Accuracy in Media

On Sunday, The New York Times hoisted readers on the backs of 2,588 words and carried them across 54 years of Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s personal history.

The story opens with young Liz Herring arriving as a freshman at George Washington University in 1966, where she promptly pledged an all-white sorority. Readers then wend their way through time, learning how worldview on race was molded during stops after she departed the segregated Oklahoma City of her childhood — from GWU to Rutgers Law School to Harvard and eventually the Senate and the 2020 presidential campaign trail.

“She has emerged, according to activists and organizers, as one of the most racially progressive white politicians in the country,” the Times reports. 

Yet in all that time, and with all those words, the Times conveniently skips over Warren’s decades-long exploitation of race to further her career — and how that yanked the rug from beneath her presidential bid once it was exposed. 

And they manage it in one sentence: “Her most politically defining misstep was over an issue of race when she took a DNA test to demonstrate her purported Native American heritage and a backlash followed.”

To recap, the Times, in that one sentence, glosses over a long history of Warren asserting Cherokee ancestry. The Washington Free Beacon helpfully worked up a timeline:

In 1984 Warren submitted a handful of recipes to the “Pow Wow Chow” cookbook, claiming to be Cherokee.

Two years later, Warren identifies as Native American on her Texas bar registration form.

From 1986 to 1995, as she taught law at the University of Texas, the University of Pennsylvania and then Harvard, Warren declared that she is a minority in the Association of American Law Schools guide. 

In 2012, after she announced her Senate bid, the Boston media were replete with stories of her pride in “her heritage,” how Harvard Law School identified her as its sole Native American faculty member, and her claim that her grandfather possessed “high cheekbones, like all of the Indians do.”

She won the Senate seat in 2012, and in 2014 joined Democratic lawmakers in demanding the Washington Redskins change the team’s name. But by 2016 the facade starts to crumble, as Donald Trump repeatedly taunts her as “Pocahontas.”

The Washington Post fact-checker steered clear of slamming Trump’s name-calling as false. A Cherokee activist asserted Warren was not really a tribe member. In 2018 a Massachusetts paper urged her to take a DNA test.

At some point she took the test and in October 2018, she revealed the results: she was 1/1,024th Native American, meaning that  Warren would have to go back at least six, and possibly 10, generations to locate that ancestor. 

Warren and many of her supporters claimed vindication. Yet the “backlash,” as the Times mentioned, came primarily from Cherokee leaders. In February 2019, a few days before she announced her run for the White House, the public learned she privately apologized to the head of the Cherokee nation.

In its most recent work, the Times promoted Sen. Warren’s bona fides to be vice president by detailing her evolution on the most contentious issue now facing our country. But in firmly applauding her as a converted “racial justice fighter,” the paper tells readers next to nothing about the most important racial issue in Warren’s background, and how she used that specious claim for professional and political advantage.   

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