The Media Fell for Elizabeth Warren’s Spin

Sen. Elizabeth Warren at the Washington Ideas Forum in 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters )
She’s the Richard Blumenthal of intersectionality, minus the apology.

Do you want to know what media bias looks like?

Earlier today, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren released DNA test results that confirmed that she misled employers, students, and the public about her Native American heritage for years. Bizarrely, all too many members of the media treated the results as vindicating her. Down is up. Black is white. The imperatives of the resistance apparently dictate propping up a liar — as long as she might be able to beat President Trump in 2020.

Here are the facts. For an extended period of time — at a key point in her professional life — Warren identified herself as a Native American woman. She listed herself as Native American on a key legal directory reviewed by deans and hiring committees. Former employers — such as the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School — listed Warren as a minority faculty member. Harvard Law School even trumpeted her as the school’s first tenured “woman of color.”

Warren contributed to a Native American recipe book called — I kid you not — “Pow Wow Chow.” She has told people that her parents eloped because her father’s parents said he couldn’t marry her mother “because she is part Cherokee and part Delaware.”

In the progressive academy, misrepresenting your heritage is no small thing. In the early 1990s, Harvard was under immense pressure to diversify its faculty. I know. I was there. I remember the sit-ins, the demonstrations, and the tension that pervaded campus. I remember Warren when she came to campus as a visiting professor.

The best comparison to Warren’s misrepresentations — especially in the identity-obsessed academic environment — is to a politician misrepresenting his military experience. She’s the Richard Blumenthal of intersectionality, who for years embellished his service record on the campaign trail to imply that he had served in Vietnam. Conservatives have been right to criticize her for her own misrepresentations, and multiple media outlets have harshly scrutinized her claims.

So, what should she do? The answer’s easy. She can’t change the past, but she can apologize and move on. She can even apologize, attribute it to family lore, and move on.

Or she can double down, inadvertently score an own goal, and further out members of the media as in the tank for the #Resistance.

Naturally, she chose the second option.

With much fanfare, she announced today that DNA tests confirmed that she did in fact have Native American blood coursing through her veins. Here’s Warren’s triumphant announcement (with bonus shot at Donald Trump):

And, dutifully, the press outlets picked up the theme:

Members of the media asked Trump if he’d pay up on his bet that he’d give $1 million to charity if a DNA test showed she was “Indian.” Stories across the mainstream media emphasized Warren’s messaging.

But what did the results actually say? It turns out that they confirm the conservative critique. Her ancestry is so remote — six to ten generations removed — that she could not plausibly claim Native American status in any job application. It would constitute résumé fraud. And she could not plausibly claim membership in a Native American tribe.

In fact, at the far end of the range — if her Native American ancestor is ten generations removed — then she is only 1/1024 Native American. By that measure, “white” Americans are also commonly black, and black American are also commonly white. It turns out that at least some mixing is routine in American racial groups. In 2014, the New York Times reported on the results of a massive DNA study and found that “European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American.” Black Americans were “73.2 percent African. European genes accounted for 24 percent of their DNA, while .8 percent came from Native Americans.”

In other words, Elizabeth Warren isn’t a Cherokee. She’s a relatively normal White American — a person with some bit of mixing somewhere in their distant past. How distant? If you move to the older end of the generation range, her Native American ancestor could predate the founding of the country. She had no business holding herself out as Native American in faculty directories, in a book, or in her personal narrative.

One gets the distinct feeling that if DNA tests had revealed similar facts about a Republican making similar claims, the headlines would be quite different. “Test Results Confirm GOP Candidate Misled Employers about His Race.” Or, “DNA Test Fails to Substantiate Candidate’s Claims.” Instead, for a progressive who fights, the bar is moved.

This isn’t hard. Elizabeth Warren misled her employers. She misled her students. She misled the public. And her response is positively Trumpian. No retreat. No surrender. But if she’s going to act like Trump, then the least the media could do is treat her like it treats Trump. Is that too much to ask?


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