Trail Of Smears

[ Posted Tuesday, February 12th, 2019 – 17:55 UTC ]

Today I experienced one of those rare times when I had in mind what I wanted to write, and then I read somebody else's article and it made pretty much all the points I was going to make (with some of them made better than I could have). This kind of takes the wind out of one's sails, it should be noted. So what I'm left with is mere commentary around the edges of the issue.

The article I'm referring to was written by Bob Cesca and it appeared in Salon. It was titled "Scandal Double Standard: Democrats Pay The Price For Every Misdeed While The GOP Skates." I encourage everyone to read it in full, because it's worth your time. It covers more than the one "scandal" I was thinking about writing about today, but it does such a good job there that it's worth a long excerpt:

The fact that [Senator Elizabeth] Warren's ancestry is still a thing after all this time is another staggering example of the double standard we've observed since the 2016 election. As long as Trump continues to flood the zone with crazy-bombs, preventing any individual scandal from occupying headlines, he's able to continue serving as president with an incomprehensibly not-awful approval poll average of around 42 percent. Contrastingly, Warren is all but written off because of one thing, and it's not even a real thing.

What do I mean by saying it's not a real thing? Almost no one remembers this, of course, but back in October the Los Angeles Times reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has a Native American heritage scandal of his own. A company called Vortex Construction, owned by the Republican leader's in-laws, received $7.6 million in government contracts through a program designed to assist "disadvantaged minorities." It's also worth noting that the no-bid federal contracts were given to Vortex for projects inside McCarthy's congressional district.

It turns out that McCarthy's brother-in-law, William Wages (who looks more Caucasian than Warren, by the way), told the Small Business Administration that he's one-eighth Cherokee. But the group to which he claims membership, the Northern Cherokee Nation, "has no federal or state recognition as a legitimate tribe." According to the article, "It is considered a fraud by leaders of tribes that have federal recognition."

We don't remember this micro-scandal because it wasn't picked up and mercilessly beaten to death on cable news.

Part of the reason for why McCarthy's scandal got little or no attention is because there isn't an unspooled Democratic leader firing off out [sic] horrendously racist "Pocahontas" and Trail of Tears tweets as Trump keeps doing about Warren. (The troll-in-chief has to troll.) Consequently, the television news media doesn't pay any attention to the McCarthy story, which means voters don't pay attention either. And when reporters notice that voters don't care, the conventional wisdom calcifies.

The circle of crapola goes the other way, too: Trump says "Pocahontas" is a fraud; the news media picks up the tweets and runs them without debunking them; voter outrage grows; the Beltway reporters note the outrage and then tell Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that it's a disqualifying scandal for Warren because voters are pissed. But why are they pissed, if they actually are? Because the press told them to be.

There are a few points in this worth examining further, starting with the last one. Cesca mentions Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's Meet The Press by name, perhaps because of one question he posed two days ago on the show. He was asking Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington news correspondent for Boston's WBUR, about the controversy, and he skated right up to some self-realization -- before missing it entirely at the end:

Very quickly, Kimberly, you've covered Elizabeth Warren for a long time. The issue of her identity and this issue of Native American identity, it came up in another place it was found. It was interesting, her announcement coverage. I was curious to see how much would it be part of it. The New York Times didn't mention it until graf 14, but Politico, it was in the headline. It was in the first graf of the Washington Post, second graf of the Associated Press. Is she ever going to be able to put this behind her?

Todd notes that what is driving the story is the press itself and then tries to turn it around and put it all on the public instead. A better final question would have been: "Is she ever going to get the media to move beyond this and start treating her candidacy seriously?"

Case in point is that Washington Post article Todd was referring to. Not only does it begin with a mention of the "scandal," the article uses the phrase "Native American" ten times (plus one "American Indian" and one "Cherokee Nation" mention), just in case you missed the point. And talk about burying the lead -- fully 25 paragraphs in to a 30-paragraph article, you finally learn: "Warren did not refer to her Native American claims [in her campaign launch speech]." Got that? She gave a speech, didn't mention it, and yet somehow half the article covering the speech was about the thing that she didn't mention.

To recap her story for someone living under a rock, Warren was told family stories about a Native American ancestor. Many American families share such stories, with varying different characters and ethnicities involved in them. Nobody has ever shown the slightest proof that she used this in any way to advance her career -- she never used it to get hired, she never used it to get accepted into college. She certainly didn't use it to get a $7.6 million government contract. News organizations have done deep dives into the subject and found nothing. Then she did a DNA test that showed exactly what she had been claiming -- distant Native American ancestry. And yet, somehow, this is seen by the inside-the-Beltway crowd as completely disqualifying her presidential ambitions.

Warren has been mocked for, among other things, the tiny fraction of her DNA that is Native American. But one-sixty-fourth is exactly the proportion that it should be if the ancestor was six generations ago, which is what Warren has claimed. Two to the sixth power is sixty-four, in other words.

Let's look at it another way, for a moment. Should any American be proud about a great-great-great-great-grandmother or -father? Or is that somehow too far back to even contemplate? Well, in one particular case, a man wrote about his six-generations-removed ancestor because he had heard family stories about him all his life. He wrote his entire family history as a novel, which was so popular it got made into a television series -- perhaps the best television series ever aired. Because the author was Alex Haley, the six-generation-removed ancestor was Kunta Kinte, and the book was Roots: The Saga Of An American Family. If Haley can be rightfully proud to own Kunta Kinte's legacy in his ancestry, why is Elizabeth Warren's family history somehow not valid?

Elizabeth Warren is also being mocked by the president on a regular basis, using the most vile terms imaginable. He dismisses her as "Pocahontas," and has referred in his tweets to both the Wounded Knee Massacre and the Trail of Tears. Both were U.S. government-sponsored genocides. We should be proud of neither one, to put it bluntly. It should be seen as on a par with a politician making bad Holocaust jokes and smears. Just imagine what the reaction would be if a politician today used "Auschwitz" in a nasty tweet towards an opponent -- that's how using Wounded Knee or the Trail of Tears in the same fashion should rightfully be viewed. And yet Donald Trump doesn't seem to get any pushback for using them as terms of mockery towards Warren. That is the real scandal, and yet somehow the media have been brushing it off as just "Trump being Trump." Or why hasn't anyone noticed that Kevin McCarthy's brother-in-law is doing exactly what all the Republicans are falsely accusing Warren of doing -- using a false claim of Native American ancestry to enrich yourself -- when the story is already out there?

To me it smacks of "Hillary's emails" all over again. Cesca is right -- the media loves to focus on one easily-identifiable Democratic perceived flaw to the exclusion of an absolute mountain of scandals happening in the White House and the Republican Party, for some unidentified reason. And Democrats need to do a much better job of pushing back on this double standard, because so far their efforts haven't been all that effective.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


11 Comments on “Trail Of Smears”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Right before you posted this I had put this link in yesterday's comments:

    Warren received a standing ovation from tribal leaders and other Native attendees as she approached the stage. She called on Congress to take more action on Native issues, including “the alarming number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls,” suicide rates among Native people, housing, health care and addiction.

    But most of her remarks were spent praising Native women, saying she was there to lift up Native voices. She specifically mentioned Reps. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) ? the first two Native women elected to Congress ? and Andrews-Maltais, who was given an award.

  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    As CW said: And Democrats need to do a much better job of pushing back on this double standard, because so far their efforts haven't been all that effective.

    Yes. Dems have to find ways to deal with GOP slurs/slanders. Repubs are masters at making allegations and beating nonsense to death, always with the help of media. Once they make an accusation that catches fire in some way they will simply repeat it forever, no matter how many times it is debunked.

    I think Warren should schedule an all-day summit on this issue, invite media, and answer every single question every lazy-gotcha journalist wants to ask and every anti-Warren boob wants to repeat until everyone's bored to death and it's clear there's nothing left to say. Thereafter post the whole thing on her website and refer any future questioner there.

    In the course of answering the stupid, bad-faith questions she should analyze the questions and explain and illustrate how they are intended to do damage and that is their only purpose. It could be a great teaching opportunity.

    Of course, FOX would take parts out of context and would try to keep the thing going and America's morons and bad-faith actors would do likewise. But I think it's possible big chunks of MSM could be shamed out of playing along.

    Further, some data shows that the more Blotus calls her Pocahontas, the more Dems perceive the issue to be purely partisan slander. And that's the important thing - Dems need to fully understand how bad faith this stupid issue is. The repubs can pound sand.

  3. [3] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Trump is so dense he can't even get his slurs right. The term iS "FAUX-cahontas, not PO!

  4. [4] 
    Paula wrote:
  5. [5] 
    neilm wrote:

    Trump and the Republicans have less shame than the Democrats. But, if my little Happy Valley is anything to go by, the Democrats are fed up being the nice guys.

    I, frankly, hope Northam doesn't resign. He made a mistake when he was young. He has stated he isn't a racist, and more importantly, his actions for decades have shown no racism. Accept his apology and move on.

    I also hope that Omar is taken at face value - naive and subsequently apologetic. Accept her apology and move on.

    I'm really tired of the intolerance on the left. Michale used to go way overboard in his pearl-clutching about this subject, but there is truth to this.

    We've got important things to do. If only perfect people can participate, we'll be weakened.

    Oh, and it is time for Al Franken to come back.

  6. [6] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Sometimes it seems as if the media uses the distraction of the moment to avoid covering real issues like it was just part of a show to keep the rubes occupied while the politicians are screwing them and the rest of us over.

    I would also venture a guess that you wouldn't have to look too far to find articles where the author writes aboot others that write aboot the scandal/distraction of the moment keeping that scandal going while their own article aboot the others keeping it going keeps it going instead of writing aboot other issues.

    Maybe the real question that should be raised is what percentage of what the media does today is journalism and are we just giving the media credit for the journalism that was done by their media ancestors?

  7. [7] 
    James T Canuck wrote:


    Note* I made a resolution at New Years to be less inveighed with the idiocy of US politics...A tough row to hoe, it's cloying.

    What's truly shameless is the nausea-inducing double standard leveled across the board politically between men and women. Fresh-man/woman, Ilhan Omar tweets erroneously about some 'ZOG' nonsense and is excoriated, Trump attaches a Star of David to an anti-Clinton post, and it's page 6 in a matter hours. A complete knuckle-dragger, such as Trump, can witter-via-twitter endlessly, yet all the Warren, Klobuchar and Harris narratives all seem to swirl around likability? Egads.

    Trump is as likable as low-grit arse wipe, thicker than two short planks and replaces two fingers down the throat as a means to stop the world from spinning, not a peep about whether people 'like him'...The women, thus far fielded against Trump, all well heeled, educated individuals, are subjected to the misogynous sliding scale of 'likability' as if they don't so much as make a stump speech, but a bid for Miss Congeniality at a sleazy Trumpian beauty pageant.

    Speaking as someone who endured years of Maggie Thatcher's particular brand of 'likability', you can be assured, better a politically savvy woman over a dullard-man, all day. I get sexism in politics. Maggie had her 'misandry-moments', but they almost always seemed to be channeled through her (long suffering) husband, Dennis, to keep her own back-benchers to heel. However, there has to come a time, an Eva Peron moment almost, when a society drops its gender hang-ups and hears the message over the messenger.

    PS. Felicitations to all in this year of our Bob, 2019.


  8. [8] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Don makes a good point there. Watching the early-morning network news/talk shows is damn near equivalent to a "Groundhog Day" experience, or a "Deja vu all over again" type experience.

  9. [9] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Dems have to find ways to deal with GOP slurs/slanders.

    You know, Paula, I'm beginning to think that is not the biggest part of the problem. The bigger problem may be the political intelligence of the vast majority of Americans who may not think about politics much of their waking day.

    The question remains, though - how do Democrats talk to these people and counter the Republican line and/or the Trump appeal. Probably worth a column or two or three ...

  10. [10] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Paula [1] -

    Thanks for the link, I missed this story!

    [2] -

    That's an interesting idea. I think Chris Christie used this playbook on Bridgegate. He held a presser with no end -- he swore he'd stay there and answer every single question every single reporter asked, and then he did so. Astonishingly, exactly what you predict did happen -- the media got bored with the story, and Christie could just point to that presser and move on.

    It's certainly an idea worth thinking about.

    C. R. Stucki [3] -

    I'm actually on the record (kind of) agreeing with you, but somewhere in a previous comment thread. I think I got into it with Michale (remember him?) about the label and said "Fauxcahontas" at least made playground-insult sense of a sort, whereas Pocahontas was just silly. I mean, I wasn't agreeing with the label, just having a semantic argument. But I do agree, "Faux-" makes more sense, as an insult.


  11. [11] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Read the Salon article and I really enjoyed it... except for one minor detail in comparing McCarthy’s “sins” with Warren’s - McCarthy’s brother-in-law was the guilty party; not McCarthy!

    I agree with the article’s premise completely and think McCarthy is pond scum that has taken human form, but why blame him for someone else’s crimes? Unless he is on the board or had any part in the company getting the contract, why he deserves being blamed for anything is unclear.

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