The Corner


Baptists & Bootleggers: Media Edition

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

I know we’re all moving on to the “Horseface porn star” storyline, but I have a slight dissent — or maybe just a caution — on the Elizabeth Warren conventional wisdom on the right. Oh, I agree with the thrust of the conservative critique. For instance, David French writes:

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.”

David goes on to run through all the rest of it, including all the DNA brouhaha. But I want to revisit that first paragraph. It’s entirely possible that a bunch of journalists sat there, looked at the evidence, and reached the same conclusion reached by folks like me and David but then proceeded to pretend Warren was vindicated. But I doubt it.

We are navigating through a deep fog of motivated reasoning and negative polarization these days. Remember the story about Donald Trump’s Twitter team deliberately misspelling words in his tweets because they concluded that getting attacked for spelling like a “real American” worked for him?

Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, thinking that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within Trump’s base that he has the common touch.

Last month, I wrote a column speculating that Hillary Clinton’s false tweets about Brett Kavanaugh’s view of birth control — which already had been widely debunked by fact-checkers after Kamala Harris floated the same argument days earlier — was a deliberate attempt to get attacked by the “right people.” Newt Gingrich almost won the 2012 primaries because he brilliantly and unrelentingly turned almost every question against the media (foreshadowing Donald Trump’s tactics to come). Many Republicans loved Newt because he hated the media and the media hated him.

Similarly, I’ve been told that some political consultants think it is advantageous for Republicans to “accidentally” offer racially tinged “gaffes” — such as Ron DeSantis’s “monkey” comment — not to “dog whistle”at racists, but to goad the media and liberals into unfairly attacking Republican candidates. (Note: There’s no evidence that this was actually DeSantis’s intention; I just use it by way of illustration because that’s exactly what happened with him.)

The whole dynamic is like a media version of Baptists and Bootleggers, where everybody gets what they want because everyone has a different constituency that they are trying to entertain.

Now, I think it is possibly — even probably — the case that Warren blundered in the rollout of her big DNA reveal. But I think the press’s initial instinct to think that it vindicated her wasn’t the product of deliberate dishonesty but of this phenomenon. And that may be a sign that the rollout might still work for Warren with Democrats generally. The entire Democratic party is in a fierce competition not only to be the best practitioner of Avenatti-ism — unapologetic pugnaciousness towards Trump and the GOP — but also to be anointed the person Trump hates the most. We see it everywhere. Hillary rejects civility. Eric Holder promises to kick Republicans when they go low as if he’s Crispin Glover on Letterman. Etc.

And that was the smart part about Warren’s reveal. She made it about her and Trump, and she got Trump to denounce her and the entire rightwing media-industrial complex to attack her for an entire news cycle.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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