Extraordinary Popular Delusions

"Men… think in herds … they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

Tag: washington post

Of names and pronouns

Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning’s contribution to our collective moral development was immense even before her announcement of this morning. Notwithstanding that some of the reaction to Chelsea’s coming out was so grotesque that even Louise Mensch felt moved to object, I have a feeling that what happened this morning will be remembered as a watershed moment.

Chelsea is beginning a 35 year term at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, in a facility that does not offer hormone therapy  – but that may change as a result of Chelsea’s visibility or, failing that, the legal challenge her counsel has promised to launch. Chelsea is also beginning her sentence in a world where a large number of major media organisations do not feel able to respect a very straightforward and clearly expressed request about names and pronouns.

There’s no general rule that can be drawn about the creditable performances and omissions in the media. The Guardian has been good today, but then so has the Daily Mail. Interestingly, both the Washington Post and Politico felt compelled to explain in detail why they had decided not to respect Chelsea Manning’s clearly stated preference.

Just like the non-availability of hormone therapy in US military prisons – a circumstance out of step with developing norms outside that institution – the confusion that reigned today will not, I think, last for much longer. There are enough people who care about Chelsea Manning to ensure that eventually – and maybe not before too much longer – her wishes are respected. I fully expect that to happen and to change things for those with less of a public platform in years to come.

In the meantime, we have those Politico and WaPo pieces to consider. And I think they are worth considering, if only because we’ll be looking back at them in ten years time with absolute incredulity. By then, I think – I hope – they’ll be collectors’ items.

Update (24/8)

It’s already happening. NPR announced yesterday that they had changed their guidelines and will now be using Chelsea’s preferred name and pronoun.

On a slightly different note, Salon has just published a fascinating article comparing the reaction to Manning’s change of name to Muhammad Ali’s – turns out the New York Times were pretty slow to recognise that one too.

Update II (26/8)

This blog, by Lauren and Helen McNamara – on the former’s experience of being interviewed on this subject – outlines the challenges ahead very clearly.

Update III (27/8)

The New York Times has changed its tune.

WikiLeaks and the Espionage Act – how will the US press line up?

Considering that news broke this week of multiple subpoenas being issued by the federal Grand Jury in Virginia investigating WikiLeaks, it surprising how little attention this piece from the Wall Street Journal has attracted, not least as it went to press the day before the subpoenas (maybe just the latest round of them) were issued.  It deserves attention, not because it’s a particularly well-reasoned or thoughtful piece, but because it provides a clue as to how the US press might manage to support US legal action against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, even though any such action could – in theory – be equally applicable to them:

The Espionage Act requires willfully endangering the U.S. It may seem unusual to consider intent in the context of how information flows, but without focusing on intent, the law would raise serious First Amendment issues. Many academics and media commentators—and perhaps overly cautious prosecutors—have missed the point that WikiLeaks is different from the New York Times. It’s the political motivation of Mr. Assange that qualifies him to be prosecuted. The publisher is not liable for its reporting.

We could, unfortunately, see more of this although from the legal documents themselves it looks as though other avenues are also being explored.  From the Washington Post:

“If the Justice Department concludes that a crime has been committed, it will twist itself like a pretzel to avoid using the Espionage Act, not only because it is old and vague but because it raises a number of First Amendment problems for prosecutors,” said Abbe D. Lowell, a Washington defense attorney who has handled leak cases.

U.S. officials would not comment on any subpoenas but indicated that prosecutors are likely to carefully weigh any decision to file charges under the Espionage Act, in part because of First Amendment concerns.

The April 21 letter, first reported by Salon.com, indicated that the individual served with the subpoena was to appear next month before a grand jury to answer questions concerning “possible violations of criminal law.” Possible violations include conspiracy to “knowingly [access] a computer without authorization” and to “knowingly [steal] any record or thing of value” belonging to the government.

“What they are trying to do is find proof that the WikiLeaks people were in a conspiracy with the leaker to get the information,” Lowell said. “If WikiLeaks is involved in the theft or improper access to the information, that’s not protected under the First Amendment.