On a good day, transgender people can expect entirely well-meaning journalists and commentators to screw up what pronoun to use when describing one of their own in the news. (The Times and Associated Press are at least trying.) But Fox & Friends leaped into the lead this morning for the most bigoted and insensitive handling of Chelsea Manning by a major news organization when it played the Aerosmith song "Dude (Looks Like a Lady)" to tease a segment. In case you didn't catch the subtle reference, the song's title was displayed in the upper left corner of the screen. "That's Chelsea on the right," host Gretchen Carlson explained in the clip, highlighted by TPM. What she failed to grasp is that's Chelsea on the left too.
But Fox News is far from the only network to handle the story offensively.
CNN host Fredricka Whitfield, who regularly leads a legal debate with contributors Avery Friedman and Richard B. Herman during her noon hour, brought the duo on over the weekend, first to preview a discussion about whether or not the government should pay for gender-reassignment hormone therapy for Manning. Friedman, the supposed liberal of the two, promptly restated the question rhetorically as, "Can Bradley Manning get the army to make him Bradley Womanning?"
Herman, in deriding the notion of government-funded transgender treatments, put on an actual SNL Church Lady impersonation and said of Manning's request, "Isn't that special?" Whitfield segued from the shtick not with an admonishment that those remarks were disrespectful and inappropriate but by muttering, "Okay, comedy hour. We'll be taking it seriously."
Except they didn't. When the chuckleheads returned for the actual four-minute segment, they were tittering and smirking from the start. Herman yammered about how his clients can't get basic heart meds in the clink — maybe not the best advertisement for his services as an attorney — and went on with this:
"Sometimes we have to step back and say, 'Y'know, some of these cases we cover, this is beyond insanity.' There's no way that taxpayers are going to pay $100,000 for a gender transformation for this guy while he's in prison. If he wants to be Chelsea, he can practice all he wants in Fort Leavenworth 'cause those guys are there for a long time so he can get good practice. When he gets out, he can have the operation and he can pay for it."
In other words, prison rape is good practice for being female. (CNN acknowledged receiving questions from Daily Intelligencer about the remarks but has not provided any response.) The segment, as noted by Media Matters, ended with Whitfield giving Friedman the chance for one last unfunny gag:
"Although, when he put that wig and lipstick on, the guy's a dead ringer for Tonya Harding, isn't he? Wow!"
MSNBC had its own trouble with acceptance when Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law, insisted on Sunday that Manning not be babied. "I don't think we need to coddle criminals. Whatever you want to call yourself, that's fine. Here's your suit, here's your jail cell, have a nice day," he said. "This is outrageous, that we should coddle this individual, that we should make the military a social engineering product like this administration has tried to do and other administrations in the past. The job of the military is not to engage in this type of supercilious activity." (Federal courts, meanwhile, have ruled that refusing sex-change operations to inmates is cruel and unusual punishment.)
Addicott went on to suggest that Manning is faking it. "He's still a male. He has the male genitalia. He's going in to serve with males," he said. "I mean, what a great idea. If I'm convicted, I can say, 'I'm now a female, throw me in with the female prisons.'"
And then there was RedState editor and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson's reaction when Chelsea Manning first made her announcement:
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA https://t.co/vNGTfaD1Gw— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 22, 2013
Right back at you, man.