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Native American Journalists Accuse HuffPo of ‘Ethical Negligence’ in Coverage of Warren’s DNA Gaffe

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, Mass.) fields questions from the audience at an “organizing event,” after forming an exploratory committee for the 2020 presidential race, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, January 4, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The Native American Journalist Association (NAJA) issued a statement Wednesday accusing the HuffPo of engaging in “ethical negligence” by writing an article downplaying native anger over Senator Elizabeth Warren’s release of a DNA test.

HuffPo‘s Jennifer Bendery suggested in the article, published last week, that much of the perceived native backlash to Warren’s attempt to legitimize her claims of Native American ancestry was manufactured by hostile media outlets.

The article, entitled “Mainstream Media Is Blowing Its Coverage Of Elizabeth Warren’s DNA Test,” argued that many of the media reports detailing native anger relied on one critical statement issued by Cherokee Nation secretary of state Chuck Hoskin Jr., and little else.

NAJA, a professional network designed to “empower Native journalists,” has now accused Bendery of oversimplifying Native sentiment, just as Bendery accused other reporters and media outlets of irresponsible generalization in reporting the native response to Warren’s posturing.

“The idea that a handful of Indigenous people can speak for the majority is deeply rooted in hurtful stereotypes, colonial attitudes and ideas of racial superiority. Indigenous communities often hold conflicting viewpoints on important issues and show concern about multiple matters affecting their lives,” NAJA said in the statement.

Bendery’s claim that Native Americans actually viewed Warren as an “ally,” and were not perturbed by her attempts to validate her claims of Native ancestry, relied on interviews with just two of the 573 tribal chiefs in the country, as well as a number of other community leaders and activists. She did, however, interview NAJA co-founder Doug George-Kanentiio, who suggested Hoskin’s derogatory statement represented his personal opinion, not that of the broader community.

The Cherokee Nation has pushed back on Kanentiio’s claim and clarified that Hoskin was, in fact, speaking on behalf of the Cherokee Nation when he derided Warren for releasing her DNA test.

NAJA said Bendery “misrepresent[ed] the role or authority of an Indigenous official, such as the Cherokee Nation’s Secretary of State,” — an oversight that “demonstrates an alarming lapse in fact checking, a fundamental misunderstanding of tribal politics and governmental structure and a deplorable error in sourcing.”

“NAJA hopes that Bendery, her editors and staff at Huffington Post reflect on this ethical negligence, apologize for their insensitive reporting, and employ substantive changes to improve their analysis of issues affecting Indigenous communities. NAJA also recommends that Huffington Post reporters take part in cultural sensitivity training to avoid publishing such errors in the future,” the group’s statement concluded.

Reached for comment Friday morning, a HuffPo spokeswoman disagreed with NAJA’s characterization of Bendery’s reporting.

“HuffPost respectfully disagrees with NAJA’s characterization of this story. We stand by our reporting and the perspectives reflected in the piece,” she said.

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