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Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

The evolution of the Chelsea / Bradley Manning story

Categories: Canada, Journalism


"As contemplated in my last note about Pfc Manning, I think it's time to change our wording...we're at the stage where we use Chelsea and the feminine case. On first reference, for now, we should insert a 'formerly known as Bradley' for clarity. I'll continue to evolve this."

This note earlier this week, from David Studer, our Director of Journalistic Practices, demonstrates the kind of balance we at CBC News must often strike, and the care we take in doing it.

Normally, speed is of the essence in a successful news service. But sometimes, speed isn't everything. Sometimes we have to make the judgement call to slow things down just a bit.

The case of the American soldier at the centre of the WikiLeaks case is a great example. The world first heard of Private Bradley Manning when it came out that Manning had leaked hundreds of thousands of confidential U.S. government communications to the website WikiLeaks, which in turn shared them with international media.

The WikiLeaks revelations of American military and diplomatic operations around the world made headlines, of course. Held in solitary confinement for months, Manning finally came to trial this summer, was convicted on 17 charges and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

What came next was a bombshell. The world had only known the prisoner as Bradley Manning, a male. But right after sentencing, it was revealed that Manning had long identified as a female, wanted hormone replacement therapy, and henceforth wished to be known as Chelsea Manning, referred to as "she" and "her".

News organizations reacted to this announcement in many different ways. Some ignored Manning's wishes; Fox News chose to mock them. Others switched to Chelsea--and the female pronouns--immediately.

Here at CBC News, the approach was a balanced one. While naturally conscious of the significance of the change, and respectful of Manning's wishes, we also had to bear in mind that different members of the public digest news events at different speeds.

For those immersed in the Manning story, WikiLeaks, or gender identity issues, the change could be immediate. For others, living busy lives and preoccupied with other matters, suddenly being presented with a person called Chelsea Manning where only Bradley Manning had existed, could be confusing.

The choice we made was to report the news on that day, and to issue an instruction that while we would--for a short time--continue to refer to the familiar "Bradley Manning", our stories should also mention the change. As time went on, it explained, we'd switch--first to "Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley" and then simply to Chelsea.

The note I quoted at the top of this entry, issued a few days ago, alerted our journalists to make the first switch, and a second is coming soon. This approach may not have been speedy enough for all observers. But we think it struck the right balance, and that it came at the right pace.

Tags: How We Work

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