization call him a her? There is not a consistent answer to that question.
In a written statement Thursday, Manning said, "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. ... 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)."
ABC News, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker all began using feminine pronouns in reference to Manning. The Associated Press style guide also advises using the pronouns preferred by the individual, regardless of their gender. CBS News, CNN, National Public Radio, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post chose not to follow these guidelines and continued to use masculine pronouns.
The New Republic also began using feminine pronouns and demanded that all other news outlets do so as well. "He is not Bradley Manning. She is Chelsea Manning. Deal with it," Ryan Kearney wrote.
Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, The Washington Post's managing editor, explained the decision to not use feminine pronouns this way: "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."
The New York Times used similar reasoning in its decision. "Generally speaking," Managing Editor Dean Baquet said, "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 New York Times' public editor disagreed with the decision.
Writing for National Review Online, Wesley Smith argued that the rule of law should be the objective standard by which news organizations describe the gender of a person.
"Until Bradley Manning is officially declared Chelsea by a court -- with an amended birth certificate issued and a legal judgment of sex reassignment -- he remains a legal male. That should be the standard, not a personal statement read on a television show or a change in appearance," he wrote.
Manning, who was recently sentenced to prison for leaking classified information, has requested hormone-replacement therapy. While federal prisons provide the treatment for those diagnosed with gender-identity disorder, military prisons do not.