Hmmmm. Prepare your side-eyes.
The Associated Press and the New York Times each independently announced this week that they will officially refer to Chelsea Manning, the former Army analyst who was previously known as Bradley, with her correct name and gender pronouns.
The Times made a simple announcement to Politico that their copy desks would be making the changes necessary to accurately reflect Chelsea’s identity, while the AP released a longer statement:
“The Associated Press will henceforth use Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning and female pronouns for the soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning, in accordance with her wishes to live as a woman,” reads the memo. “The use of the first name Chelsea and feminine pronouns in Manning’s case is in conformity with the transgender guidance in the AP Stylebook. The guidance calls for using the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.”
My questions: Why is this kind of announcement from these publications necessary? Why wasn’t it enough for Chelsea to state her preferred name and pronouns for you to use them correctly? If a cisgender person were being interviewed for an article, it’s highly unlikely that a reporter would ask to see their birth certificate before publishing their name. The reporter would take their word for it. Why must this case be any different?
What’s sad is that even though it seems absurd that it took several days for these publications to formally change their style, and that it required this kind of announcement, not all media outlets are catching on and using the correct language at all (looking at you, CNN). I was really hoping media had come far enough in its understanding of transgender issues that this coverage would have been more reliable, but that hasn’t happened.
Sure, the AP and the NYT are doing the right thing when lots of others in the field are not, but you don’t get a cookie for showing some basic decency and respect.
The point being made here is valid, but the problem here—and why the outlets made the respective announcements—is because this is new ground for the media for a story on this scale. The staffs of these publications may not be aware of the these rules and may not know the best way to handle the situation, and there may be concern that readers may be unaware of how to best handle the situation (which means that you should expect to see a lot of extra language on stories about Chelsea Manning from here on out). By announcing it, they’re setting a standard for themselves, not looking for credit.
I don’t look at this as a situation where the AP or NYT expects extra respect for their respective handling of this situation. Instead I see this as a situation where two journalistic outlets that set the rules of the road for the rest of the industry (in the case of the former, through a widely used stylebook) are setting those rules. Clearly, based on the failings of the past few days, those rules need to be set, because too many media outlets are falling down on the job with this story (looking at you, CNN).
Hopefully, the next time a story like this comes up, we won’t be having this conversation thanks to moves like these.