Media Can't Admit They Were Wrong About Warren's DNA Test

[ Posted Monday, August 19th, 2019 – 17:14 UTC ]

The mainstream media does a good job on some things, I'd be the first to admit. But admitting they were wrong is simply not one of them.

Case in point is Elizabeth Warren's DNA test. Back when she revealed the results of the test, the inside-the-Beltway punditocracy jumped to a rather overblown conclusion: Warren's DNA test had been such a monumental and fundamental error that her campaign for the presidency was over before it began. Warren's chances were completely written off by just about every pundit banging on a keyboard. She was toast, they all told each other at their cocktail parties, and they shared this conventional wisdom with their readers and viewers, confident that it was an accurate read of the situation.

Warren, of course, was not knocked out of the running, even though that was the near-universal prediction at the time. In fact, Elizabeth Warren is now running in either second or third place, depending on which poll you look at. She's running ahead of 20 other Democratic candidates, to put this another way.

Of course, the pundits never acknowledged how wrong they were, because that sort of thing just isn't done in the punditocracy. So when Warren released the most detailed of any of her plans to date (twice as long as any of her other plans, in fact) on what she would do to help Native Americans as president, and then spoke to a group of Native Americans in a presidential forum they held (it was hosted by Four Directions, a Native American voting rights group), the media once again had to obsess over the DNA test. Here are just some of the headlines today describing the event:

"Elizabeth Warren Apologizes at Native American Forum: 'I Have Listened and I Have Learned'"
-- New York Times

"Elizabeth Warren Apologizes for DNA Test, Identifying as Native American"
-- Wall Street Journal

"Sen. Elizabeth Warren apologizes 'for harm that I have caused' to Native Americans"
-- Washington Post

"Elizabeth Warren apologizes over Native American heritage claim"
-- Los Angeles Times

You'll note the singleminded focus on the DNA test. Each of these articles rehashes the entire episode in their leading paragraphs. For some of them, it is the sole focus of the article. The others eventually get around to reporting on more than just Warren's introductory apology, but even in these you have to read almost to the end to see what really happened:

[Elizabeth Warren] fielded questions about her proposals, which include a legislative change for a Supreme Court ruling that impedes tribal governments' ability to prosecute crimes committed on tribal lands by those who don't belong to a tribe.

She did not receive any questions about her own background.

That was from the Los Angeles Times article. Of the articles cited above, only one of them (from the Washington Post) actually did eventually report honestly and extensively on Warren's reception by the attendees:

Warren used her appearance at the forum Monday to try to pivot toward policy -- she recently released a lengthy proposal about how she would try to help close health, income and wealth disparities in Native American communities. The bulk of her appearance focused on parts of that plan, which would provide tribal leaders far more influence than they now have over federal policy that affects their land.

But the appearance also showed how Warren has been able to build relationships among native activists.

She was introduced by Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress and a lawmaker who has worked with Warren on part of her proposal. Haaland called it the "boldest" plan yet to "address the promises that have been broken and the need in our communities."

Haaland even scolded the media for their continuing obsession, correctly pointing out that they were, in essence, doing Trump's work for him: "Some media folks have asked me whether the president's criticisms of her regarding her ancestral background will hamper her ability to convey a clear campaign message. I say that every time they asked about Elizabeth's family instead of the issues of vital importance to Indian country, they feed the president's racism." Without the slightest awareness of irony, the article then immediately printed some quotes from the attendees -- who were, of course, only asked about Warren's DNA test:

Aaron Payment, a tribal chairperson with the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, said he and Warren had spoken about her ancestry on "a very personal level."

"I urged you to tell your story, and I appreciate that you did," Payment said. "And what I would say is, from here forward, because now we're in a presidential election, that we take Michelle Obama's advice and when, when he goes low, you go high."

He called Warren "one of our heroes."

O.J. Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota and co-executive director of the voting rights group Four Directions, which hosted the multicandidate forum, said ahead of Warren's appearance that he did not expect moderators to ask her about the controversy over her ancestry. He called the issue "trivial" compared with more pressing issues facing Native Americans, including health care and voter suppression.

"This forum is not meant to be a gotcha moment," Semans said. "This is about Native American issues, not about a candidate's history."

In all the reporting on the event, I could find only one headline that accurately reported what happened at the forum, from HuffPost: "Native American Forum Focuses On Elizabeth Warren's Policies, Not DNA Test."

In it, you can see that Aaron Payment did not actually call Warren "one of our heroes," as the Washington Post reported, he was instead denouncing Trump for slandering Pocahontas:

I urged you to tell your story and I appreciate that you did. What I would say is, from here forward, because now we're in a presidential election, that we take Michelle Obama's advice and when he goes low, you go high. And when he attacks in a racist way, disparaging one of our heroes, one of our female Indian hero women... that you take the option not to give any credence to his racist arguments but instead tell us what you're going to do for us. The Cabinet position you proposed for us is amazing. That's history in the making.

The HuffPost article also revealed that Warren got a very warm reception on her detailed plans -- a fact the rest of the media either largely ignored or glossed over:

The audience applauded. But despite the media's attention on the DNA issue, it wasn't the focus of the forum. Warren talked about the contents of her sweeping plan for empowering tribal nations and indigenous peoples. And it was a hit.

"What I'd like to see us do is reverse Oliphant," Warren said to applause, referring to the Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, which prevents tribal governments from prosecuting non-Indians.

Currently, tribes only have very limited criminal jurisdiction over non-Native people who abuse Native women on tribal land, which hampers tribes' ability to punish abusers. Meanwhile, more than 84% of indigenous women experience violence in their lifetimes, and the vast majority report being victimized by a non-Native person. Warren is the first presidential candidate to propose expanding tribal criminal jurisdiction over all people committing any crimes on tribal land.

"I will revoke the permits for the pipelines," Warren said to loud cheers, referring to the Keystone and Dakota pipelines. "They shouldn't have been granted in the first place."

. . .

Two tribal leaders raved about Warren's plan to create a Cabinet position for someone to work directly with Native American communities. She also got applause for her plan to impose a 2-cent tax on the wealthiest Americans, which would fund child care for every baby from age zero to 5 and cancel student loan debt for 95% of people who have it.

"It is not very often that we as Native people come across friends and allies of Native people," said David Shickey, chairman of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. "It's a wonderful day, and Native Americans across this country should celebrate a day, today, we're sharing the stage with a future president, perhaps."

You can almost visualize the scrum of reporters trying to follow up on Shickey's words, all of them asking simultaneously: "OK, but what about her DNA test?"

All the pundits -- or almost all of them, to be fair to those few who didn't jump on this bandwagon at the time -- obsessed over Warren's DNA test announcement, and they all collectively came to a conclusion that has proven to be incredibly wrong. Warren's presidential bid did not end in obscurity afterwards. Warren did not just fade away. In fact, she's now virtually tied for second place, in a field that at one point contained as many as 25 candidates.

But the media not only got it massively wrong, they apparently haven't even seen the error of their ways. At an event with actual Native Americans, Elizabeth Warren was pretty obviously treated like a rock star. She got standing ovations. Her plans were warmly and gratefully received. So, of course, the only thing the reporters heard was the first few seconds of Warren's speech, in which she again apologized for her past mistakes. It was, from the reporting, just about the only question any of the journalists even asked any of the attendees. Only one of the articles written afterwards even hinted that the entire issue is only an obsession in the media itself. This line is worth repeating, in the hopes that some self-reflection might eventually happen in the punditocracy:

She did not receive any questions about her own background.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Media Can't Admit They Were Wrong About Warren's DNA Test”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    Yep. It's such a bore that the usual suspects will beat this kind of crap to death out of laziness, hubris, stupidity.

    I'd been reading about the outreach she's been doing with NA communities for the last several months so I expected her to participate in the forum, and she did. She's not shying away from the issue though we know Blotus and the magats will try to keep it weaponized. I don't think it's going to be all that potent with the sentient community but we'll see.

    At any rate, Warren had 12,000 people turn out this afternoon in the Twin Cities - lots of people tweeting photos of the huge crowd.

  2. [2] 
    Paula wrote:

    Somewhat shockingly Chris Cillizza thinks she did a good job with her approach of apologizing in conjunction with talking about her sweeping proposal to assist Native Americans.

    The centerpiece of that approach was a series of policy proposals -- and a legislative plan -- the Warren campaign released last week. That's broadly consistent with the I-have-a-plan-for-that strategy that has taken Warren from an also-ran to a top-tier candidate over the past eight or so months. It also allows Warren to make a more forceful argument than just the basic "I am one of you!" She can now point to a series of ideas she has to improve the lives of Native Americans, a move that takes the focus away from Warren's personal story and focuses it squarely on the broader plight of Native Americans in the United States.

    Don't underestimate the power of simply saying "sorry" either. We are all inclined to give people second chances if they seem genuinely contrite and appear to have learned their lesson(s). And again, Warren's apology takes the focus away from the "me" and puts it squarely on the "we" -- a powerful thing in politics.

  3. [3] 
    TheStig wrote:

    This article is a shining example of why I read and support Attention to detail and the agilty to break free from a pack that is heading in the wrong direction.

    Nice job CW.

  4. [4] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    It's true. The made-up native-american debacle is over. As you point out, it was over basically before it began. She'd be a very good pick - for VP.

  5. [5] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    It's also good to read that this wasn't just an outsider coming in with a do-good plan, but was a joint effort with Haaland and, presumably, others.

  6. [6] 
    Paula wrote:

    And in the annals of how Republicans/Conservatives are almost entirely full of sh!t:

    I mean, what did he find? So I went over and read it for myself. And the answer, almost literally, is that he found nothing. In fact, he didn’t even look. All he did was talk to a bunch of conservatives to find out what they thought Facebook might be doing to them. As a public service, I’ll provide this abridged version:...

    (Several quotes follow)

    Kevin continues:

    So that’s it. A bunch of conservatives repeated standard conservative talking points about how they’ve been treated unfairly but provided no evidence that they had actually been treated unfairly. Nor was it part of Kyl’s remit to check this out independently or to compare it to the way liberals and independents are treated. There is literally nothing here.

    Conservatives: Nature's Crybabies.

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