NBC Sympathizes With 'Chelsea' Manning, Asks if 'She' Will 'Force' Government to Pay for Sex Change

In an exclusive interview with Bradley Manning's attorney David Coombs on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie read a "bombshell announcement" from the convicted military leaker: "I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female." After referring to Manning as "he" throughout the segment, Guthrie immediately switched pronouns: "Why did she choose this moment to announce this?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Guthrie then fretted: "She wants hormone therapy. Fort Leavenworth does not provide that. Are you going to sue to try to force the government to give her hormone therapy, and perhaps a sex-reassignment surgery?" Coombs replied: "...as far as the hormone therapy, yes. I'm hoping Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so."

Continuing to accept the gender swap, Guthrie sympathetically wondered: "Is the ultimate goal here for her/him to be in a female population, a female prison?...Do you have any fear for her being in a general male population? Number one, for the crimes for which she's been convicted, and also saying, 'I want to live as a female.' Do you fear for her safety?"

Guthrie did express some skepticism of the declared sex change: "One of the defense psychiatrists at trial testified that Manning has narcissistic tendencies. And I wonder if there's anything to that, in the sense that she's announcing this in this very big, public way."

However, she wrapped up the exchange by noting: "As she [Manning] left the courtroom yesterday, some supporters shouted, 'You are a hero.' Does she consider herself a hero?"

In a report prior to Guthrie's interview with Coombs, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski also touted the idea of Manning having "hero" status: "Manning claimed to be a whistle-blower when he leaked 700,000 U.S. secrets to the Wikileaks website, including gun camera video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed innocent civilians....Civil rights advocates fear Manning's conviction and stiff sentence will have a chilling effect on future whistle-blowers."

A sound bite followed of Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union proclaiming: "The public relies on brave whistle-blowers and a free press in order to inform the public. Much of this information never should have been secret in the first place."

Shortly after the sentence was handed down on Wednesday, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews described Manning as a "frail guy who doesn't look threatening to anyone" and lamented that he would "spend the rest of his life practically in Fort Leavenworth surrounded by people who won't like him."

On Thursday's Nightly News, Miklaszewski offered another report on Manning, advancing the Army private's fight to have American taxpayers fund his sex change:

MIKLASZEWSKI: From this day on, Manning asked to be called only by the name Chelsea and the female pronoun "she," not "he." The evidence was already out there. This photo of Manning wearing a woman's wig and lipstick was presented by defense lawyers during Manning's military trial for leaking U.S. secrets, as proof of transgender issues. But Manning wants to take it one step further, toward actually becoming a woman.

GUTHRIE: Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.

MIKLASZEWSKI: A statement from the military prison at Fort Leavenworth says "the Army does not provide female hormone treatment or sex-reassignment surgery." Manning's lawyer promises to take it to court.

DAVID COOMBS: It is cruel and unusual punishment not to provide necessary medical treatment.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Transgender advocates argue that the ultimate decision for hormone treatment should be up to Manning and a doctor, not the warden.  

MARA KEISLING [NATIONAL CENTER FOR TRANSGENDER EQUALITY]: Private Manning is transgender and has a gender identity of female regardless of what the Army does or doesn't do or thinks it will or won't do.

Friday's Today revisited the story yet again, with White House correspondent Peter Alexander admitting: "The announcement raised unusual questions for news organizations covering the story, like how to refer to Manning. Manning asked to be called 'she,' not 'he.'"

Those "unusual questions" were clearly on display on Thursday, as some news outlets like NBC and Time magazine referred to Manning as "she," while others like Reuters did not.

Unlike NBC's Thursday coverage, on Friday, Alexander actually highlighted some of the negative reaction to Manning's announcement:

Within hours of Thursday's bombshell, Chelsea Manning was trending on Twitter worldwide, both outrage and sympathy. "Which came first: Bradley Manning's treason, or his insanity?," one [@AdamBaldwin] wrote. And this [from @KatMcKinley], "You guys can laugh about Bradley/Chelsea Manning now, but when our tax dollars pay for gender surgery, he'll be laughing at us". And from another [@MatthewHoh], "Humbled, again, by Chelsea Manning's courage & honesty."

Also speaking out, former Navy Seal Chris Beck, now Kristen Beck, the self-proclaimed "warrior princess," who actually slammed Manning: "For this person, whether male or female, to use gender identity to act 'BADLY' is a slap in the face..."


Here is a portion of Guthrie's August 22 interview with Coombs:

7:35AM ET

(...)

GUTHRIE: Let's talk about Mr. Manning personally. And he has provided a statement that he wants us to read and this is part of it: "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. Given the way I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I also request that starting today you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun." Why did she choose this moment to announce this?

COOMBS: Well, Chelsea didn't want to have this be something that overshadowed the case, wanted to wait until the case was done to move forward to the next stage of her life.

GUTHRIE: She wants hormone therapy. Fort Leavenworth does not provide that. Are you going to sue to try to force the government to give her hormone therapy, and perhaps a sex-reassignment surgery?

COOMBS: Well, I don't know about the sex-reassignment surgery, Chelsea hasn't indicated that that would be her desire. But as far as the hormone therapy, yes. I'm hoping Fort Leavenworth would do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so.

GUTHRIE: Is the ultimate goal here for her/him to be in a female population, a female prison?

COOMBS: No. I think the ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin and to be the person that she's never had an opportunity to be.

GUTHRIE: Do you have any fear for her being in a general male population? Number one, for the crimes for which she's been convicted, and also saying, "I want to live as a female." Do you fear for her safety?

COOMBS: I don't, and the reason why is everyone that's in a military prison is a first-time offender. These are soldiers who have done something wrong, have gone to prison, and are really just trying to do their time and then get out.

GUTHRIE: Is it the bottom line you don't think she wants sex-reassignment surgery or she doesn't think she'll be able to get it?

COOMBS: I haven't really discussed that aspect of it with her. Really it's more about getting the hormone therapy. So at this point, I don't know the answer to that.

GUTHRIE: One of the defense psychiatrists at trial testified that Manning has narcissistic tendencies. And I wonder if there's anything to that, in the sense that she's announcing this in this very big, public way.

COOMBS: No, I think this is really trying to let people have the answer that they wanted. She never really wanted this to be public to begin with. When the information came out, you need to understand that she gave it to Adrian Lamo in a very private setting, in a one-on-one chat, never expecting this to be public. Now that it is, unfortunately, you have to deal with it in a public manner.

GUTHRIE: As she left the courtroom yesterday, some supporters shouted, "You are a hero." Does she consider herself a hero?

COOMBS: She doesn't. She considers herself as somebody who did something that she felt morally obligated to do and something that she felt that she had to do in order to live with what she saw.

GUTHRIE: But no regrets?

COOMBS: No regrets.

GUTHRIE: David Coombs, thank you very much for being here.

COOMBS: Thank you, Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC